The cost of free

I had a free hair cut at a fancy salon today ( not my usual place). I went there because I had a free coupon lying at home – a good way for a new salon in the neighborhood to get some customer acquisition going. After going there, getting a decent cut and filling in my details, I realized that there is in fact a cost to the this ‘free’.
Under the pretext of ‘free’, they were able to get my attention, for go my normal guy for a hair cut, show me their best barber and get all my information on their database. At a time when your reach is critical to your success, and business models look at customers from the point of customer lifetime value, that data is probably worth the Rs. 400 that they let go off to have me there without a cost.

Of course, there is more to this than my experience. We see more and more apps and services in the tech world being given to users for free. Google – prime example, and not to mention Facebook and Instagram and list goes on. All these entities are multi-billion dollar valuations – for a service that is, on the face of it, free. But I am going to say that its not really free, and all we see is the illusion.
We are entering a world where our data, our identity is probably more accessible to companies, governments and other oraganizations than even before. It is also for this reason that for them to get hold of it is far more important in the long run than a few years of meagre profits. The large amounts of data at the hand of marketers, entrepreneurs and data scientists alike is where the value seems to be locked, and for everything thats given to you for free, know that you are giving access to that data – your behviour, preferences, interactions. Sometimes the bargain is still worth it, and sometimes its worth considering. But its not just your preference for shoes that people are after – its your attention. And you’re giving it to them – for free (nearly).
As for the salon, if they are smart, they will woo me more. At this point I’ve been tempted, and they’ve got my phone number (read email). Its out in the open, and my attention is up for grabs. All for free.



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