If you were reading my Twitter feed earlier this afternoon, you’d have caught my update from outside the Verizon Wireless Store in Palo Alto.
Here’s a pic:
I was Palo Alto for a few meetings, one with a mobile titan (ID not public alas). The chap was running 30 minutes late (”Don’t worry, I’ll hit up* the Apple store”, I told him). I’d arrived in by the rather efficient ‘CalTrain’ early anyway so I strolled up University Avenue toward the Apple store.
I was having a look in the shop windows during the stroll and realised I was passing the Verizon Wireless store.
“Screw it,” I thought, “I’ve got some time, let’s go and have a look at Mr CDMA’s offerings.”
I arrived into the store and was immediately greeted by a lady with a clipboard. This is the way things work in America. At least, it’s been my experience with Sprint as well as Verizon.
(Conversations paraphrased from memory)
“How may I help you today?” the nice spritely shiny lady asked, clipboard and pen poised.
“Er I’m British,” I said. Best to get that off my chest.
She did a slow knowing nod.
British = Useless to Verizon. They either want to spend a good 20 minutes selling you a two-year credit agreement (and a handset) or get you out of the shop as quickly as possible with a prepay deal.
But if you’re foreign it’s a no-go. They don’t want your business. You need a US social security number to get started with them. This is fair enough — there are 303 million folk in the country, enough to be getting on with.
Even if you offer to prepay a 2-year contract in advance (e.g. $200 for a Storm on $80 a month is $2120. Offer them $3,000 up front and they’ll decline. Their system, I’m told, doesn’t ‘work that way’).
Anyway. I explained I was British and the lady put down her pen and let me pass.
Normally she’d have been ticking various boxes relating to what I was looking for. Then she’ll hand the resulting form to a sales chappy who, suitably briefed, will help me out.
I took a stroll about the place. I admired a few handsets. I glanced once or twice at the Storm, their handset du jour. Well, actually, their handset du year.
I had a look at the LG Versa.
“Can I help you, sir?”
I turned and found a helpful looking sales chap on my elbow.
“Er,” I said with continued embarrassment, “I’m sorry, I’m British, so… er…”
“Oh,” the chap said, eyes widening.
“Yeah,” I said, nodding, “It’s prepay or nothing, I know.”
I hung my head slightly as the chap nodded with me in sympathy.
With a tough of benevolence, he said I should ask him if I needed any help.
I thanked him.
“Alas, I’m a pariah,” I mumbled to myself, gazing over at the Samsung Omnia on the shelf. Windows Mobile, I know, but it thought it’d be worth a look. I went back to the Storm.
$199 on a 2-year contract.
I started selling it to myself.
“You have a duty to, you know, play about with these things,” I reasoned, calculating whether I really wanted to spunk something like $2,000 on ‘playing about’.
I only found out later that you could get a Blackberry Storm for $449 up-front on a month-to-month agreement. That, provided Verizon would have done a deal with an alien like me, would have bee interesting. I’d still have had quite a problem swallowing $449 unless I was aiming to use it as a primary device.
My key issue is that I’ve never actually used a Verizon handset for more than a day or so — and they’ve been rubbish prepay handsets. I’ve never really tried out the Verizon data network, for example. So I was warm.
But luckily for my bank balance, nobody tried to sell me a month-to-month Storm.
In fact, they’re not selling the Storm in Palo Alto. Although it’s on display, it’s not for sale. The sales team will do their best to avoid selling you one.
Is that a sweeping statement? Yes. Of course Verizon are selling Storms — by the bucketload by all accounts. Just not to me. And definitely not to the customer who came in after me.
I was pondering the possibility of a Windows Mobile handset when I heard a chap come into the shop. I glanced round as he approached me and the salesman who’d (sensibly?) given up on me.
“Hi,” he said, “I’m after a G-3 phone, the Blackberry Storm?”
“Right,” said the salesperson, “Well…”
“This is it here, is it?” the buyer said. He’d walked straight to it and was ready for the sale. He’d clearly seen it on television or been recommended it. The fact he got the ‘G-3′ (”3G”) bit wrong indicated an element of normob (”normal mobile user”) in his makeup. He knew what he wanted. He knew 3G, however you said it, was the way ahead. He was fondling the device and wanted to buy one.
“Er, you don’t want the Blackberry Storm,” said the salesman to the surprise of the buyer, “It’s buggy,” he continued.
“Buggy? Ah yeah..” said the buyer. He’d heard of that too and asked, “When will they bring out a software upgrade?”.
“Errrrr,” said the salesman, “Is it a touchscreen phone you’re looking for?” he said, beckoning the buyer to the other side of the store.
I missed a bit of their conversation — but I could make out the fact the salesman was trying to sell him some type of LG touchscreen.
The buyer did some quick evaluation before walking back to the Storm.
“Nah, tell me about the Storm?”
“It’s buggy, you don’t want that,” the salesman said.
“Right, but it works?” said the buyer. He clearly *just* wanted one. He was giving all the I-don’t-mind hints.
At that point I left the store.
I couldn’t handle it.
I was having a lot of trouble keeping my mouth shut and not slapping the salesman with a handy wet fish a few times.
As I left, the buyer was fondling the Storm clearly in I WILL BUY THIS PHONE mode. I think the salesman had relented at this point as I just caught, “Well, the touchscreen clicks when you press on it, the iPhone doesn’t have that,” as I walked out the door.
Well I never.
Palo Alto, spiritual home to Silicon Valley (and actual home to, amongst others, HP’s worldwide headquarters). By all means discourage the good normob people of Shitsville, Middle America, to avoid getting the Storm (they’ll only return it when they can’t figure out the keyboard). But in Palo Alto? When the chap strides in demanding a Storm? Give him one. Be pleased he’s aiming to swap from T-Mobile (he was) to Verizon instead of T-Mobile or, worse… the iPhone collective that is AT&T.
An interesting experience.
In the interests of fairness I am going to see if I can swim the myriad Verizon Wireless PR channels and get a hold of a Blackberry Storm to use for a month or so. I’ll keep you updated.
Meanwhile I encourage you to pop into your nearest Verizon store and ask for a Storm and report back your experiences. My experience today must surely have been an exception.
* “Hit up” — a fancy wanna-be-cool American way of saying “visit/talk to/connect with”.