The last time I had bought a cell phone in an actual store was nearly four years ago, an eternity when dealing in cell phones. Maybe this left me unprepared for the experience I had over the weekend. That or I must be out of practice with being a consumer.
Walking into the store, we are greeted by a fellow with an earpiece and a tablet computer to log in our name and reason for visit. He comes across as aloof, diligent and omniscient. While waiting, I scan the available models and am dismayed that there are very few, if any, non smart-phones. Everything on display appears to require a data plan with a fair number of tablet computers offered.
Our salesperson was cheerful and eager to help us. Her first question is what type of phones we need. We answer that candy bar or clamshell style. “What are your data needs?”, she asks. Her face falls ever so slightly when we reply that we need non-smart phones. We are told that there are only TWO phones on display that will meet our needs. Really? Of those two, the wife and I would be happy with one of them, no problem. However, both were full-keyboard slider types that did not appeal to my mother.
My wife and I exchange a quick worried look, the kind that only she and I know about. We ask if there was anything else available not on display. Now this was the magic phrase. Visibly reluctant, the sales woman nodded and heads to the stockroom to bring out some phones. She brings out a couple of phones that looked very similar to the 4 year old clamshell job my mom is replacing. We choose these and so our contacts and the like get transferred to our new phones.
As we're being rung up, the salesperson kept pushing accessories on us. “All we need is a phone charger for our car,” we tell her. This had to be strike three. Now, while still friendly towards us, we get the feeling she just wants to get us out of the store. Her last pitch was trying to upgrade our service plan. We point out we have not gone over on minutes EVER and we recently upgraded the text plans. She finally gives up on us. I notice the salesperson on the adjacent register is pushing an new tablet on an older couple who just got $200 phones. All he did was give them a tablet to play with while he took his time transferring their contacts to their new phones. Upon his return, the customers got the hard sell. I think they ended up buying the tablet. Did it leave our salesperson jealous?
On the drive home, we start talking about what just happened. Our provider has been mailing us letters describing how we can get a free phone upgrade by renewing our two year commitment. When it was all said and done, three phones plus one car charger cost $300, though with a bit more paper work and three envelopes, we'll hopefully get rebates to use to pay off half of what we spent. Hardly “free”, right? My wife commented how the amount we spent classified us as a failed opportunity for our salesperson. Suddenly it hits me: we just aren't the type of consumer big business wants. We use everything until it falls apart and usually replace it with gently used items we get second hand. We don't typically run out and get the first or even second generation of anything. Are we the ones responsible for the bad economy?
So that is what was on my mind as I drifted off to sleep. I was dreaming I was much older with a synthetic skin panel implanted into the back of my hand and was using it to call home when I was awoken by a loud beep. It was my new phone letting me know that I can check on the weather in any city on the planet for a modest fee and data usage. I put the phone down and slept a little better knowing that one way or another, my cell provider WILL make it money from me.