Pay It Forward Business Model


I was in line at a coffee shop today when I noticed a sign with the following invitation: “Pay It Forward Coffee: Buy it now and we’ll give it to the next customer ordering a coffee.” I am not drinking a lot of coffee these days (as I talked about in this post) but the idea seemed intriguing, so I ordered two espressos, one for me and one for the next customer.

The clerk gave me my coffee and a card, where I was supposed to write a message to the customer who would get my free espresso. I wrote “Good luck today!”

Oddly enough I felt quite good after paying the bill. There certainly wasn’t enough time for the caffeine to kick-in, so I am guessing the feeling was coming from doing something nice for someone else without expecting anything in return. It was almost as if the good luck I wished to her was going to stick with me throughout the day.

The pleasant feeling led me to wonder about the business implications of this idea. If you think about it, it creates a win-win-win situation. The current customer wins because he leaves feeling good about himself, and in most cases this alone will out-weight the money spent on the extra coffee. The next customer wins because he will get a free coffee and a message from a stranger, which will certainly put him in a good mood. Finally, the coffee shop wins, because it will be creating a unique experience for its customers, strengthening its brand, and it might end up selling more coffee the end of the month as well.

It just makes sense, and I believe that many businesses could benefit from integrating this pay it forward concept in one way or another. For instance, the “One for One” concept pioneered by Toms Shoes certainly had a huge influence on its growth over the years. If you are not familiar with the company, whenever Toms sells a pair of shoes, they give another pair to a poor child somewhere in the world.



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  1. says

    Good idea. I guess that’s what life is about: paying it forward. Probably we understand it intuitively and hence are able to tolerate all the perceived injustices done to us!

    Destination Infinity
    PS: Have fun with this personal blog. All the best 🙂

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