Apple succeeds in selling me an iPhone, eventually!

This post is part two of this little tale of ineptitude and disappointment from the front lines of the iPhone 3G release.

Once I got back to the SMS Text News office I rang Ewan who was still in Ireland after the Unlimited Drinks event in Dublin. I also spoke to my friend Jonathan who told me he’d been fourth in line at the Carphone Warehouse on the Strand when it opened. He’d arrived at the front of the queue and asked for a 16GB iPhone 3G only to be told that they didn’t have any 16GB iPhone 3Gs for sale and that the only option was to order one for delivery on Monday. They went to all the trouble of opening early at 8:02am so that people could order the latest hot gadget for delivery on Monday.

Now, this is ludicrous, verging on idiotic! Everyone queuing is going to want the 16GB iPhone, it’s the “hot ticket” as they say. Sixty quid for double the storage? You’d be mad not to take that option. So this particular Carphone Warehouse had gone to all the trouble of opening up early and didn’t even have a single unit to sell the queue of people outside; that’s a great way to reward a customer who puts in the extra effort to shop with you isn’t it?

Apparently the three people ahead of Jonathan placed the order and left. They might as well have stayed in bed for an extra hour and ordered online!

Jonathan, incidently, isn’t one to be messed around with and politely told the Carphone staff where to shove their Monday delivery and went to work.

Even though he was stuck at work, he did call the Apple store on Regent Street, and they did tell him they had LOADS of iPhone 3Gs, 8GBs, 16GBs, Black and White. And Jonathan, being a friend, passed this bit of information on to me.

A plan formed in my head – “The Apple store hmmm, that’s just around the corner, I was there earlier. I could queue for a couple of hours and buy an iPhone. Then I could prove once and for all that it was Carphone Warehouse’s system that was messing up my purchasing experience and absolutely nothing to do with either of my banks or even myself”. And with that, I flew out of the door, saying to publisher, Dan Illet, “I’ll see you in an hour or so”. (See Ewan’s piece on this).

I arrived at the Apple store not more than 5 minutes later. It was around midday and the sun was shining when I joined the queue, the start of which, was no longer on Regent Street and had stretched round into Hanover St.

The Apple store employees who were tending to the queue regularly came along and asked us to check that we had the correct personal information and informed us that due to O2’s credit checking system being slow the line may take up to two hours to complete.

They offered us the chance to leave the queue and write our details on a card. They would then put that card on an actual iPhone (the specifications of which we’d also write down) that would be reserved for pickup on Saturday or Sunday when the O2 credit check system was working again. We were informed that those of us who wanted to continue to queue were welcome to do so and that they had plenty of stock of all the models. This reservation service was continuously offered to us while we queued.

Speaking of things offered to us while we queued, the Apple store staff regularly walked the length of the queue chatting with us and offering us Starbucks coffee (which was awful) and water.

Over the next hour we moved our way around the building and into the actual store itself. I suspect the movement in the queue was more to do with people taking the reservation option and dropping out than actually managing to complete a sale. Once we were inside the building we could hear that when a sale completed the staff would erupt into a round of applause. As the time between applauses grew longer and longer we came to an abrupt stop at the foot of the glass staircase that acts as the centrepiece of the store and there we stood for hours, so long in fact that the Apple staff brought some stools down for us to sit on, handed out some £15 iTunes vouchers and setup some 30″ Apple monitors with a games console and Guitar Hero for us to play with.

The O2 systems had ground to a halt.

Just as Carphone Warehouse had done earlier, Apple gave up on O2’s systems but unlike Carphone who had their own system to fall back on, Apple had to draft in some O2 employees to come into the store and help the Apple employees process the orders as manual activations using old fashioned paper contracts.

Obviously the process of getting paper contracts sent over to Apple and training their staff in the procedure took yet more time.

Eventually the sporadic applause started again as the Apple staff got up and running with the new system and by about 6pm (around 6 hours after joining the queue) we’d snaked our way around the Apple store and were approaching the final bend in the queue.

I’d been somewhat apprehensive that because we were doing paper contracts this wouldn’t prove that it was the Carphone Warehouse systems to blame for my earlier disappointment. I’d gotten chatting to the people around me and it turns out that the person directly in front of me and the two immediately behind me had both been to Carphone Warehouse stores first thing in the morning and were told that there weren’t any 16GB models in stock.

Eventually, just before 8pm I reached the front of the queue and was greeted by a cheerful man named Graham who led me to a counter filled with iPhones where another cheerful man asked me which model I wanted. Did I mention that these were cheerful men? In fact ALL the staff were cheerful despite most of them having been working longer than we’d been queuing. The guy who packed my iPhone into it’s little bag was the same person who checked I had the correct details when I first joined the queue.

After being handed my iPhone we went off to one of the demonstration Macs that had been setup for iPhone sales. My earlier apprehension was soon put to rest as I was introduced to a simple looking O2 branded “security check” webpage and the now familiar chip and pin security check procedure was explained to me.

You remember how this goes, Graham took my address, entered it into the computer and handed me a credit card terminal. Just like earlier today, in slid the card.

  • PIN OK
  • Authorising
  • …
  • …
  • Authorised
  • Please remove card

This was it, had I just queued for eight hours to see that bloody failed message again? Find out, in part three of my iPhone experience…. no, only kidding!, it went through perfectly, first time, no messing.

Graham filled in a plethora of paperwork with my details and then we waited.

O2 had told Apple that they would have some of their call centre staff phone the Apple store regularly to process the credit checks over the phone so there were four or five iPhones floating around with O2 people on the other end. In addition to this there were a couple of O2 employees milling around to help with paperwork enquiries. Earlier, while we queued at the foot of the stairs, one of the O2 guys had fallen on the staircase (he was ok) proving once and for all that it’s not just O2’s credit systems that fall down 😉

During this waiting period Graham told me about his own iPhone purchasing experience at the Carphone Warehouse (he knew he’d never get one at the Apple store in time to buy it before he started his shift) and how his had a manufacturing error that meant the SIM tray wasn’t installed. Apple haven’t had spare parts in yet so it’ll be a few days before he gets to use his. I also learned that O2’s web based credit check system that had failed was written to only work in Internet Explorer so they had to install VMWare Fusion and Windows on all the sales machines.

Eventually Graham got hold of a phone and read my details to the O2 chap who in turn processed the credit check and gave us an order number. All that remained was for me to pay for my iPhone (I got it on a cheap tariff) and leave the store.

As I tapped my PIN in I jokingly said that this would be the point where my bank would decline the charge and handed the terminal back to Graham.

“You know you said it’d be funny if they declined your card after all that?”

Yup, big red message accross the wireless terminal: “Card declined by issuer online”.

We tried again, with the same result, and once again I called my bank.

After the security checks came the kicker, “Ahh yes Mr Lane, well you see earlier today a number of £1 charges were made against that card and now you’re trying to make a charge of £159. Sometimes when a fraudster gets hold of your card details they make several small transactions and then a larger one so our fraud prevention department has blocked this transaction. I’ll remove the block so you can proceed but it can take up to ten minutes for the VISA system to update”.

Lots of £1 charges. Racked up when Carphone Warehouse were doing their flawed security check. Thank you very much Carphone!

We waited for a few minutes and impatiently tried again, same problem.

Just as Graham was explaining that he could hold the phone for me while I went to draw cash out of a machine, fellow SMS Text News Contributor, Ben Smith, rolled up to offer moral and financial support in the form of his own credit card.

After opening my new iPhone to check the SIM tray was installed (and maybe taunt Graham with it) we left the store at about half past eight to a round of applause offered by the Apple staff. Earlier myself and my fellow queue sitters had mocked the applause as it seemed to be highlighting the failure of the system, but you know what? I felt like I’d earned that applause!

Looking back on it, with the event being such a monumental cockup there is a lot of blame to throw around here. O2 should have anticipated the demand for such a popular product, it certainly isn’t the first time they’ve launched an iPhone and they would have been privvy to all the stock details. Apple too, aren’t without blame, their staff were friendly and helpful but I heard reports of the activation service being down for most of the day. Again, they planned a simultanious worldwide rollout of a product and should have anticipated demand.

But really, in my experience, the worst of all is Carphone Warehouse. Not only were there huge stock problems around the country but their system completely failed me. As I said, there were people around me buying iPhones but I don’t believe my problem was unique to me. For a start there are well over 200 apartments in my building and we all share the same address that Carphone’s system takes offence to. I doubt this is the only building in the country affected, in fact, the O2 customer forums are awash with people having exactly the same issue with CPW, see here for one such thread.

Worse than that, the responsibility of fixing the issue was left with me, the customer. Not once was it suggested that Carphone Warehouse’s system was to blame and I was left feeling like it was somehow my fault that I couldn’t have an iPhone and that somehow I was less worthy than all the other customers around me who were leaving with their devices. Despite having the PR people there to support me by calling some central department within Carphone Warehouse they were still unable to fix their system enough to offer me service. At one point it was suggested by Imran, the store manager at Carphone that I ring my bank and change my address to another one, perhaps a family member, that their system will accept.

The words don’t fail me, they just aren’t suitable for publishing here.

Next time I come to buy a handset on contract, I strongly suspect it won’t be with Carphone Warehouse.

And Apple? Please! Choose your partners more carefully in future, I suggest giving Three a call… I know that’s who I’ll be using my iPhone 3G with once it’s unlocked.

2 replies on “Apple succeeds in selling me an iPhone, eventually!”

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I’ve had the same bloody problem today with carphone and now because security was declined I have been blocked from getting a phone from carphone for 3 months! ! So bloody pissed off

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