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I went to buy a Galaxy S9 at Verizon and AT&T. It didn't go well

Commentary: A new Samsung phone emerges. So I thought I'd see how it's being sold in carrier stores. It ended up being a very strange day.

Technically Incorrect offers a slightly twisted take on the tech that's taken over our lives.


Can I live with it?

Marvel Studios

It was pouring with rain. So it was time to go to the dark side.

As a longtime iPhone user, I decided to buy a Samsung Galaxy S9 to see what it was like to live with, rather than just peruse for an hour or two.

I have accounts with Verizon and AT&T, both for some years.

So I decided that the Verizon store would be my first stop to see how the new Samsung phone was being sold. I wanted to be persuaded.

I've become unreasonably fascinated with the sales process over the years and have generally found that store employees favor Samsung phones

Surely, then, I'd receive a glorious pitch for the new phone. 

It didn't quite turn out that way. 

The Verizon store

Entering a Bay Area Verizon store, I was immediately confronted with a vast display for the new phone. 

I was also greeted by a friendly salesman. I told him that I already had a Verizon Jetpack and was thinking of bundling it with an S9. 

He put me down on a list, said someone would be with me shortly and walked away.

My girlfriend had come with me, so we walked around the store, picking up phones and examining them. 

As other customers came into the store, they were greeted too.

We made a full circle of the store. No one came back to us. No one told us how long it was going to be. No one, in fact, spoke to us again. Were we there 15 minutes? Or was it even more? 

We left.

"Let's go to the AT&T store," I said to my girlfriend.

"Do we have to?" she replied, genially.

The AT&T store

We got back in the car and drove some miles to an AT&T store. 

"Oh, good," said my girlfriend. "There are stores I actually like around here. I'll come and meet you later."

I walked into the store and there wasn't such a prominent Galaxy S9 display. I certainly didn't get the impression, as I did at the Verizon store, that this was the phone the store was pushing. 

I was immediately greeted by a man who put my name down on a list. He explained that I'd be helped by the first person who became available. 

I walked around, examined all the phones and listened to couples chatting about how the Apple Watch could do everything. "Literally everything," a man said to his friend.

The man who greeted me, however, leaned on a table and played with his phone. For the next 10 minutes. 

Could he not have helped me? 

Worse, there was another store employee who was there and also not helping customers. What would you have done?

I went to walk out. As I walked past the man who had greeted me, he didn't even look up from his phone.

The T-Mobile store

There was a T-Mobile store within walking distance. 

Would this turn out to be Samsung Groundhog S9 Day? 

I walked in and was greeted by a saleswoman. Would she be putting me on a dreaded list? 

She asked what I was looking for. I explained. Oddly, she didn't walk away, nor tell me someone would be with me shortly.

She stood there and talked to me. 

I asked her first about iPhone X. It was next to where I was standing. Again, there wasn't a huge display prominence given to the new phone.

The saleswoman called it "the iPhone Eks."

"I wasn't impressed at first," she said. "Face ID gives me the creeps. But the more I've played with it, the more I've liked it."

She said that she, like me, was a longtime iPhone user. She said she was going to get a X after all.

"But what about the S9?" I asked.

"I went to the training for it and I was really impressed," she said. "Especially by the camera. I think it's even better than the X's."

As we chatted, I texted my girlfriend to say that I was now at the T-Mobile store.

The saleswoman proceeded to demonstrate taking a picture in low light with a little S9 display tool, inside which was buried a picture of fireworks. The result was very impressive.

She went through the various plans on offer. She explained that if I bought one, I'd have 14 days to change my mind.

I confess I was startled. This was actual saleswomanship and of the highest order. 

I'm not suggesting for a moment that every Verizon and AT&T is the same. Nor, indeed, that every T-Mobile store offers excellent service. 

But that's the thing about sales. It takes one person to get it right for you to change your opinion about the brand. Equally, it takes one person to treat you with indifference to make you believe that the whole brand feels the same about you.

I explained that in my area T-Mobile had an indifferent reputation for reception. She offered me three different options for improving it. None excited me, but she presented the best case she could.

I said I'd buy the phone.

At that moment, my girlfriend walked in.

"I went to the AT&T store," she said. "They said you're No. 1 on the list."

Well, that was exciting.

Yes, I had a small conniption when the T-Mobile saleswoman tried to sell me a case. The mere concept offends me more than dirty-toed people who wear Birkenstocks.

I don't know what it'll be like juggling an iPhone and an S9. So far, it's been odd. There seem so many more choices with the S9 that it's a touch baffling, as baffling as some of the service I received from the two largest carriers.

I contacted Verizon and AT&T to ask for their thoughts. Neither immediately replied.

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