Shopping for Galaxy S9 at Verizon and AT&T. Customers speak out

Commentary: After my indifferent experience at two carrier stores and a better one at T-Mobile, customers of the carriers have their say.

Chris Matyszczyk
4 min read

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But who will sell it best?

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

My inbox dripped with emails.

After my visits to three Bay Area carrier stores last week in an attempt to see how -- or even whether -- the new Samsung Galaxy S9 was being sold, readers told their tales. 

In essence, what I'd found is that the systems at AT&T and Verizon stores involved being greeted at the door and then ignored.

It was especially poignant at the AT&T store, where I was put on a list while the "greeter" went back to leaning on a table, scrolling through his phone and ignoring me.

It didn't feel quite like customer service.

Readers from New Jersey to California emailed me to share their views.

Sadly, the majority said their experiences were little different from my own. 

"I use DirecTV and went into an AT&T store. They said: 'We can't give you any deals.' I was more invisible than you, as at Verizon two sales people bumped into me, and still I waited in line," said one reader.

"I have had the exact same experience at numerous Verizon and AT&T stores as you described in your article," another reader wrote. "I ended up ordering my S8+ and then Note 8 both from Verizon, but only over the phone. I'm glad you brought some attention to this issue. I've been ignored and forgotten in most of my encounters in their stores. Always disappointed."

Could be the core of the issue? We've become so used to buying things online that many carriers have decided to provide better service through that channel than in physical stores? Could it be that they don't really want you to go there, unless it's to physically pick something up?

Indeed, several Verizon customers wrote that the only way to get good service was to make an appointment through the carrier's app.

This again rather shatters the illusion of a store being open for you to walk in any time and buy what you want.

I heard from an employee of an AT&T store, who told me: "The person that greets you and signs you in is just that. They are there to monitor new walk-ins and to maintain inventory."

So, even if they have absolutely nothing to do, they still won't help a customer? That seems an odd approach to customer service.

I'd noticed on my visit that there was another AT&T employee who wasn't helping a customer and just standing at a desk. 

"The other person you mentioned walking around not selling is a manager assisting sales people with overrides and escalations. Neither sell. This is 100 percent how it is with AT&T and Verizon," said the AT&T employee.

Neither AT&T nor Verizon immediately responded to a request for comment.

I should add that more than one reader wrote to say they'd noticed a different -- and better -- attitude from T-Mobile staff. 

This is what I'd found, though I have no reason to believe it's the same across the country.

A reader from the East Coast described his experience: "I've found that the T-Mobile sales staff is more engaging and genuinely interested in helping you to get what you want and to meet your needs. I have also found that over the past 2 years, T-Mobile has become a legitimate alternative to the other two carriers and their rates are much better."

Some readers, though, aren't sure whether it really is any different in any store. They simply don't have expectations of good service.

"My experience was a lot like your recent experience with AT&T and Verizon," wrote one reader. "I guess it's the same for any service provider."

My own suspicion is that it varies from store to store, from individual salesperson to individual salesperson. The time of day might make a difference, too. Humans are moody, after all. 

One Verizon store employee told me that if you go in just to upgrade your phone, it's not a big deal for the salesperson. They make more money selling services and accessories. 

The question for some, it seems, is whether to bother with carrier stores at all. 

"I would implore you to vendor to any Costco Wholesale. Yes Costco does sell phones . They provide service for all carriers. No other retail store in America has that capability, except maybe Apple stores and other places, Best Buy, Sam's club etc," wrote one reader. 

He said he'd always found quick and professional service at Costco and had bought several phones there.

Perhaps most noticeable of all -- for me at least -- was that I didn't hear from too many people who loved their carrier stores and couldn't wait to go there again.

Retail is a tough business that's changing rapidly. 

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