When it comes to the “informatization” of society, I suspect Italy followed a path that is shared by some other countries. 63% of families own a personal computer, whereas 93% own a cellphone. Most of these cellphones are smartphones: and if Internet consumption by Italians is growing, it is in large part to the use of mobile devices.

And yet getting digital ain’t necessarily easy. A blog post by Massimo Mantellini, alas in Italian, points out an interesting trend. Mantellini has noticed that a growing number of shops are charging customers for a number of very simple services: like setting up your account in your new iPhone, downloading a certain App, basically anything that helps in customising your experience as a smartphone owner.

Now, I can see this practice attracting some kind of stigma, or at least very negative reviews, by experienced, smart customers. It doesn’t take a “digital native”, but just somebody who has used a computer long enough, to find most of these small things ludicrously easy. Smartphones have an intuitive interface and they are conceived precisely to save time and concentration. When you had your MS DOS computer, setting it up certainly required more time, more skill, and more reading of the instruction manual. Now you plug in the charger and the magic of icons and the touchscreen makes it all flawless.

And yet, there are customers who never really got into computers or tablets until today. Grandmas who want to see their grandchildren’s pictures on Facebook. People who have little interest in technology, but have been informed that WhatsApp doesn’t charge you anything to send pictures and messages. For most of us, the tricky thing in buying a smartphone is figuring out the best contract, including reading the very small print at the bottom of the page. But for some of us, a cellphone by itself is no less mysterious. It may become a much appreciated companion in a couple of days, but buying into a new technology has a cost.


When you get into an AppleStore, all the assistance you receive by Apple staffers to set your iPhone up is free of charge. But Apples are pricey products, their customers are self selected, and I bet the staffers get better questions than in most of other shops.

By observation, Mantellini points out that the grandmas’ and grandpas’ questions and requests may take a great deal of time to answer. In a telecom company shop, or in a consumer electronics store, this may lead to queues. This is why there is nothing strange in charging for these services.

Sure, refined customers may actually disapprove: they may think that the shop is taking undue advantage of the old lady. But this may be one of those cases in which your gut feeling is not necessarily right. Charging for little services like setting up your Facebook account is no different than charging for anything else. It is, at the end of the day, better than the alternative.