Plumbing and Potty Training

Last week I wrote a recap of the Money2020 Expo in Vegas and described my chance meeting with Omar the cab driver, for whom I am grateful both for my escape from Vegas and for providing me with a window into the life of someone scraping together a living in the city that personifies the extremes of financial reality in today’s world. 

In the confines of Omar’s cab, as I fumbled at 5:45 in the morning with paying Omar for his services I experienced the good and the bad of 21st century point of sale payment system plumbing.  As the consumer I was living the dream that empowers my ability to spend money anytime anywhere and with the highest expectations my experience was completely dependent on an infrastructure that is part old world and part new.

No sooner had I settled into my seat on the flight from Las Vegas to Chicago than I was reminded yet again of the intersection of old world and new world in the new money eco-system:  this is a tale of plumbing and potty training. 

Meet my seat mate Jackie, a fellow Money2020 conference attendee whose company was acquired last year by a certain Mountain View, CA behemoth whose name starts with “G” and ends in “E.” Jackie’s company is in the digital couponing business.  Her clients are manufacturers and consumer product companies who have been doling out coupons and loyalty rewards dating back to 1887 when Coca-Cola introduced couponing to the retail landscape.  So what does digital couponing have to do with plumbing?  Well let’s say I have a 10 month baby girl whose name is Charlotte and I need to get smart on potty training.  I go to a certain company’s search engine to find out quickly what the latest advice is on this age old parenting dilemma.  At the top of the search query I am presented with:  “How to Toilet Train a Toddler.”  I find some useful information that provides some comfort that the battles at home with Charlotte when it comes to discovering the wonders of the toilet are no different than the battles faced by every parent in America with a toddler.

What catches my attention, however, is the promotion that comes with the advice telling me that Huggies’ “Pull-Ups” are the perfect solution and that by clicking on the promotion link I can download a digital coupon into my digital coupon repository.  I am also told that that the offer is brought to me by Krogers.  Later in the afternoon, I pull the car out of the driveway in search of the Kroger’s where I can cash in my new found savings.  Perhaps I don’t know where the Kroger’s is since I usually buy my groceries at Safeway.  No worries.  A certain company has a map functionality that will show me the way.  Without incident, I find the Kroger’s and head straight for the aisle which has been consuming an uncomfortably large chunk of my paycheck since Charlotte was born.   I find the “Pull-Ups for Her” and feeling triumphant at having sliced $2.50 from the retail price I head to the check-out where I provide my phone number to the check-out clerk so my purchases can be checked against my digital coupon vault.  When the “Pull Ups for Her” are scanned I see the retail price scroll across the screen and BINGO $2.50 is deducted from the price. 

This is all pretty cool.  But in the process of saving $2.50 I think of the information I have just provided that certain company in Mountain View who now knows not just what I am searching for but also what kind of offers I will respond to and when and where I will redeem the offers.  Seems like a ton of value I just provided for $2.50.

At 30,000 feet I’m drifting off to sleep flying over the vast heartland of America.  I hear Suze Orman in the background.  She’s reminding the plumbers, old and new, that we are in business to serve “People” not “Consumers.”  She also tells us that people want respect, honesty and simplicity.  Amen.