Last weekend my wife and I upgraded our cell phones. Jaimie’s was one drop away from death. The last time the phone was dropped it took about 30 minutes for it to recover. This is never a good state for electronics, hence the motivation to look at new phones.
Both of us are reasonably tech savvy and capable of understanding the nuances of tech features. Even so, the purchase experience for the cell phones was one of the most painful that I’ve ever encountered.
The multiple paths for purchase plans, requirements, and features are all extremely confusing and undocumented. I started the journey by talking with some coworkers about experiences with different types of phones. The two main choices boiled down to smart phone and not smart phone. I then went to cnet.com to start looking at some reviews of different phones to get a rough feel for how they compared. This narrowed the search down to the treo in the smart phone category and the razr in the not smart phone category.
Next to look at pricing. Here again things are all over the place. I was an AT&T customer, but my contract was now month to month, so that didn’t really figure into the equation. We would like to keep the numbers if possible, but it wasn’t a requirement. Looking at cingular’s site, the razr was $199 with a two year contract. A little shopping around though found that the local best buy was offering the same deal for $99. Of course the poor Best Buy salesperson, probably still in high school, couldn’t tell me which of three options I wanted, Two year plan, One year plan, or upgrade. She recommended that I call cingular and ask, so that’s what I did.
Of course the cingular guy wanted me to buy the phone from him. So I asked if he could match the price, but nope his manager wouldn’t allow him to do that. He finally was able to tell me that indeed I needed the Two year plan. So, back to Best Buy. At this point I found out that the same phone and plan was available for $69 on the Best Buy website. Of course the store couldn’t match its website price, so since I was already there I decided to go with the store option.
Now at this point I got into an argument with the Best Buy salesperson because they insisted that Cingular was wrong and that I could not buy the Two year plan, but had to get the upgrade for $100 more. Since I was already a customer I was rewarded by being loyal to Cingular by being charged extra for the same thing. Sounds like a really good plan to me. So then I remembered that there was now number portability. Since we were month to month with the contract we could just start up another contract and have the phone number transferred over. We could go to Sprint and have this work. Of course it turns out that only Cingular carries the razr and you can’t start another contract within Cingular and maintain your number. So, the extra $100 they wanted to charge us was just so that we could hold onto our cell phone numbers. Since my wife and I primarily use it for family calls and emergencies, it was an easy choice, sign up for a new number.
The whole process left me with a decidedly dirty feeling. If there ever was a mobile company that didn’t leave you feeling this way, I would pay to switch. In the ISP space there is a company that exactly fits this profile, Speakeasy. I pay top dollar for dsl from them because they understand what the customer wants. Now if only they offered mobile service I would sign up in an instant.