In the book Tipping Point, Malcom Gladwell argues that small changes are often behind “the moment of critical mass.” Drawing from New York City’s experimentation with the broken window theory of criminology, Gladwell makes the point: to make major changes that are sustainable, focus on minor changes to preceding steps of the process.
Enter American Express, Paypal, et al. American Express’ focus (www.wired.com ) on changing the way consumers pay is a focus too downstream of the shopping process. Too many steps have already pushed consumers along a well-established pattern of product acquisition (what Gladwell calls the Power of Context), too far along to suddenly break the norms: Will you be paying with paper or plastic?
Changes to the way consumers pay for goods need to start much earlier in the product acquisition process. And the place to start is the grocery store. First, the broad endorsement of the Universal Product Code (UPC) began in the grocery store industry. Second, where Amazon disrupted the brick-and-mortar bookseller industry and Netflix disrupted the video rental industry, nobody has been able to disrupt in a broad sense the grocery store industry. Webvan tried and failed. Instacart is trying to reproduce the grocery delivery business. Amazon tried once, backed away, and is testing Amazon Fresh . Finally, the grocery store provides us a relatively stable marketing environment that is universally accessible. Change the way people pay here and you introduce change for the way people pay everywhere.
But breaking the established norms of product acquisition needs to reduce complexity and eliminate steps. Currently, consumers have no incentive to pay differently at the checkout.
INCENTIVIZE THE CUSTOMER: PAY AS YOU PLACE
How much time do consumers spend in line at the register? How much time do consumers spend waiting for some associate to confirm a customer-requested price-check? How many times does a box of cereal really need to be touched before it becomes the property of the mother of four?
Pay as You Place (PYP) is one means of disrupting the established product acquisition process. Pay as You Place allows customers to scan items as they place them into their buggies. That box of cereal is picked up once, scanned, and placed into a customer-provided, environmentally friendly bag. (Cue ringing bell at Trader Joes .)
- No longer does the customer have to retrieve the product from the cart in order for it to be scanned at checkout.
- No longer does the customer have to play Jenga, putting heavier items on the bottom and lighter, more fragile items on top; then reverse the process in order to ensure the same result after items are scanned and bagged.
- No longer does the customer have to try and remember sixty prices at the check-out process. Scan it in the aisle. Confirm the price. Done. No waiting behind the “price check at register 5.”
- No longer does the customer have to wait in line to check out. No waiting in line. No coming to the same, established routine: paper or plastic. The process has been disrupted. Introducing a new payment option at that point faces significantly less resistance.
Grocery stores can provide hand-held scanners for customer wanting to PYP. But who wants to be that guy (he definitely doesn’t get the girl)? Given the option of holding a Star Trek Phaser-sized scanner or my own iPhone, I know which I’m going to use. Now the technology necessary for an anti-plastic payment option is already at hand, literally.
And the classic broken-wheel wonder is long overdue for an update. In addition to anti-theft features and antimicrobial design, the exiting shopping cart only needs to be adjusted. The addition a false bottom to the main bagging area and the under shelf would reduce the standard 3-5 cubic feet by a few inches. The false bottom is scaled to product weight. Scan an item, place it in. The scale knows. Don’t scan an item, place it in. The scale knows.
While implementation across the global fleet of carts isn’t likely to occur overnight, these could be easy features of the popular, smaller flatbed carts. Smaller carts are designed for people intending smaller purchases, which are often people in a greater hurry. Reduction of groceries, reduction of time, easy of PYP, and use my own device. Introduction of a new payment option at that point: Priceless.
Getting ready to leave with merchandise you didn’t pay for? You can’t until you walk out the door and return the buggy where it goes, passing an employee with a hand-held scanner and tablet. He knows there’s one extra box of cereal in that buggy and smiles at you saying, “Ma’am, I think you forgot to pay for something.”
Suddenly, a disruption of the entire grocery shopping process by small, measurable stages places the concept and selection of alternative payment options in front of consumers, tipping points for innovation and change.
DISRUPT SOONER. DISRUPT OFTEN-ER (EVEN IF IT ISN’T A WORD)
This is just one scenario. The main point is the adaptation of disruptive technology needs to interrupt established patterns of behavior throughout a process, not simply provide an alternative at the end. Continued emphasis upon that final moment where the customer pays will leave American Express, Paypal and others at the same frustrated dead-end: choosing between paper and plastic.