Wall Street Pit

How Verizon and AT&T Stopped Me from Buying a New Phone

I’m interrupting our usual discussions on mostly macro issues to tell a very personal and extremely frustrating micro story about how I ended up not buying something I had planned to buy.

First, you need to know that one of my basic rules in life is that, while I’m more than willing to work hard to earn my money, I don’t think I should have to work hard to spend it.

Second, you also need to know that my existing contract with Verizon Wireless, a company with which I long have had a love/hate relationship, expired about 10 days ago. I am now free to switch companies without paying a penalty, to get a new phone, and to get a $50 discount from Verizon off a new phone if I re-up up for 2 years.

In theory, I’m the consumer with all the power. I’ve got excellent credit, I like electronic gadgets, and I’m a free agent. In other words, I’m the customer every phone company should want and should be trying hard to get.

Except it turns out that’s not the case.

Ever since my beautiful and talented wife (The BTW) got one, I have lusted after an iPhone. Even though I really only use my current cell phone for…well…making phone calls, like many others I have been seduced by everything an iPhone can do. The Apple (AAPL) commercials that emphasize the apps over the phone apparently have had an impact on my thinking. Although really only use my iPod when I’m working out, having all my music with me at all times seems like a great idea. And being able to show my extensive collection of personal pictures to everyone I meet, take new photos, surf the web, and look up movie start times whenever I want seems like a dream come true.

Except The BTW tells me the one app I really use and need — the phone — is the worst thing about the iPhone.

But I decided to find out for myself. So I went to an AT&T (T) store a few blocks from my office (and which is conveniently a few doors down from a Verizon store so I could easily visit both if necessary, and the salesman flat out refused to answer any questions about the quality of the iPhone service. He said he was from California and not that familiar with the service on the east coast. He never had a problem with the service in the Golden State and, by the way, did I know how easy it was to watch a movie on the iPhone?

I asked for a manager. I was told none was available.

The “salesman” then talked proudly about how the IPhone has 36 gigs of memory. He went pale, however, when I mentioned that I had an 160 gig iPod Classic and 36 gigs wouldn’t come close to handling what it stored. He then said I could always keep my existing iPod and just use my new iPhone for everything else.

So, he wouldn’t answer my questions about the phone service and one of the non-calling features he was flacking wasn’t going to work for me. And, to be honest, as seductive as having an app for everything I could possibly imagine (Is there an app for helping you decide what phone to buy?) might have been, I decided that spending $200 or more for an iPhone wasn’t happening.

So I went a few doors down to the Verizon (VZ) store, gave then my cell phone number, and waited for them to court a customer whose contract was up and could bolt at any minute.

Wrong.

As soon as they heard that while 1 year was possible I wasn’t going to sign up for another two years because I wanted the freedom to move my account if they screwed something up, they became incredibly uninterested in me and my monthly payments. They couldn’t explain why a Droid was a better deal than an iPhone, or just a good deal at all. And they really lost interest when I said I just wanted to get a new basic phone to replace my now 5 year old Motorola Razr.

The one new phone I wanted was out of stock. But the listed $9.95 price was only good if I renewed my contract for two years; otherwise it was $449, which clearly was a rip-off for a phone that looked like it cost about $3 to manufacture. The “salesman” said it was $9.95 (if it had been in stock, of course) only because I would have paid for the remaining $440 over the 24 months of the 2-year contract he so desperately wanted me to sign.

(That begs an interesting question about my existing phone and contract: Since my current phone was paid for over the past 24 months, why doesn’t my current Verizon bill fall by the monthly amount that was priced in to my payment 2 years ago? Isn’t that a rip-off as well?)

So this is why I didn’t spend the money I had planned to spend this weekend. It’s also why, if you call me on my cell, I won’t be able to look up a movie start time while we’re talking.

I now return you to our regular mostly macro issue programming.