November 25, 2016 | Pam Cowburn

No one expects spam for Christmas

Debenhams, Topshop, Argos and Next are just some of the High Street shops that have started to offer their customers e-receipts when they pay for goods.


Mary and Christ with tins of spam, no one expects spam for Christmas

The benefits of an email, at least according to the shops, are that it's more convenient for customers who don't have to worry about losing their receipts, and of course it's better for the environment to use less paper. 

But according to a Daily Mail investigation, many of these shops could be breaking data protection law because they are failing to give customers the full picture of how their email addresses are being used. The Mail found that shop staff did not always explain that emails could be used for marketing emails and that some customers were still sent marketing emails even though they had expressly asked not to get them. 

In some instances, this could be a lack of training for staff on the tills. However, it’s clear that shops see e-receipts as an opportunity to gather data about their customers. The Mail reported that one sales rep “admitted to getting a bonus if he collected email addresses”. The benefits to businesses are not just that they can build their email lists but that they can get insights into their customers based on their purchases.

This kind of email collection is not just taking place in shops. ORG was recently contacted by Nullig who was bombarded with unsolicited marketing emails after she bought something over the phone from Debenhams. She told us:

“I was asked over the telephone for my email address in case there were any issues with the delivery of my order. I was not asked if my email could be used for any other purposes and yet almost immediately I started getting marketing spam from Debenhams. It took 13 emails and three months of complaining for this to stop.”

The legal position

The law is very clear. At the point that email addresses are collected, customers need to be given 'a simple means of refusing' any future direct marketing emails. The Information Commissioner has also clarified that: “Whenever customer information is collected there must be a clear explanation given of how their information will be used.” Shops need to ensure that staff are fully trained to ensure that they comply with the law.

What can you do?

You can refuse an e-receipt and ask for a paper one.

If you prefer e-receipts, you don’t have to sign up for marketing emails. The sales assistant should explain how your email will be used. If they don’t, tell them that you don’t want your email to be used for marketing.

If you are unhappy about how your data has been collected and used, contact the ICO.