Like pants you can’t try on…

Looking at this slideshow of the new Nokia store in Moscow, I suddenly realized why I absolutely hate mobile phone stores: they don’t let you actually experience the merchandise.

In the worst cases — like at large electronics retailers like Staples and Future Shop — they have faked up demo models of phones, often solid chunks of plastic pseudo-phone with buttons that don’t even work. At best we’re given “real,” albeit non-working phones annoyingly tethered by wire rope to anchor posts “for our protection.”

Why is it that I can go up to Charlottetown Toyota, let them take a photocopy of my driver’s license, and drive away in a $20,000 automobile for a test drive, but my experience of a $400 mobile phone is limited to fondling an inert lump while surrounded by giant photos of happy people calling their loved ones in Prague?

So here’s my idea for cell phone stores: start a “try before you buy” program. Have a fleet of phones — one or two of every model you sell — available for a 24 hour “test drive.” Take a deposit if you must. Stick “pay as you go” SIM cards in the phone with a couple of dollars worth of calling time on them to ensure I don’t run up your bill with calls to Myanmar.

With this program in place customer could get a real feel for the best phone for their life. I could take the phone home and see if it really syncs with my Mac address book like Apple claims it will. I could see if Bluetooth is all it’s really cracked up to be. Take some pictures with the built-in camera and post them to Flickr and see how they rate.

I’m tired of walking into swanky lifestyle showrooms, pursued by ravenous salesguys looking to upsell me on a 1,500 minute plan “with a free phone included.” A phone — like pants — is a personal object and to truly try one on demands actually being able to, well, make a phone call with it.


oliver's picture
oliver on December 9, 2005 - 20:48 Permalink

Commitment and invisible charges seems to be the dominant paradigm in consumer capitalism these days. Maybe that idea has simply distracted companies from the virtue of letting you try before you buy, but they might also have really thought about it and decided it would get in the way of the psychological game they’re playing to make the most money from us. Let’s not forget they’re evil.

Clark's picture
Clark on December 10, 2005 - 02:41 Permalink

There are stores through-out Asia that follow your suggestion, though in a limited way. I believe the Nokia store near the Greyhound Cafe at the Emporium in Bangkok has live sim cards in their phones — still tethered but operable. Ficnet here in Taiwan has some in store kiosks with working phones and lastly there is a chain here that allows you to actually use high end mobiles in store for a small fee — you walk in take a movie of yourself on the phone and send it to friends etc etc.

Eric Eggertson's picture
Eric Eggertson on December 10, 2005 - 06:35 Permalink

Great idea, Peter. The toy phones they keep in the stores don’t help. I’ve noticed this year a few more stores are leaving real phones out for customers to fiddle with, but none of them are activated, so you only get a partial idea of what the phone’s going to be like to use.

Peter Rukavina's picture
Peter Rukavina on December 10, 2005 - 15:05 Permalink

Dave Moses and I were at MacWorld in New York when Apple announced iSync. The only phone it supported off the mark was the t68i, and so they had plenty of those out on the show floor. And they were real, activated phones. Dave and I marched over and immediately tried to place a call home to Canada, but were stopped by a youthful Apple staffer.