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What I wanted to do, all I wanted to do, was buy a $30 charger for the phone and get out of the store.

Wireless Retailers: What’s Wrong with this Picture

Monday, April 16, 2007

On Friday, I went into one of the Cingular stores where I live. I needed a simple power supply for a phone. I had misplaced the cube and could not find another one that would work and I wanted to send the phone to a friend whose phone was old and worn out.


The first thing that struck me as I entered the store was how busy it was. There were four sales people in the store and when I dutifully went to put my name on the sign-in sheet I saw that there were three people ahead of me. The sign-up sheet was full with a line drawn down the middle, so I signed in at the top right of the sheet. Four people came in after me and the next representative to look at the sheet saw my name at the top, turned to the next page and put it at the bottom, dropping me behind the four because I was, as she put it, not smart enough to understand that I should have lifted the first, full page to find a second page with more names on it.


Wireless stores are the only stores I have ever been in where you have to sign in, with the exception of the deli section of my grocery store where I simply take a number. The local Verizon store has me sign in on a computer and asks me to specify why I am in the store: to buy a phone, to get technical support or for some other reason. The information is then displayed on a screen and you are assisted by whoever is assigned to that task. At Cingular, T-Mobile and Sprint, however, you sign a paper list.


What I wanted to do, all I wanted to do, was buy a $30 charger for the phone and get out of the store. But I had to wait while a family of four asked a zillion questions about their new service and a nice older woman was making sure her service was exactly how it should have been, while another gentleman was buying a Pearl and needed a lot of help figuring out how to use it. So I waited, as did another woman in the store. I had the charger I wanted in my hand, she had the mobile charger she wanted in her hand and still we waited.


I waited for about forty minutes and was just about to leave without the charger, when one of the customers in the store recognized me as one of his neighbors and told the sales representative to just take my money and then finish with him after that. I was lucky. When I left, the woman with the mobile charger was still standing there, fuming.


This is not the first time this has happened to me in a wireless store. Try buying an accessory in any of the stores and you will run into the same problem. I guess sales of new phones and services are more important, but it is the little things that keep customers happy and, by the way, they probably made a bigger profit on the charger, percentage wise, than they did on the four phones they sold to the family.


Why can’t wireless stores have a clerk―not a sales person, a regular clerk―whose job it is to sell accessories and help people who want to ask a simple question or get some advice? You have to sign in and stand and wait, on your feet, because there is nowhere to sit and there is nothing else to do except look at all of the merchandise hanging on the walls. There is no TV with a video to watch that talks about new services or shows off a feature or function or two―nothing!


Don’t get me wrong, I am not picking on Cingular (sorry, AT&T), the other stores are just as frustrating. Go into a Radio Shack sometime. If both of the sales people are busy explaining phones and plans, you can stand at the register forever trying to purchase a simple adapter for your TV. I guess nothing ever gets done about this because they are all just as bad, so it probably doesn’t affect their churn much. Every time I see an add by Motorola or someone else about buying genuine Motorola accessories instead of someone else’s look-alike product, I have to think about how long it really takes to walk into a wireless store and do that—and then I wonder if I should just go to the Internet and buy something that works, even if it is a copy.


But most of us want to be able to buy something and get it immediately, a simple charger because my phone has died, a car charger because we want to be able to talk and drive for endless hours, or whatever it is. Why can’t I just walk into a store and buy it and be gone in five minutes?


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