My son needs a new phone, so yesterday at my suggestion, we took a trip to the local AT&T retail store to get a look at the options up close and personal. Instead of eager sales people trying hard to sell us phones, we found they preferred to send us over to the Mall to retail partners Best Buy and Radio Shack. Seems to me if you are going to spend the capital to keep a brick and mortar operation going, you might want to try to be a bit more enthusiastic about selling phones.
Why Are We Here?
The second I walked in I noted the store had been remodeled since my last visit. There were two long counters against the far wall and lots of empty space against the back wall. Most of the phones were displayed on the left side of the store. The iPhone had a kiosk devoted to it in the middle of the store. There were also a couple of rows of accessories.
We looked around at the available phones and realized any of the nicer phones required you to purchase a data plan that cost between $20 and $30 per month. For my middle schooler, all I want is a nice phone for texting. He doesn't need internet access on his phone, and at that price, it wasn't an option. When we explained this to the salesman behind the counter, he suggested we go to Best Buy or Radio Shack instead where they sell the same phones without the data plan requirement restrictions.
What's The Business Model?
Turns out that Best Buy and Radio Shack sell the entire line of AT&T phones except the iPhone. What's more, we found the salespeople at Best Buy and Radio Shack to be entirely more friendly *and* knowledgeable about the phones they were selling. They happily answered all of our questions and could deal with all of the paperwork involved in the upgrade. I couldn't think of any reason to ever walk into the AT&T store again, to be honest, unless it was to buy an iPhone.
So it has come to do this? AT&T sees its retail stores as an outlet for selling iPhones and smart phone plans on its other phones, desperately trying to wrest that monthly data fee from us? My son (who is 14) wisely pointed out as we were discussing this later, that they don't seem to care about selling phones. They want to sell plans. I think he's right. The store has been set up in a way where the phones are secondary and the counters where they set up the plans are the most prominently displayed.
The last thing I expect when I walk into a store is to have the salespeople shuttle me to a retail partner, and it suggests that company policy has changed. Now, I admit, this is just one experience and I could be over-generalizing a giant company's retail strategy based on one in-store experience, but if this is the way they are planning to go, it seems like they are giving up completely on the low end of the cell phone market from a retail standpoint and going all smart phone, all the time. It seems like an odd approach at a time where the economy is still fragile and many families don't have the disposable income to deal with expensive data plans.