Thursday, June 9, 2011

Are carriers bashing Windows Phone at retail outlets?

I recently came across an article about how carriers seem to be doing a poor job of selling Windows Phone 7 devices. This wasn't the first time I've heard such claims. I've heard similar reports from other Windows Phone enthusiasts. I was wondering if this was centralized into a few small cases or if this was a bigger deal. So I decided to see how it was in my area. First, I set some ground rules:

  1. I would not tell them I was a Windows Phone MVP, had a Windows Phone, or anything of that sort.
  2. I would tell the sales person that I just want a great phone and didn't care too much about the carrier. My needs would be for personal and work functions.
  3. Upon entering the store, I would immediately make a line for the Windows Phone 7 device and pick it up.

I had to head out today anyways because I needed to turn on broadband for a cellphone on my account and talk to them about a loaner phone (more on that in a few days. A story's brewing there). I went into my usual T-Mobile store. I couldn't start my test here because they know me and dang it, some times you want to go everyone doesn't know your name. No problem. There's a mall right down the road from my T-Mobile store. I would be able to hit up a kiosk for just about every major carrier as well as a couple stores that sell phones for multiple carriers.

I entered the mall at my usual entrance near the Chick-Fil-A. If I didn't already have plans for dinner, I would have started my efforts there. I know they don't have phones, but my goodness do they have tasty chicken sandwiches and I didn't want to do this project on an empty stomach.

The first retailer I see is a T-Mobile kiosk. My T-Mobile guy and my usual T-Mobile store knows a thing of two about Windows Phone 7 (I'm sure I'm partly to blame for that). I figure I would see if this guy could come close to him. I first had a hard time finding the HD7, the only Windows Phone device sold at the majority of T-Mobile stores (I've been told some carry the Dell Venue Pro as well, but I've yet to see it). That's kind of depressing seeing how there were only 4 sides to the kiosk and none were more than 12 feet long. I eventually found it hiding in the corner and picked it up, following my policy. The guy at the counter then greeted me and asked me what carrier I was on. I told him I was on T-Mobile. Then he asked me what phone I currently had. Ummm.....

Now I don't like to lie. But I couldn't tell the guy I had an HD7 in my pocket. I thought about telling him I was coming from a Samsung Omnia which was my old phone but that was on Verizon. If this guy knew his phones, he'd see the problem with that. So I had my first journalistic dilemma since the days of working on my high school newspaper when I was almost lynched for kindly suggesting that perhaps marching band members didn't deserve varsity letters. I concocted the fable that I was coming from an HD2, an old Windows Mobile 6.5 device. It was the closest to the truth that I could come up with. I did have a Windows Mobile 6.x device in the past and if I was on T-Mobile at the time, you can be sure I would have gotten the HD2.

So I share this kind story with my new friend, still strongly giving the HD7 in my hand the majority of my attention. He asks me what I'm looking for and I tell him I just want a good phone. He immediately ushers me away from the HD7 and shows me the Android and Blackberry devices. He didn't have anything positive to say about Windows Phone. He really wanted to get me on an Android and, if he couldn't do that, get me on a Blackberry. I mentioned a need for being able to edit Office documents (something really easy to do on Windows Phone and I argue it's the best platform for that). He mentioned it could be done on the Windows Phone, but still kept trying to sell me on Android, even breaking out the Android device he carried. The guy made no mention of Xbox Live, Facebook being built in,  Poor marks for this T-Mobile guy in regards to his knowledge and ability to sell WP7. I wanted to take pictures of where the HD7 was located and all that for this blog post but that would have meant that I would have either had to break out my HD7 or bring my Canon with me. Both would have ruined my cover.

I walk not even 30 meters and I see the kiosk for AT&T. My first thought is that cell phones are clearly a big deal in the US if we can have two cell stores that close to each other (I visited 5 different places in this mall that sold phones). I saw the crisp AMOLED screen of the Samsung Focus and made a line for it. I grabbed it and gave it a good look. The sales person came over and I gave him a bit of a different story than the T-Mobile guy. I told him I was coming off Verizon and had a Samsung Omnia. It was true... 8 months ago. I was starting to worry that my discomfort with telling tales was showing on my face, but nobody seemed to mention anything. The gentleman who greeted me saw me looking at the Windows Phone and asked me what I was looking for. I told him I just wanted a good phone. He said some nice things about Windows Phone like the Xbox integration but then put it down and quickly moved to trying to sell me on an Android. So it was a bit better than the T-Mobile store, but still not very good.

I then came across the Verizon kiosk. They just got the HTC Trophy this month. Add in that I see quite a few ads online for the Trophy and I imagined they'd be excited about the Windows Phone platform. I saw the HTC Trophy and went right for it. It was the first time holding it in my hand and while I wasn't impressed, it seems to be a solid phone. But then it's the OS that makes Windows Phone 7 devices great. When the salesperson saw me, asked me the same questions everyone else has asked. Again, I told him I just wanted a great phone. He immediately swung me away from Windows Phone 7. His argument was that it didn't have that many apps. Now this is when the false information started to leak out. He told me it had a few thousand apps. I don't consider over 20,000 to be "a few thousand." I think the most disappointing thing was he then told me that they hadn't sold a single Trophy. Well no duh! With that kind of attitude about the platform, nobody's going to buy it. I was also told that you can't change the wallpaper. I was tempted to take a picture of him and change it to prove him wrong, but I didn't want to let him in on my secret. I may do that if I ever have an employee say that one to me again. Him and his colleague quickly ushered me over to Android devices as well.

Next up was a Best Buy Mobile store. They carried all sorts of devices for all sorts of carriers. The HD7 was the first Windows Phone device I saw so I went right to it, keeping with my policies. I gave him the same story I gave the T-Mobile guy and asked him to show me what's good. He immediately put down the Windows Phone mentioning the lack of customization (while it's not as much as Android, it's not completely without customization) and the only "2,000" apps (not the 18,000+). According to him, this 2,000 number is in comparison to the "millions" available on Android (actual number: 200,000). The guy ended up taking me around to a number of Android devices and only showed me Android devices. The guy ended up bringing up that he had personally been looking at getting an Iconia tablet. I asked him if he was getting the Android or the Windows 7 tablet. He immediately told me that there were no Windows 7 tablets. Oh really? I had to correct him on that one. I had heard enough incorrect information out of his mouth to last me some time. The sheet I got from the salesperson said "Best Buy Mobile promises you:... Impartial and informed advice." Um... no. They didn't do that one.

I wasn't getting good results on this. On my way to my next stop, a Radio Shack, I got distracted by a cute girl offering free samples of tea. Cute girl + free samples means I figured it was time for a break. After she insisted I try about 6 different tea samples (sadly, none of them were Arnold Palmer), I headed to the Radio Shack and saw the HTC Arrive, the only Windows Phone 7 device currently available for Sprint. I thought it was a nice piece of hardware. Well the salesperson at Radio Shack was all but friendly. He offered me no advice, suggested a phone that was mostly recycled and that was all he really said about it, and told me that if I walked out today with the phone he'd give me a discount. I had never been so disappointed by a salesperson for a lack of care. I can't really say he said anything bad about Windows Phone 7. He just didn't say much of anything.

I have to say my experience at the mall hadn't been very promising. I didn't even get the impression that any of these sales people had spent any decent time with Windows Phone 7. I decided to make one last stop. I needed to get gas for my car and there was a regular Best Buy store near a gas station I could stop at. So I swung in there, expecting similar results. It took a while for someone to ask if I needed help and I appreciated that. They didn't jump on me, but they weren't incredibly distant. I went around to all the Windows Phone devices they had (I think I saw them all except the HD7S) and I finally spent some time talking to one of their salespeople. I had the Focus in hand and, for the first time all day, I had a salesperson say a number of positive things about Windows Phone. He brought up Office, Xbox Live, Outlook, hubs, all sorts of things. He still suggested Android, which I'm okay with, but he was positive about Windows Phone. His main point was that the app marketplace wasn't where Android's is, but he said that it would be there eventually. I enjoyed my talk with him and he restored a bit of hope in me.

However, that's 1 person out of 6. Not a good ratio. The most annoying part was the lack of knowledge about the platform from the salespeople. I can tell you now that if you go into a store, you're probably not going to get informed opinions from the sales staff. Those Verizon guys? I wonder if they know that the HTC Trophy has gotten an average rating of 4.5/5 from customers on their own website which is lower than the rating their customers gave the ThunderBolt they tried to sell me (4/5). I already pointed out that some of them presented way out of proportion app numbers. I also feel like they just wanted to sell me what they think is cool, not what I needed.

I presented myself as a pretty uninformed buyer. I gave them very little reason to believe I was tech savvy. But then they presented me with the most technical mobile platform out there. That just didn't connect with me. I also found it interesting that even though the Windows Phone was always the first thing I picked up, they didn't try selling me what grabbed my eye. If I never touched a Windows Phone and they never mentioned it, that would be one thing. This was something else.

So here's my quick buyer's guide regarding the smartphone platforms. If you're heavily invested in the Apple ecosystem (you have a Mac, you want an iPad, and you think iCloud sounds great), then get an iPhone. It's what's best for you and will blend well it the tech you already have. If flashing ROMs and using all sorts of homebrew mods sounds like fun, go with Android. If you want something that does what you need it to simply and quickly, go with Windows Phone 7. It doesn't have all the bells and whistles of other platforms, but it does what it does better than the other platforms. And with Mango and more apps coming, I imagine it will eventually have those bells and whistles.

I'll try to make it a practice to stop by stores and see if this improves over time. Perhaps I'll even reveal my secret to them once I'm done running them through my little test. I'll keep the stories coming every so often.


  1. I agree on revealing yourself. Or just walking in to the stores, as an MVP, and offering to show them what WP7 can do.

  2. I may do that one of these days. I think it'd be fun to get a few MVPs in the area in one mall and do this, only to reveal ourselves later on. The only thing is I only know of one WP7 MVP even remotely close.

  3. This mirrors my experience as well. The sales reps push what they know and personally carry on them, which is strictly Android, Apple, and maybe BB.

    Imagine if MS were to send in training teams, not by the hundreds, but by the thousands and hit 50% of the stores between now and Mango. Then they would have some momentum but until they sell the sellers, they ain't going to sell to the customers.

  4. I think a cheaper, more effective, and easier approach would be to offer to trade salespeople's Android/BB/iPhone in for a WP7 and some cash. That would encourage salespeople to actually try WP7 and see how it works in their own life. Right now, they play with the sales display and don't really learn anything about it.