I went to buy a new cell phone the other day. When I entered the store, a young woman greeted me. But she didn’t follow up with the customary, “Can I help you with something?” So after a second, I said, “I need a new phone.”
She told me to sign in (!) and someone would be with me in a second. I did as she instructed because I could sense an opportunity arising to huff indignantly past her on my way out. Then I stood there filled with curiosity as the young woman sat down next to the door and the other two clerks helped two other customers. I’d hate to take the lady off sentry duty but just why did someone else have to help me? I already have the contract; I know my warranty’s expired; I just want to exchange money for a new phone. Clearly, I am not a priority for my cell phone provider.
So I looked around the store at the limited selection of cellphones, all with two completely disparate prices on them. Either it’s $179 or it’s $39. Either it’s $49 or it’s free. Everything is a total fucking mystery and along with the signing in and the Byzantine rate plans makes one wonder if anyone associated with a cellular company has ever been in a normal store where things are sold at a fixed price that usually corresponds to the market value.
After fifteen minutes a clerk finished with his customer and walked to the sign-in sheet to call the next customer. Only one other customer had walked in behind me. Nonetheless, the clerk called six names before reaching mine. Something told me that indignant huffing had been frequent that afternoon.
When I got his attention I told him I needed a new phone, mine’s not working well and it’s out of warranty. He first needed to check if I was eligible for the discount (which I guess is the difference between the prices marked on the phones, but who knows exactly). I wasn’t. So he told me I could buy a phone at full price or — and here’s where it gets stupid — I could buy a refurbished phone from another company (he gave me their card). If I really wanted a new phone but didn’t want to pay $200, he had another suggestion. I could go to Wal-Mart and buy a “GoPhone” and simply slip my sim card in the phone.
When he told me the bit about the GoPhones, he pointed to a wall full of GoPhones. “Why,” I asked — not adding “the fuck” as I wanted to — “do I have to go to Wal-Mart when you sell GoPhones right here?” He explained that he could not sell a GoPhone without a new service contract but Wal-Mart could.
While other businesses see what complementary services or goods their customers want and go out of their way to offer those as well, my cellular carrier — Cingular — recommends that I go give my money to someone else.
Either they are idiots or I am. I think it’s a tie. I won’t make the mistake again of being told to wait for fifteen minutes so that I can then be told to take my money elsewhere.