Sunday, January 3, 2010

Cell phone stores

Happy New Year, everybody! My son and I visited a local ATT wireless store yesterday, to exchange his now dying cell phone for a new one.

Cell phones! What an amazing invention! When Benjamin Braddock, played by Dustin Hoffman, rolled off the inflatable mattress in his swimming pool, the middle-aged man, speaking to Benjamin, told him: "Remember one word: plastics." If this movie were happening today, he would tell him to remember one thing: cell phones. If you build it (a cell phone tower), they will come: People using cell phones for good things (staying in touch with their friends, wives, and kids); for immoral things (making dates with their girlfriends and boyfriends, so they can cheat on their spouses or significant others); bad things (setting up terrorist plots or criminal enterprises); violent things (detonating IEDS or explosives); and stupid things (texting people you don't really know to discuss things you don't really care about so you can waste time which don't really have to avoid having to do things which you are supposed to be doing). It's enough to make Alexander Graham Bell turn over in his grave.

I have learned some interesting facts about cell phone stores:

1. Terminology: When your phone that you purchased within the last year or so starts to fall apart, and you need to get a new one, the cell phone company will tell you that you need an "upgrade." Does an upgrade mean that you will get a better phone? No, not exactly, it just means that the phone you will now get, if you are cheap (like me), and you want the least expensive phone possible, is simply one that works, which makes it an "upgrade" to the phone which you are returning, since that phone is one that does not work any longer.

2. Customer convenience: You might think that bringing in a dying cell phone, taking out its brain (the SIMM chip), and transplanting the brain to a new body, in a new cell phone, would be a fairly simple experience. On the contrary, nothing is simple about it. Also, if you don't save your phone numbers into your SIMM chip, you may be in for a nasty surprise, which is that all those phone numbers that you spent all that time saving into your phone are, poof, gone forever.

3. The waiting game: When you walk into the store, they will ask you to sign your name to a piece of paper, and then you wait. The interesting part of this is that you may find that somebody, whom you do not recognize, will walk up to you, address you by your first name, and then ask you to go to the counter to talk to a customer service rep. You might wonder, how do they do that, presuming that you are not a celebrity whom is instantly recognizable. My son convinced me that after you sign the piece of paper, and walk away, somebody takes careful notes about your appearance, and then records those notes next to your name. So, in my case, they probably wrote down something like "Old fat guy with glasses who looks like he is bored out of his mind."

4. The two boring TV screens: What is really annoying about this is that unless you want to spend your waiting period wandering the store looking at the phones that you can't afford or the exciting accessories that you don't need, you can watch two gorgeous TV screens that are facing some reasonably comfortable chairs. Just think of what you could be watching: live or recorded TV shows, sporting events, the news, weather channels, or other exciting TV fare. Fuhgetaboudit! This particular store features two screens, one with a few seconds of Dexter, from Showtime, a few brief shots of movies made many years ago, and the other with a few seconds of sports figures including Kobe Bryant and Serena Williams showing off their shots, both sets featuring never-ending tape loops. If there is a more efficient way of torturing your customers, I would like to see it. The cell phone store therefore ensures that by the time you get to exchange your phone, your are really bored and angry.

5. Don't trust your customer: When you finally get your phone, after it's tested and turned on, you get your rebate form, (allowing you to, someday, get a debit card, which is actually a credit card and which you will, if you remember, use to buy groceries so that every cent of the card is used up since, obviously, the cell phone store is hoping that you will give up by then, allowing them to make the extra $50 that you are owed), you get your phone, your phone bag, and your sales receipt, you might think, OK, touchdown, that's it, I am done!

Wrong. What this store does is that the cell phone rep holds on to the bag, the cell phone, the rebate form and the rest of it, and he or she walks out from beyond the counter and escorts you out of the store, opens the door, and hands you the bag, thus ensuring that your shopping experience is ended with you, finally out of the store. You might wonder, what is their motivation for this, sudden, wonderful treatment after the last thirty minutes or so of suffering?

Maybe they think you want to come back to the store and repeat the whole experience? Doubtful.

Maybe, they are in effect, apologizing for making you suffer through this whole ridiculous experience? Probably not.

Are they showing off to the other customers in the store how devoted they are to you? Probably not a bad idea, but also doubtful.

This may seem paranoid, but the most likely reason is to make sure that once you have the bag in your hand, you are out of the store, and do not have a chance to stuff your bag with some post-Christmas gifts, such as cell phone chargers, ear buds, and other items that are worth $100 or less. How about walking off with the cell phones themselves, that could cost $100 and up? No, the cell phone store shows, for once, some intelligence here, since this valuable merchandise is beyond reach to the customers, since it is accessible only to employees armed with the proper passcodes.

So, does any of this make sense? No, especially, since, with all of our available technology, one would think this could be something that could be done much more efficiently, instead of being such an amazing waste of resources, time and effort. So, next time you need to go to a cell phone store to "upgrade" your phone, make sure you bring a book to read, or an IPOD to listen to. Perhaps that way, you won't be able to think of how unnecessary this experience has to be.