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The sorry state of retail


If you go into an Apple store and want to try out a new iPhone or in fact any other product they have on display, it is a simple matter of picking the device up and playing with it. There will be a security device attached, but they are discrete and the cables have plenty of length so you have a really good play. This is especially apparent with the iPhone which just sits there ready for you to remove from the charger and try out all the features. It is a lovely way to give people a chance to try everything out before committing a lot of money to buying a new phone.

So you would assume that stores like Carphone Warehouse, Phones4U and the operators would want to replicate this nice experience and give their customers and potential customers a chance to try out the latest and greatest. And yet, despite Apple having had superbly successful stores for some time, the experience in other phone shops is appalling.

I went into a total of ten shops including two Carphone Warehouse stores, two Phones 4U, two EE shops, two O2 shops, a 3 shop and a Vodafone store. Not a single one of those retail outlets had a phone on display that I could lift up from a table. In fact, between those stores, there were a grand total of twenty real working phones I could try out of which ten were in the 3 store. That means between the nine other stores, there were only ten working models. In the one Apple store I went into, there were eighteen working iPhone 5s's and ten 5c's. In one store.

Outside of the Apple store, each display phone was clasped in a large mount which generally obscured all four sides of the device and part of the front as well as making it impossible to see and feel the back of the phone. I wanted to play with an LG G2 which was on display in the 3 store and as you may know, all the buttons are on the back of the phone. Due to the large clamp it was secured in, I could only reach the back of the phone by contorting my fingers and reaching around the back. I could hardly switch the device on to have a look! The staff were fairly sympathetic and offered to show me a dummy model but not a working model.

I spoke to staff in four of the stores I visited and all told me that the reason I couldn't properly try out the devices on sale was for security. Is it really the case that people can rip off smaller security devices and run away with the phones? Apple don't seem to have a problem here. I am not an Apple apologist, but they certainly get retail spot on. Perhaps the reason why many manufacturers suffer in satisfaction surveys is that people buy their phones blind, without really trying them out.

Those of us who write for MoDaCo are in the fortunate position of being able to try out many different devices over the course of a year and we get a good view of the market as a whole. Being in this position, it is rare that I feel the need to go and look at retail stores to try out a product but I was shocked at how poor the experience was. As an amusing aside, in one store, a salesman was talking to a customer who came in not knowing what smartphone they wanted and he was holding a dummy Huawei Ascend P2 trying to say that it performed better than an iPhone 5s or Samsung Galaxy S4 and has a better camera and better battery life. It may or may not, but the customer had to trust what the salesman said as there was no opportunity to try out the device before buying.

Why not share your experience of retail stores in the comments below.

About the author

James Norton's Photo
An aspiring tech journalist and a complete phone geek with a passion for all mobile technology. Vast experience of all mobile platforms and an evangelist for quality design no matter where it comes from.

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15 Comments

Seems mental to me. I'm a Three customer, and generally when upgrade itme comes around they are happy to let me have a play. But the general experience is much how you described.

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Yes it is the case that people steal them. They even steal dummy ones of new phones!

 

The reason Apple can do this is that they control the end to end lifecycle of the device.

 

Nick a phone from a CPW store and buy a SIM and use it, you might get caught with the stolen phone lock if the network you go on bothers to process the IMEI.

 

Nick an iPhone from Apple and then try and use it, you have to use iTunes to activate it which talks to Apple and pow, you're nicked.

 

In addition I believe Apple control the s/w that runs on that demo phone, it's not standard iOS, it's tweaked a little.

 

Also Apple control the supply chain so it doesn't "cost" them to put phones on display. If Phones4U wanted to put 18 iPhones on display then they would have to buy 18 iPhones to do just that, Apple just get them for "free".

 

It's a sad world. If you want to see how desperate people are for the latest phone then head into a Carphone Warehouse at lunchtime after a new launch, you'll see cut / broken security devices dangling from the slat walls where people have stolen the working / non working demo units of the latest phone.

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Rocky7 seems to have a valid point here, but still it's sad that I, as a honest customer, can't test a phone before buying it.

About 2 years ago I decided to buy a Samsung Galaxy Note (the first one), because I wanted a bigger phone and this one looked nice. I found a shop that was displaying it, but I never could "feel" the phone because the display phone + clamp + cable is a different thing than just the phone...

I was fortunate that a big part of the company I work deals with mobile gaming and they had the device, so I ended up going to the device room and asking for the Note to see how it feels, works, etc, but most people can't do that and end up blind buying, based only on more or less honest reviews.

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James Norton
Oct 07 2013 03:19 PM

Yes it is the case that people steal them. They even steal dummy ones of new phones!

 

The reason Apple can do this is that they control the end to end lifecycle of the device.

 

Nick a phone from a CPW store and buy a SIM and use it, you might get caught with the stolen phone lock if the network you go on bothers to process the IMEI.

 

Nick an iPhone from Apple and then try and use it, you have to use iTunes to activate it which talks to Apple and pow, you're nicked.

 

In addition I believe Apple control the s/w that runs on that demo phone, it's not standard iOS, it's tweaked a little.

 

Also Apple control the supply chain so it doesn't "cost" them to put phones on display. If Phones4U wanted to put 18 iPhones on display then they would have to buy 18 iPhones to do just that, Apple just get them for "free".

 

It's a sad world. If you want to see how desperate people are for the latest phone then head into a Carphone Warehouse at lunchtime after a new launch, you'll see cut / broken security devices dangling from the slat walls where people have stolen the working / non working demo units of the latest phone.

 

Do Phones4U have to buy iPhones to put on display?  I thought the manufacturers provided devices and point of sale displays to put into the stores.  Maybe Apple don't, I have no information.

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PaulMilbank
Oct 07 2013 07:55 PM

It is pretty much the same story here in NZ, some stores are doing better and Samsung in particular are putting dedicated displays in retail stores with their phones, tablets and  some PC's which are nicely designed and have good access to look at the items. Most just have a dummy phone which is generally on a tight leash.

It is the same with desktops and laptops in retail stores though. Look at the Apple stand and everything is immaculate with staff hanging around constantly cleaning, tweaking and making sure the iDevices are well displayed. The PC section is in disarray with people having taken selfies and set them as backgrounds, the icons are all messed up, kids who think they are funny have messed with settings, the crap manufacturer bundled antivirus keeps telling you it is out of date. 

Apple just have strict rules about how you can sell their products and what the standards are I think. 

Staff just don't care. Watched a staff member in a retail store telling a customer that the S4 was the best alternative to an iPhone, which is fine, but then tell the customer when asked about app availability that you can search for apps on the internet and side load them, he also then said you need antivirus on an Android. Just tell them to buy from the android market, most every app is on both markets now.

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Apple is in a different league to the network shops/phone resellers in that it is only selling ONE device, albeit in different iterations.  The others are catering to pay and go users who might only be looking for a cheapie phone, and contract customers who have a big range of expensive models from which to choose. 

 

The average high street shop is small, so there isn't the room to have working demos of lots of devices.  Having said this, it is puzzling that new or featured models often do not have a working demo.  A case in point was when I was thinking of buying the Huawei Ascend 510.  In many of the shops I tried, there was not even a dummy, let alone a working model, and I had to urge staff to check the stock cupboard.

 

The non-Apple phone buying public is a captive market, so the outlets don't feel/see the need to go above and beyond to sell stock.

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Rocky7 hit the nail on the head there with his post and in most cases no the OEM's don't provide demo handsets & and stands, only in a few flagship stores will they do this.

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comicbookguy
Oct 11 2013 08:35 AM
apple's margin is bigger in an apple store (they make more profit per unit anyway because of the premium price, they sell more "off contract" units at full retail, they cut out 3rd party seller margin by selling direct). they have ONE device launch PER YEAR for phones (ok this year is different, but they only have the same space to sell 2 phones and i presume the 5c is cheaper per unit wholesale), and a maximum of about 5 if you include ipads and ipods, which means they only have one device to display for a year, not a couple of new launches each month. they have one device, with one software update,and one set of staff to train to sell it. simples. ;)

also, you couldn't assume that the software on the handset you'd be trying in 3, cpw or p4u would be consistent with the possibly carrier branded, updated unit you'd get on contract, making it a less accurate experience. updated software can have a drastic negative affect on hardware performance and useability. (my wife's Arc S is a great example, and i still can't manage to root it....)
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Thumper Net
Oct 11 2013 09:18 AM
Apple dont give anything away , networks pay a huge amount to have the iphone on their networks and in their stores , but that can all change soon as the good old eu are looking into apples contracts it has with networks and the prices they are charged. Also in holland we have many premiun stores that look like an apple store , but are not , they have a contract with apple to sell its products get told how the shop must look like and then get screwed by low to no stock as apple want to make sure its only shop in amsterdam is full. There are now 3 more apple stores coming to holland soon forcing the premium stores out of business , apple make nice products but treat their premium stores like crap . The new 5c looks like a flop , too expensive and production is now being cut down by half , apple makes a huge profit in its own stores by min wage on its staff and no networks , but the networks are apples lifeline without them the iphone is just a over priced ipod touch . Apples days of being a bully are on the way out , soon the networks wont have to pay apple for the phones and that will mean one thing a price increase to all as apple only want your money nothing else
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Went into CPW at the weekend. All the phones we were interested in were switched on and attached to wires, meaning it was easy to pick them up. And, apparently set off the over-sensitive alarm on the HTC One Mini. Handy having the various tablets switched on too, kept the kids quiet while we browsed. 

 

Phones4U in PC World were also on wires, but not switched on.

 

Went into 3, all clamped to the tables. Asked to see a Z1, salesman said no problem and got one from the storeroom. The missus now has a shiny new Z1 (she works outdoors and it has a nasty habit of raining so the waterproofing will be useful). I'm not at all jealous. Honest.

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As an aside, it's high time the 'powers that be' looked into the whole 'add on' crap that comes with a new phone.  Gives us pure Android and we'll decide what we want to add.

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James Norton
Oct 11 2013 09:17 PM

Went into CPW at the weekend. All the phones we were interested in were switched on and attached to wires, meaning it was easy to pick them up. And, apparently set off the over-sensitive alarm on the HTC One Mini. Handy having the various tablets switched on too, kept the kids quiet while we browsed. 
 
Phones4U in PC World were also on wires, but not switched on.
 
Went into 3, all clamped to the tables. Asked to see a Z1, salesman said no problem and got one from the storeroom. The missus now has a shiny new Z1 (she works outdoors and it has a nasty habit of raining so the waterproofing will be useful). I'm not at all jealous. Honest.


Sounds like a pretty reasonable experience to me. Care to share where this was?
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CPW and 3 were in Sheffield Meadowhall and P4U in PC World at Meadowhall retail park.

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For those with varying experiences of Carphone Warehouse - it depends on the type of store and the varying about of demos.

There are approx. 300 "Wireless" stores, out of the total estate of 800 in the UK which are full of working phones (yes, tethered to displays, but they're on!).

Of the 500 "Traditional" stores, these all have 'dummy' handsets, but simply ask and they will normally  have demo phones of the latest handsets out back to try.

 

ezablade - the Sheffield Meadowhall is indeed a 'Wireless' store.

James - looks like you were in a Traditional store.

 

P.S. The above is also the same for the 'Phone House' stores in Europe too. The new 'Wireless' refits all have live handsets on displays.

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WearTheFoxHat
Nov 21 2013 02:42 PM

Seems absolutely daft doesn't it .... "Here buy this phone, it's the greatest phone ever, running a sweet android OS".  "What's that sir, you'd like to actually touch and feel it?"

 

"Oh no, you can't do that, but you can look, but not touch a non-working model!"

 

"Now will you buy it?" <Pressure Sales>

 

I refuse to buy instore from CPW as their returns policy is absolutely awful too .. yet if you buy over the internet you get the luxury of Distance Selling Regs to cover you.

 

I guess for most people now, they need to get a phone over the internet and then have the 14 day no quibble return policy.  Pain in the behind though.

 

... and they wonder why all high streets are full of coffee shops and charity shops! :)

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