The following article in the NY Times suggests that so-called “free” internet services are anything but free (click here). Why? Because there’s always a cost. And on the internet, what we get for “free” often costs significant time and frustration. And this is what the author finds as he views all his TV shows online.
In fact, this is a great area to sit and think. Because so many activities on the web consume time. How many hours does it take to schedule business trips online? A lot. Would I be better off paying an agent to just make the reservations? Not necessarily. I travel so much that I am quite picky about flights. But it’s worth remembering that a $25 or $35 fee to an agent is small compared with my losing an hour or more finding flights. And I have generally found that agents have access to some very low cost alternatives that I don’t have. (Of course, I continue to make my own reservations.)
There is another hidden cost that affects online consumers – opportunity cost. That time we spend wading laboriously through online services also costs us lost opportunity. We could be using that time for more productive things – perhaps even thinking about how to better spend our time.
I also think this idea helps clarify one important marketing area. Consider the technology chasm that kills so many products (that jump between the narrow market of early enthusiasts and the first wave of mass purchasers). Time, frustration, and lost opportunity can be perceived as insignificant by the early enthusiasts. But those same costs quickly overwhelm the mass market consumer – leading them to pine (in the case of internet TV) for the simpler days of cable TV’s instant and easy access.
Technology marketers need to become aware of when their early success happens despite these hidden costs. Because early adopters put up with hassle that early majority consumers simply won’t stand. I don’t see many companies who “get” this truth.
Incidentally, this thinking may be important when considering smart phones. Millions and millions sold. But, it’s a lurking long term problem that in another interesting recent NYTimes story we find that the large majority of SmartPhone users aren’t, well, using it much as a Smartphone. Is it possible they don’t get enough benefit in return for the hassle or complication of trying to learn to use them as Smartphones?
In our love for our own advanced technology, it is always wise to take some time to sit back and think more deeply about the unintended results of our work. Because there’s a cost to everything. Its just that not all costs are monetary. But it’s those other costs that may draw the line between market success and failure.
Copyright 2010 – Doug Garnett