Study: Surveys On Store Receipts Are "Total Garbage"

We've all gotten a survey invitation on a store receipt.

A 2016 study from Interaction Metrics found that 41 of the 51 largest U.S. retailers included a survey invitation on the standard receipt. The surveys were evaluated to see how useful and engaging they were.

Not a single one was fully engaging and scientific.

The study also found that 68 percent of the surveys were "total garbage," meaning the surveys were so flawed they weren't worth the time required to complete them.

You can view the entire study here. Below is a summary of the results along with some action items and resources to help improve your organization's customer satisfaction survey.

How the Study Worked

The study assessed surveys based on four criteria. Each one was weighted to reflect the relative importance of each category:

  • Access: Ease of locating and beginning the survey (5%)
  • Branding: Style reflecting the brand, correct spelling and grammar (10%)
  • Engaging: Keep customers engaged throughout the process (35%)
  • Accuracy: Survey design that yielded accurate data (50%)

The surveys were all obtained by making purchases from the retailer, either in store or online.


Accuracy Flaws Uncovered

Inaccurate data can prevent companies from taking the right action to improve service. 

Or worse, a survey might be gamed to yield high scores that disguise the fact that service needs to be improved at all.

Asking leading questions was one of the most prevalent flaws, showing up in 92 percent of the surveys examined. These are questions that are worded in a way that naturally leads customers to a particular answer. 

For example, Ace Hardware had this question on its survey:

How satisfied were you with the speed of your checkout?

The problem with a question like this is it assumes the customer was satisfied. This assumptive wording makes a positive answer more likely.

A more neutral question might ask, "How would you rate the speed of your checkout?"

Another issue was the use of overly positive wording that can bias a customer's response. The study found that 82 percent of surveys contained at least one question with overly-positive wording.

Here's an example from GAP:

The look and feel of the store was very appealing.

This question also suffers from vague wording. Does "look and feel" refer to branding such as signage, displays, and decor? Or does it refer to cleanliness and organization? Perhaps it means the store's layout?

Here's an example from the now-defunct Sports Authority, where a cashier biased the survey in another way. He stamped the expected response right on the invitation:


Engagement Flaws Revealed

Surveys reflect on your company's brand.

They're part of the customer journey. Many retailers have made their surveys so needlessly long or aggravating that the survey itself reflects poorly on the brand, like this egregious example from Buffalo Wild Wings that required customers to navigate through 39 different screens!

The average retailer's survey had 23 questions.

That's a tedious amount of questions to expect customers to answer. Nordstrom advertised its survey took just 2 minutes, but it contained 25 questions. The survey actually took 4 minutes to complete.

The study found that 13 percent of surveys were difficult to access. Walmart required not one but two receipt codes to be answered. Rite Aide, Ross, and Walgreen's all had broken links.

The best surveys are short and easy to complete. In many cases, you can capture troves of useful data with just three questions.



There are many resources to help you develop, implement, and refine your customer service survey while avoiding these mistakes. Here are just a few:

Why We Need Less Marketing And More Customer Experience

Like most pet owners, I go out of my way to care for my dog.

She's a ten-year-old mutt that I've had since she was a puppy. She's a big girl, weighing just under 80 pounds. This means I make regular visits to the pet store to buy a lot of food, treats, and poop bags. I can only imagine how much I've spent over her lifetime.

There's a pet store that's just five minutes away from my house. I don't go there anymore because it offered a consistently poor experience. 

It wasn't just the customer service that was poor. It was the entire experience. Annette Franz has this handy definition of customer experience on her blog:

(a) the sum of all the interactions that a customer has with a company over the course of the relationship lifecycle and (b) the customer's feelings, emotions, and perceptions of the brand over the course of those interactions.

Someone in marketing had a new bright idea every week. They'd change the layout so frequently that each visit felt like walking through a maze. They frequently got rid of popular products because they thought they could sell a similar product under their private label for a better margin.

Now, I drive to another pet store that's fifteen minutes from my home. I literally pass the old store on my way there. The new store had a much better experience.

At least it did until Tuesday.

I went in for three items. This store usually gives you the option to get your receipt via email. I like that. It's one less piece of paper to clutter my pocket before I eventually throw it away. 

Not Tuesday. On Tuesday, the only receipt option was paper:

This monstrous receipt was for three items. It's 58.5 inches long in case you're wondering - nearly five feet tall.

Someone in marketing is responsible for this. They took away the convenient email option and replaced it with a file-clogging wad of coupons and promotions. I'm not interested in any of them. 

This isn't a customer service problem. The friendly cashier made the best of the situation when the receipt started printing and just kept going and going. We joked about it. I think she was a little embarrassed. She apologized for the hassle.

I'm sure a marketer thought this was a great idea. You can just imagine one of those creative sessions. Someone suddenly gets a devilish look in their eye and said, "What if... nah. It's too outlandish."

Someone else chimed in and said, "C'mon, Craig. We're brainstorming here! There are no bad ideas! What are you thinking?"

So Craig screwed up the courage to spit it out. "What if we gave every customer a giant receipt full of coupons? It could be like five feet long. It would be so outrageous that customers would think they were getting punked!!"

Actually, Craig, there are bad ideas.

No customer experience professional would have gone for this. One look at the awkward interaction between customer and cashier while the receipt printer spewed out coupons like a broken skee ball machine and they would have realized it was a crummy idea.

Those coupons might earn the pet store a few extra bucks. The marketers will take credit for that. It might also cost them a few customers. Whose fault will that be?