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Returning Items Using a Digital Copy of Your Paper Receipt

Written by Nickel - 22 Comments

Returning Items Using a Digital Copy of Your Paper Receipt

I’ve written in the past about my desire to transition to a paperless personal financial system. As part of this, I’ve gotten in the habit of shooting photos of all of my receipts and/or scanning most paper documents that come across my desk.

So now, whenever I buy something, I take a moment to take a snapshot of the receipt with my iPhone and then upload it to Evernote (using the Evernote app, which makes it quick and easy). I likewise store many of our scanned documents in Evernote such that I have a mobile, syncable, and searchable repository of all kinds of information.

This has worked well and has greatly streamlined things in our house. That said, I’ve always wondered what would happen when it comes time to return something and all I have is a photo of the receipt. Well, earlier this week I found out.

I had to return an item to Walmart and all I had was the snapshot of my receipt. Not sure what format would be most acceptable, I copied the image back to my camera roll and “scanned” it using JotNot, which is an app that essentially turns your phone into a scanner (it does keystone correction and then creates a black-and-white or color image in your preferred file format). I then printed the resulting image and headed to Walmart.

Upon my arrival, I presented the rep at the service desk with my printed copy of the receipt and explained that it was a printout of my digital copy since I store everything electronically. In theory, this shouldn’t be a problem because their receipts all have bar codes that can be scanned (or manually entered) to pull up the transaction. But theory and reality aren’t always the same.

She took my copy of the receipt, flashed it to a co-worker and asked if they could accept it. The co-worker said “nope, no photocopies” (which it looked like) and turned away. I have no idea if this is official store policy or if the employees were just mis-informed. But instead of arguing the point, I whipped out my phone and showed the rep the original photo of the receipt. She took a look and relented.

If she had refused, I would’ve only been able to return it for store credit (not a huge deal, but still kind of a pain) and it would’ve counted against my limit of three receipt-less returns within a 45 day period. Again, not a huge deal but not ideal. There’s also a risk that I would get less than I originally paid because they typically issue receipt-less refunds for the lowest recent sale price.

In the end, I was able to get this taken care of with relatively little fuss, though it was touch and go for a minute. Note that many other merchants (Target, Lowes, etc.) will do an on-the-spot receipt lookup by swiping your card (assuming you paid with a debit or credit card) though this doesn’t seem to be an option at Walmart.

What about you? Have you tried to return things with a digital image of the receipt? If so, did you run into any problems? Do you have any tips or tricks for making it as painless as possible?

Note: While writing this article, I ran across an older post from The Consumerist highlighting the Walmart Electronic Payments Hotline (479-277-2643). Apparently you can (or could back then) call this number with your store location, date of purchase, and credit/debit card number and they’ll look up your receipt and fax you a copy. Hopefully a fax from the mothership will be acceptable at the return desk.

Published on July 6th, 2012
Modified on July 8th, 2012 - 22 Comments
Filed under: Consumer

About the author: is the founder and editor-in-chief of this site. He's a thirty-something family man who has been writing about personal finance since 2005, and guess what? He's on Twitter!

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22 Responses to “Returning Items Using a Digital Copy of Your Paper Receipt”

  1. 1
    Melissa Says:

    I hate the mess of paper receipts. I will have to look into this system to cut down on paper clutter.

  2. 2
    Kathryn K Brown Says:

    I bought a mattress set at Sears and was given the advice by the Sears representative to make a photocopy of the receipt. I thought it peculiar, then I noticed that the receipt seemed a bit thin, shiny and delicate.

    Since then, I’ve noticed that many of my receipts become unreadable when left in hot places, like cars, and this could render any warranty void.

    Scanning receipts seems quite sensible to ensure that warranties, proof-of-purchase, etc. remain intact. That Sears receipt remains readable.

  3. 3
    Lance @ Money Life and More Says:

    I have considered doing this and never thought of the return problem. It is definitely something I’ll have to keep in mind if/when I decide to jump on board.

  4. 4
    Lulu Says:

    That is certainly a great idea to have the scanned receipt for returns. I have been scanning my receipts since I got a scanner but I have never had to return anything and not had the receipt.

    I am going to follow your lead on this one and I hope stores train their workers on using mobile versions as more and more people are using their phones.

  5. 5
    lostAnnfound Says:

    My teens went out shopping this past week to the mall and one of the stores they shopped in now gives you the option of having the receipt emailed to you instead of having it printed and given to you at the time of purchase. They took advantage of this and it appeared in my inbox instantaneously.

  6. 6
    BG Says:

    I keep the original receipt for all large purchases. It is not ’going paperless’ if you already have the paper…

    Paperless, to me, means converting to electronic form so you never use paper in the first place. Like using online utility billing, or paperless bank statements.

  7. 7
    Crystal @ Prairie Ecothrifter Says:

    That’s great to know. :-) I have had to return items with missing receipts before and just settled on store credit. Now I’ll just snap a pic. Thanks!

  8. 8
    Ron Chiodo Says:

    I scan my serious purchase receipts. I name the images with Date, Store Name, Purchase Item, Amount. I file the original in a small accordion by month. The computer files are easily searched and lead me to the original. When I’m checking my credit card statements, I can search for the amount of a charge and find the digital copy of the receipt.

  9. 9
    Hal @ CheapEncounters.com Says:

    I think your issue here was that you were dealing with Walmart. Of all of the big box stores out there my experience is that they are the worst in terms of customer service and having employees capable of using their brains. Any small deviation from a standard transaction results in the deer-in-headlights look from the typical Walmart employee followed by a near automatic “sorry, we can’t do that”.

    @Kathryn – I totally agree about receipts becoming unreadable. I have even found receipts that faded almost completely filed safely away in my file cabinet away from heat and light. Any big ticket receipts get scanned just for this reason.

  10. 10
    Wickstah76stah Says:

    Just a heads up, as an avid scanner/shredder of all things receipt, AND a previous big box retailer Customer Service Manager, a nice piece of info most don’t know: If they require the ‘original’ receipt they will likely have a method to access and print one for you. They use the receipt specific numbers to access the data. The only people that balk at taking a copy are the a**holes, as it were.

  11. 11
    Debt Free Teen Says:

    I’m glad you posted about not getting rid of original receipts. I don’t like to save things so I better rethink my strategy.

  12. 12
    Savvy shopper Says:

    Old Navy and the apple store will email you your receipts :) more places need to do this!

  13. 13
    Dan Says:

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but I have read elsewhere online that at least in the case of defective merchandise one does not necessarily need the original receipt. The only thing needed is proof that it was purchased at that particular store (or store chain) which could include something as simple as an except from a bank statement. That is not so for regular return items, but at least for a defective item your scans and photocopies should be perfectly acceptable.
    We have had to return two defective items to Sears within the last year however and had tremendous trouble doing so. I also digitize receipts, but I tend to do so at least 3 months behind schedule on a normal basis. It’s just so hard to find the appropriate receipt when it comes time to make a return for a defective appliance or electronic item.
    On our first return, I paid for it on a Sears creditcard and was able to verify the purchase with the people at Sears card services. It took the manager of the store to override the other staff’s decisions however.
    We are still trying to return the second item. It is within warranty and purchased with a protection plan. However, it was paid 1/2 with a gift card and 1/2 on a debit card. This is proving to be a stumbling block to proving where we bought it and the price paid. The store has rejected us twice and sent us home to contact the manufacturer.

  14. 14
    David Says:

    I’ve been “paperless” since the first Visioneer Paperport scanner came out over 12 years ago perhaps.

    I’ve printed and returned items within the return period without problem at every store imaginable.

    If you have a “problem” with an individual simply ask for the store manager. Don’t bother with asking for a supervisor, just aim for the top. Whomever responds will resolve the problem you’re having with the first person.

    Recently at a Michaels I had 1/2 our entire order ring up without the sale prices after not only asking what was on sale from the staff but being physically shown. It was holiday stuff that apparently wasn’t on sale “yet”. When I told the manager very politely and very firmly that it would be the last and final time I ever allowed my wife to shop there (the ticket was well over $100), she simply returned the entire basket and re-rang it. She then apologized that her staff was new and they had completely mis-informed us. What I’m getting at is that a manager has the in-store authority to pretty much do whatever they want within reason.

    As it relates to accepting a printout or screen shot of a sales receipt, that’s a simple customer service issue as indicated by another poster.

    Each day I either physically scan, or take an image with my iphone to pdf, then upload to my Dropbox folder of receipts which I have categorized (otherwise will never find what I need). I have a folder for Target, Walmart, Costco, Lowes, Home Depot, Michaels, etc. I don’t waste time scanning grocery or restaurant bills (nothing to return).

    It’s liberating to be without paper. I figure if the grid goes down who cares about receipts anyways. There’s no reason to keep paper.

    On a side note, anyone ever notice that every McDonalds in the entire world has the worst receipts of any entity out there: not that I would ever scan a McDonalds receipt.

    Happy scanning. I currently use the sheet feeding Epson GT-S50 and cannot recommend it highly enough. I also use the Professional version of FileCenter 7.0 (developed in Utah).

  15. 15
    Ron C Says:

    I’ve finally moved to “paperless” about a year or more ago. After much study I went with the Scansnap 1500. Small footprint on desk. Fast, excellent, sheet feeder scans. Delighted with performance. Also went with Evernote. Put the two together and you can kiss off your home file cabinet. I do also keep hard copies of things like notarized documents. I keep a hard copy document index in Evernote so I can also find the documents in my old file cabinet.

  16. 16
    Brian M Says:

    Fyi..As far as Walmart goes, if you take in your bank statement showing the transaction details and date along with the card you used to make the purchase they can look up the receipt for you and get your cash back and avoid a in store credit. I had a receipt that was faded and when I questioned them about a receipt look up this is what I was told by a Walmart representative.

  17. 17
    Joe Says:

    Costco Canada recently phoned me (an automated message) to inform me I had purchased Almond Butter that was part of a recalled batch that had problems with salmonella.

    Costco has a record of everything you have bought, so why don’t they share that with us? The “paper receipt” is theoretically not required to prove you bought something – just your membership card is enough. The reality is that lots of returns don’t happen because people are bad about filing their receipts.

  18. 18
    Lonnie Says:

    I use the Quicken Mobile App on my Android phone. It allows me to enter the transaction at the time. It also records the GPS location and gives me the option to take a photo of the receipt. Once it sync’s back to my Quicken on my computer everything is there.

  19. 19
    Michael Says:

    I called Walmart corporate to inquire about their receipt requirements for returns for refund or replacement. I was told that photocopies or “e-receipts” are perfectly fine and if I ever had a problem to have them summon the store manager. And if the store manager had a problem to ask that he or she call the corporate office then and there for clarification.

  20. 20
    Nick Says:

    Someone mentioned that the problem was that he was dealing with walmart and walmart employees are incompetent. Well I work at Walmart and the only reason why someone would possibly have trouble with this at Walmart is because walmart gets scammed A LOT, because they are so lenient on return. I get scammed returns back in my department everyday. Example: an hdmi cable that looks like it’s 3 years old with incorrect packaging. I don’t work in the customer service department so I am not sure if it is policy to not accept receipts like that but if they give you trouble just ask for an “assistant manager” Walmart managers kiss ass and even if it is against policy as long as you have the TC number they will not give you trouble.

  21. 21
    Melinda Says:

    I have been wondering the same thing and ran across this article. I use walmart app savings catcher and wondered since it stores your receipts that walmart should accept that

  22. 22
    stef Says:

    There is a way round this and I have done it. A car garage refuse to accept my digital copy of a receipt. So I printed the receipt out on to paper and they refused this as well saying it was still a scan. Then I loaded the receipt into photoshop, cropped it, brightened it up and printed it out again. Cut it out so it looked like the original receipt. Screwed it up a few times then took it in. Result: It was accepted by the same person who had rejected it twice previously! I wanted to tell him so much but I had to resist!

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