Recently, I bought a new $5 T-Shirt at the local discount store (representing my high fashion couture style). As I swiped my credit card through the machine in front of me, a receipt about a mile long spewed out.  Imagine that, a simple purchase that triggers a long audit trail of  global databases, purchasing initiatives, inventory swings, massive trend fluctuations, legal protections from local, regional, state and federal authorities. The Marrakesh Express has come a long way.

Yes, I can imagine the day when a small band of buyers would hop on their favorite camel, mule, horse, wagon and rush off 100 miles on a 6 month journey to pick up some spices and perfumes. After spending 3 months buying and exotic goods like salt and pepper, they begin their trek back home laden with goodies. Upon their arrival the awaiting  family jumps for joy and soon they begin filling up their bungalow trading booth located in the middle of the town marketplace. Day after day they bargain back and forth as voices bellow through the trading streets. Each day happy buyers toss their treasured goodies in straw tote bags for the night’s family meal. Now, this was trading in the good ol’ days.

Not today! Consumable items arrive in hours upon  the display floors, fluffed and tagged, “ON SALE” signs buttoned on the racks, colors matched, eye candy in place. And that’s only the tip of the iceberg. The product’s arrival was only one step in the long procession of consumable readiness.

Initially, the idea of my $5 T-Shirt was created in an executive boardrooms on the 80th floor of a tall sky scrapper where pedigreed suits discuss product mix development, competitive branding strategies, product positioning, target demographics and illustrative packaging all exacted to reel in the right customer at the right price. Next focus groups that test products for likability with the results calculated and adjustments made. All this as  hordes of competitors are galloping to the same target market. Then manufacturing, distribution channels, advertising, display posters, free samples and training for sales personnel at local outlets. The horses have only started the race. Next, inventory trends, restocking and reallocating sold and unsold product, more advertising, more executive meetings for strategic marketing impacts, revenue growth trends adjusted, lay-offs, promotions, more advertising.

This just covers product delivery. Then there’s the underlying legal structures that protect consumers. For example, when I bought my $5 T-Shirt, the moment the clerk scans the bar code icon into the cash register (what I call the POINT OF TRANSACTION) instantaneously there’s a legal contract formed  … the same contracts that govern crime, banks, traffic violations, mergers and acquisitions and copyright infringement. There’s a set of laws that inject themselves into the process that are sanctioned and protected by local, regional, state and federal authorities that ensure things go smoothly when you walk out the door. You know, so you don’t have to worry if your $5 T-Shirt bursts into flames on a hot day, or carries the next virus that will wipe out humanity in a few days. Too boot, there’s also built in warranties that outline what happens if, by chance, you should burst into flames, and another set of guidelines that govern the store return policy … all in one bright flash.

That brings us back  to the bar code icon. That’s laser technology we’re talking about. Instantaneous, lightening fast, coded digital information that rockets through the multiple capture points and tells everyone the impact of today’s game … you know, who won and lost, who made the big bucks, who will retire early, who will gain a golden crown, and more importantly, what new product will be tethered to the success of my purchase of my $5 T-Shirt.

I use to treat my $5 T-Shirt fashion statements lightly. Not anymore.  Now I walk proudly through the streets with my chest popped out, my lips pouting and head turned slightly askew. Yes, I represent global style, and even though they aren’t asking me to be the next high paid fashion men’s $5 T-Shirt model, I  walk around knowing I have the worlds of technology, law, business and couture fashion covering my back.


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