Everyone has heard that 'time is money', but you'd probably never believe someone who told you that one day, you'd be able to use your time as a very literal form of currency.
IKEA has recently introduced customers to the idea of using their actual time spent traveling to their stores as a form of payment. Google Maps records your trips to their stores down to the minute, and IKEA logs how much 'time' you've accrued. Then when you get to checkout, you can use that 'time' to make purchases.
Since IKEA's stores are often out of customer's way in areas well outside of city centers, the cost of time traveling for most is significant — anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour.
Typically, we associate the 'time well-spent' model with any place that charges you a fee to spend time there; Disneyland, Top Golf, Axe-throwing bars, etc. They drive profits by charging for the time you spend, but they're considered worth the price because of the unique experience.
IKEA's 'Pay with your time' program flips that idea on its head. It's time well-spent in the literal sense — they're essentially paying you just to make the trip to their stores.
Although the program exists only as a pilot in Dubai, the implications of taking the 'time well-spent' model so literally have game-changing potential. Let's take a look at the pros and cons.
Imagine feeling so valued as a customer that the store pays you just to go there. Not a bad feeling, right? Customers certainly appreciate the idea, and you can be sure the experience generates amazing brand loyalty, at least while it's unique to IKEA.
The program could naturally drive an increase in foot traffic to physical stores, and in turn, drive up other interactions with it. In a day and age ruled by Amazon shipping, this would be quite a feat.
Not to mention, it might actually give meaning to the impulse aisle. If people want to pay for small items with their time, like snacks or reusable bags, they'll always have a little 'time' in their back pockets. Or maybe, people could have the option to pledge their 'time' as donations to good causes that they wouldn't otherwise.
This is pure speculation, but let's do a little thought experiment, and say that time as legal tender caught on. What might it take for that to happen?
IKEA's idea can be boiled down to essentially a customer loyalty discount, but the tracking apparatus (Google Maps) might have more potential. Could the program theoretically be used to verify transactions in the way that Blockchain (essentially a giant aggregate receipt, as I understand it, feel free to correct me) is used to verify Bitcoin transactions? Maybe the travel time logs could be used as the 'Blockchain' for a sort of 'Timecoin'?
Far far be it from me to pose an answer that question — it's so far outside of my expertise, it'd be a joke for me to consider. But who knows? Maybe one of you readers can offer some insight. Things change so quickly these days, it's starting to feel like anything's possible. Why not 'Timecoin'?
There's always the probability that someone will make a roundabout trip just to gather more 'time' to spend. We can assume that IKEA will have to do some form of fraud mitigation because, as with any form of payment, there will always be someone trying to game the system, either maliciously or just for the sake of it. One bad apple will probably spoil the bunch, and the benefits of the program will naturally decrease over time as IKEA is forced to verify that a customer didn't drive in circles just to generate currency.
The time-to-dollars ratio, if you will, should account for the cost of different modes of transportation. Most likely, people won't be getting on planes just to go to IKEA. The time/dollars conversion rate don't justify it, at any rate.
Based on the video above, a reusable bag costs "just 2 minutes of your time". We can then assume the value of time is between 50¢ and $1 per minute, based on the average reusable bag's cost of $1 or $2. Meaning if someone took a nonstop, 12-hour flight from the States to Dubai ($800), that would net you 'time' worth anywhere from $360 to $720. You don't quite cover the cost of the flight, assuming the best rate. So it's not really worth the trip.
More likely, the conversion is more valuable when related to the cost of gas (or electricity, if we're being optimistic). Assuming 30 minutes of driving, that's a $15-$30 'time' value. It can cover more than a tank of gas.
So what about walking or biking? What if someone does live near the store, and chooses to walk 30 minutes? That time is worth the same $15-$30. You can consider it being paid to exercise, so it's still not a bad tradeoff.
Assuming that everything else works perfectly, there remains the further normalization of being tracked at all times. When that data translates to money for the consumer, the choice to turn tracking off will become that much tougher. Picture other companies following IKEA's lead, giving consumers the option across the board to pay with their time. That level of incentive would make it undesirable to turn location services off, ever.
The tradeoff: at least the program does provide real-dollar value for that data...something other data magnates can't seem to match (looking at you, Facebook & co.).
And this one is for IKEA's sake...the cost of essentially giving every customer a discount for any amount of traveling, at all times. I'm sure they've considered the costs against the possible returns, and the math checked out. Even so, not every business will have the means to justify such a sweeping discount. Customers seem to love it, but is it a sustainable option for say, small businesses?
'Paying with your time' is a profoundly interesting concept, and has the potential to change the way we do business. If implemented more widely, it could change the way we think of our time as consumers, and how we choose to 'spend' it. Getting over that hurdle could be many, many years away, since we've only seen the first trial run.
It may be too good to be true, especially since the benefits seem to rest mostly with customers, while putting a burden on the company. It could be the next great innovation, or it could be completely unsustainable. Only time will tell if the notion catches on.
(Unfortunately, at the time this article's writing, we're in the midst of global quarantine and social distancing, so shopping in person is discouraged unless absolutely necessary. If you're working from home, consider joining the Work From Home University. We have weekly advice, encouragement and reading materials to make the time go by faster.)