(Please enjoy this guest column by my friend and colleague, Peter Lugli. You can subscribe to Peter’s wonderful musings at www.digitalpylon.net)
Every once in a while, David Muir at ABC Nightly News soberly tells me about an FDA recall. The broccoli or chicken nuggets or leafy greens quietly sitting in my fridge are weaponized to sicken me, perhaps lethally. Yet another FDA recall, yet another food Amber Alert.
Alas, it’s not just food. The ‘recall’ imperative covers everything made poorly and sold widely. It is the necessary byproduct of two modern manufacturing realities. Humans make mistakes. Lawyers wish to mitigate damages. Advertiser-bound mass media are nudged to make these PSAs wedged between commercials for Ozempic and whatever that jellyfish memory supplement is. Peek at ABC’s website and track the dizzying array of stuff we buy that may maim, sicken or kill.
One thing that unifies every consumer or business transaction is that it was paid for (we don’t include Seattle’s increasingly popular method of acquisition). There is much to marvel about here, particularly debit or credit payments. Plastic (or its digital representation) is used roughly 1,800 times per second in the US for zipping payment authorizations from consumer to seller through digital circuits linking banks, merchants, and cardholders at the speed of light.
And yet, and yet… despite this intimate exchange of “money for thing” at the point of sale, there is pretty well zero connection between the parties to the transaction once the bargain has been consummated. This is a pity, mainly when something happens after purchase that may cause the buyer harm. This digital chasm between checkout and the post-purchase experience is the most glaring indictment of what I call the Plain Old Payment Service. Using broccoli as our purchase item, here’s what POPS looks like:
People, we can do better.
Working backwards from the (ahem) priceless part.
In my last post, I asked:
“What if payments were as much about the things we buy as they are about paying for them? Couldn’t an NFC-chip and camera-enabled smartphone, together with a modernized payment infrastructure, help with that in a way that creates new value for consumers, merchants, and brands around the stuff we buy and sell? Call it an ‘informed payment’? That’s “where the puck is going” stuff, which banks and card players are unequipped to put in place and arguably ill-equipped to ponder.”
Let’s tease out this “informed payment” paradigm (come up with a better label, but please don’t call it ‘Smart Payments,’ which has been used so widely as to be meaningless).
Imagine I’m planning on making a broccoli crust pizza for the family gang on Pizza Night. I’m a purist so I will make that broccoli crust myself (by the way, bad idea). I head out to Safeway, buy five heads of broccoli, and dutifully pay for them with my Mastercard debit card.
That night, my wife hears from David Muir Himself that the FDA has issued a broccoli recall. Listeria. Eating listeria-contaminated food could result in fever, headaches, convulsions, and a temporarily acceptable rationale for hating broccoli.
Frustrated, I throw out the broccoli and can’t be bothered returning it for a refund. Of course, payment nerd I am, “This is 2023”, I say to myself when no one is near, “Why am I hearing about my bad broccoli on ABC Nightly News? My phone should be telling me – via information from a payment transaction that links me, Safeway, and the toxic broccoli. We payment nerds must think bigger!”.
The Informed Payments Service
So let’s try. Let’s imagine a time in the future when that notification happens along the lines of the nifty and entirely fictional mockup adjacent. Assuming I had permissioned the data around that broccoli purchase with Safeway ahead of time, I click that Safeway notification. The notification gives me the option of a refund – right now for the amount purchased – if I click a confirmation button that I’ve destroyed the broccoli. On top of that, Safeway may throw me a coupon for 20% off untainted broccoli on my next visit. Or it offers me a BOGO on pre-prepared frozen broccoli crust pizza from DiGiorno. Or better yet, I could get a discount on piping hot broccoli crust pizza delivered via Safeway’s food delivery partner UberEats directly to my place before the family gang sits down – crisis averted!
Here’s the Informed Payments Service marketecture:
We’ve done two big things here. First, we’ve created a broccoli platform and app development marketplace that can morph way beyond broccoli. Second, we’ve created a gargantuan consulting opportunity for Accenture.
For stakeholders that genuinely matter, this gets better.
For the retailer: An IPS powered broccoli service would be a boon to food retailers. It would be a differentiator over competitive offerings selling broccoli – bad Safeway broccoli is wayyy better than bad Publix broccoli, for example. It’s not about the broccoli, it’s about the post-broccoli purchase experience. Safeway would become Saferway.
For the retailer’s lawyers: One could hold that if the user takes the refund, but eats the broccoli instead of destroying it, or takes the refund after having eaten the broccoli, – and falls gravely ill – the requisite disclaimer before funds flow back to the user would have vitiated any right to sue Safeway.
For the manufacturer: Broccoli producers can be crazy specific about which lots went to which food retailer, and zero in on recall notifications without getting their brand splashed on national news (where only a minute proportion of the population may be impacted). I haven’t seen any studies about this, but I think it makes sense that if Krazy Kitchen Chicken Tenders sold in Nebraska and North Dakota cause dysentery and death if consumed, it’s likely a national recall trumpeted by David Muir means sales of Krazy Kitchen Chicken Tenders will tank across the USA (and everything else Krazy Kitchen makes for that matter). For the manufacturer, an IPS is a no-brainer.
For the consumer: Obviously, Safeway customers will be delighted with the notification, the refund, and potentially other solutions that are meant to mollify the inconvenience. UberEats broccoli pizza delivered in time for my family gathering that night? That’s a winner! Thank you, Safeway!
For third parties: Somebody said marketing is about putting the right product at the right place at the right price at the right time. Finding out broccoli can kill me or my guests that evening certainly opens the door to more intelligent marketing. Times like these were made for UberEats!
For David Muir: David can pass on the news of broccoli recalls and substitute for something far more engaging, like where Travis Kelce took Taylor Swift out to dinner last night.
The idea of thinking of a payment as an ongoing relationship as opposed to a standalone transaction in time can yield mind-blowing (and monetizable) opportunities. There is a new universe here – in B2C and B2B contexts – and it can extend way beyond cards.
Who builds this?
Of course, this idea of building a closer post-purchase tie between consumer and manufacturer, retailer, and brand post-purchase is not new. It’s just that solutions here suck. We have built large, expensive, and ultimately brittle and bespoke models on everything from mail-in warranty cards to loyalty cards, rewards systems, and points. They are all pretty cumbersome, expensive, time-consuming, and frustrating.
What’s new today of course, is that we can build platforms, products, and solutions that can unearth massive new value based on enabling technology (smartphones + internet) and users’ openness to sharing permissioned identity via platforms to unlock new value.
Put another way, there’s something here for Apple to build on top of their growing, careful, and fiendishly methodical incursion into financial services. Or maybe Elon will just do it.
Whoever figures it out, the stuff we pay for – not only our broccoli, but our car parts, our Air Jordans – will be far more engaging with us after we pay for them.
Our broccoli should be talking to us. It’s time.