What A Broken Credit Card Receipt Can Teach You About Business

by Derek Halpern · 13 comments

Wine Glass

The other day, while paying for dinner at a local wine bar, I stumbled on a major marketing mistake people make.

Yes, this wine bar was guilty of it, but it’s something that you, me, or anyone can suffer from without even realizing it.

And the best part is this: while this mistake is easy to make, it’s even easier to fix.

What’s the mistake? Keep reading.

A Tale of Two Receipts

When you pay with a credit card, you’ll get two receipts: A store copy and a customer copy. As you know, the store keeps their copy, and you keep your copy.

Well, at this wine bar, I looked at the restaurant receipt and the customer receipt and I noticed something extremely unusual…

On the restaurant copy, you had a place to write your tip, your total, and your signature, and that’s it.

On the customer copy, you could write the same things AND your email address for restaurant updates.

Now wait a minute…

Why in the heck would you want people to write their email on the receipt they take with them?

You wouldn’t because it’s pointless! That receipt is broken!

You see, the customer takes the customer receipt. How is the restaurant supposed to grab the email if the customer takes that receipt?

Just imagine how many emails this wine bar loses out on each day. It’s a major marketing mistake, but what does it have to do with the internet?

The Right Things In The Wrong Places

This restaurant had the right idea. They knew the power of email marketing, but they were asking for emails in the wrong places.

Online, it’s no different. There are good places to add email sign-up forms, and bad places. The better places obviously get you better results.

(This is easy to do in Thesis by the way. If you don’t own it, check it out here).

But let’s take a step back a minute. There are something much bigger going on here, and now I’ll tell you all about it.

If You Don’t Understand How Your Business Works, You’re Doomed

I know that sounds dramatic…

…but seriously. There are too many people who run businesses, or work for businesses, and they don’t understand how the business works. It’s a recipe for disaster.

What happened here?

Someone thought it was a great idea to collect email addresses from customers.

(It is a great idea, by the way!)

So they implement email collection on receipts, without realizing on how their own receipt system works.


Why You Should “Walk Through” Your Business

One of my business idols, Sam Walton, was known for walking around his own Walmart stores to see how business went down. He’d also walk around competing stores to see how they did business, too.

Now think about it…

If you’re looking for ideas, what better way to discover them other than walking around your own business? Stop producing content for a day, and just spend time browsing your website, buying your own products, and see how your business goes down.

What should you look for?

Are there any processes that take too long? Can a 5-step process change into a 3-step process? Are you asking your customers for referrals in the right places? Do you include customer acquisition forms where the customers actually look?

Not only will you find improvement opportunities, you’ll also find small little errors in judgment, like an email collection on the wrong receipt 🙂

Now I pass it to you… How often do you walk through your own business?

Photo Courtesy of Ludovico Sinz

About the Author: Derek Halpern ran marketing at DIYthemes, and is the founder of Social Triggers. To get more tips on how to be confident, sign up to his list here.

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David Krug

Good insights. I noticed you mentioned this somewhere and thought wow I wonder how much business this costs companies every year. I bet it is astronomical. I had a client a restaurant who failed to pay their domain and hosting renewal and then business is plummeting and they don’t understand why.

So many businesses don’t understand how marketing works. It’s simple it’s effective. But so many miss the forest for the trees.

Derek Halpern

Yep. It’s not even just about marketing though. So many businesses don’t understand how their business works. They likely set up some process, and never revisited it. So it’s impossible to find new ways of doing things when they are experiencing what their customers are experiencing.

Mike Van Horn

I strongly agree. But in addition, get somebody besides yourself to walk through your business–or your website. Things get invisible to you that jump out at other people. Here are three things others pointed out to me recently:
“It’s so dark outside your office during these short days that it’s hard to see your entrance.” I can easily find my own entrance in the dark.
“This video on your landing page still shows the date 2010 on it.”
“In this photo caption on your home page, you’ve got an extra “s” in “business.”

And I can never find all the bad links in my site. But WP has a plugin that does that now, right?

Derek Halpern

Yep, you’re right. If you can’t walk through it, watch someone else do it, and you’ll find new things to focus on too.

Annie Sisk (Pajama Productivity)

As a productivity coach, I find this resonates pretty strongly. What you’re talking about is a system, and as much as systems rock the crap out of your productivity, the *wrong* systems are about as useful as a two-legged table. It’s super-easy to get in the habit of relying on outdated systems, as well as mistake-saddled systems (such as the receipt), which is why I frequently suggest clients do a top-to-bottom review periodically. Approaching the whole customer/client experience as a stranger would experience it is also a fabulous way to double-check for stuff that can be improved upon or refined. Ol’ Sam knew his stuff, huh?


Thanks, this is a really helpful reminder. I’ve worked for large businesses that took their customers for granted and then watched them fall. Strange how this seemingly common sense advice is not followed by so many!


Dude, your titles crack me up…they work too.

You are clever. Keep it up. We dig it.

I am eagerly awaiting “What A Filthy Gas Station Toilet Can Teach Us About Blog Page Symantics”

Derek Halpern

Dude, that’s the next one FOR SURE.

Ha ha.

Jamillah Warner

Just did it last week!

I observed people “walking through” my website and what they found blew me away, embarassed me and inspired. Spent the weekend fixing the mini-mess and the BIG problem it was causing.

Love it and I’m sharing this article.

Thanks 😉


I remember fail blog after reading.. how silly the restaurant owner would have been lol 🙂
That guy even if he collected the email address in the right receipt would not have made the best use out of it im sure Derek…


Jai makes great point. A business needs to be optimised at every step of the process. Very often people get the first few steps right and get some success and forget all the other steps and they are missing out a lot.

Josh Sarz

I didn’t notice that about receipts until you mentioned it.

David Bronson

Thanks, Derek. It’s very valuable to be reminded how common these types of human pitfalls can happen to all of us when we’re not actively keeping on top of our stuff all the time. And such a great example to demonstrate it.