Next time that you’re handed a receipt for an in-store purchase, take a peek at the small text that is printed above the transaction amount. You’ll probably note the name of the merchant, store location, date and slogan. To convey a sense of intimacy, you might find a ‘Thank You’ note and name of the cashier or server at the bottom. And then, in the body of the receipt, lies the itemized detail – which is as overlooked as these other attributes, but just as important as the transaction’s total charge.
This itemized detail is a more granular subset of the higher-level transaction information that makes its way to the consumer’s credit card statement. The itemized detail – which typically includes quantity purchased, brand name, a shorthand version of the product description, discounts applied and a SKU (inventory) number – is really just data that is sourced from the merchant’s point-of-sale (POS) terminal and underlying inventory systems. Upon completion of a transaction, this data is fed into the merchant’s data warehouses to ultimately be gobbled up by business intelligence applications that allow the business to analyze their sales.
Consumers only get the rolled-up, transaction-level version of this data, by way of a paper receipt from the merchant and monthly a statement from the card issuer. And traditionally, a paper receipt is all that the consumer has needed – for the many occasions where a shirt or coat doesn’t fit. There has been little incentive for the card issuer, or any other party involved in the standard consumer transaction, to electronically deliver itemized detail to consumers.
The merchants, as owners of this itemized data, use it to their advantage in all sorts of targeted marketing. Few parties other than CVS would know that the $60 you spend at their pharmacies each week always includes a favorite brand of conditioner. Similarly, the four restaurant transactions on your credit card statement from January would give no hint at your tendency to order the sole Cajun platter on the menu wherever you dine out.
Instead, third parties like Yelp and Foursquare are forced to rely on merchant profiles and consumer input to hypothesize which other products and services a consumer might enjoy. Fortunately, a new PFM app, Wisely, has enhanced this new ‘product recommendations’ space by tracking the average bill size and user volume at a particular establishment. However, such metrics are still only available at the transaction level, unable to be drilled down to show brand competitiveness at a grocery store or menu item popularity at a restaurant. As of now, such insight is subjective (i.e. reviews) and unquantifiable.
There are big benefits to the consumer knowing, not only which products, services and brands other consumers enjoy, but also what he or she has historically spent money on. A consumer might be interested in evaluating the impact her multi-item purchase at Target has on both grocery and personal care budgets, as well as understanding whether her peers are purchasing the same brands of skin care solutions or not. Long-time PFM app Mint offers cross-categorization of transactions but that’s it.
Merchants own itemized detail of consumer transactions and why in the world would they share that with other parties like card-issuing banks and third-party apps? Such a move would seemingly allow competitors to step in front and divert customers to other, more convenient or price-friendly outlets that sport the similar products and brands.
Perhaps the only prayer of having this itemized detail shared with consumers is through merchant loyalty programs, where incremental points and rewards are displayed by item in loyalty program statements (think of the Marriott and Delta statements that display purchase history). The detail wouldn’t be available as often as most consumers would like and it’s still questionable whether merchants would find it necessary to display rewards at the itemized level (after all, there is a reason they don’t do so right now).
The capture of itemized detail by card issuers seems daunting, given the variety of formats that the data is spit out by merchant inventory systems. This leaves a dim opportunity for any third party that is able to pair merchant itemized data (that is willingly made available) with card issuer transaction data and display it cleanly in a PFM app. For now, itemized detail figures to remain in the merchants’ vaults, concealing considerable value to consumers.