Is This the Worst Place to Buy a Smartphone?

Category: Mobile

A few days ago, three armed men entered a Verizon phone store in a Cleveland suburb. After restraining an employee with zip ties, they grabbed some cash, merchandise and left. One suspect was quickly captured. And then, the real robbery began. Or perhaps I should say, it continued. Read on to see why Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile retail phone stores are not a great place to buy a phone...

Where NOT to Buy a Mobile Phone

In my experience, the retail stores of the Big Three major carriers are the worst places to buy a smartphone. Their prices tend to be considerably higher than the same phones offered through other outlets with the same service. My friend experienced this the hard way when her phone broke and she went to a Verizon store. She liked the popular Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra; the 512GB model has a price tag of $1419. Verizon offered it for 36 payments of $39.44/month so she bought it.

The next day she happened to visit the Samsung website, and found the same phone on sale for $1299. That made her curious, so she visited BestBuy online and found that phone selling for $999! Sure, it was refurbished, but it came with a warranty, and a savings of $420.

When she told me that, I did a little detective work and found a Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra smartphone on Amazon for $847! That one was a 256GB "Amazon Renewed" model (a pre-owned product inspected and tested), but wow, what a long way from the original price at the "official" store. I think a lot of people would jump at the chance to save $572 on a like-new phone with a warranty.

The moral of this story is that the obvious place to buy a phone is probably going to be the most expensive. Also, the last time I needed a new phone, I was under the false impression that third-party resellers could not replace the phone on an existing Verizon contract, so I was stuck buying through Verizon. That isn’t true, I was happy to learn. The third-party resellers can access your AT&T, T-Mobile or Verizon account and make any changes necessary.

Where NOT to Buy a Mobile Phone

The Mobile Phone Food Chain

The phone hardware industry has three tiers: manufacturers who set artificially high MSRPs; carriers who give illusory discounts tied to contracts; and resellers who buy hardware and contracts in bulk. The last group is the most numerous, so competition lowers prices most effectively.

Some good places to shop for bargains on the latest smartphones include your local Best Buy, Staples, Costco, and WalMart stores. Amazon Wireless and Swappa are two online phone sellers that offer excellent deals.

Do you have a used phone or other electronic gadget you'd like to sell? My article HOWTO: Sell Your Phone (or Other Gadget) will point you to several places where you can confidently sell your smartphone, tablet, or laptop, and get the best price for it.)

Popular smartphones such as Samsung's Galaxy, Google Pixel, and the OnePlus Open are all available at prices much lower than you'll find at the carrier's company storefronts. One exception would be the latest iPhone, and that's because Apple keeps tight control over pricing, even at third-party stores. The iPhone 15 Pro Max with 512GB will cost cost you $1399 in the Apple Store, or anywhere else you look. But if you're willing to settle for something other than the latest and greatest, you can find an older, refurbished model for much less.

I'm not trying to say that the carriers' stores are dishonest, they just don't offer the best deals, because they don't really have to. And in fairness, I should mention that the official Verizon, AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile stores do offer deals on low-priced mobile phones. Sometimes you can find smartphones at a deep discount or even for free, with a two-year contract. But these are never the popular models that everyone wants. They might be last year's model, refurbished units, or just poor sellers they want to move.

If you need a new phone, with or without a new contract, start shopping at the bottom of the food chain. You’ll find better prices and more information about your options than carriers will give you willingly.

Of course, by “bottom” I do not mean some guy selling out of his trunk in a Walmart parking lot. If some stranger accosts you with an elaborate tale about having to sell iPhones for $100 to avoid trouble with his boss for ordering too many, do not do him the favor that he requests. You’re likely to get your shrink-wrapped package home, open it, and find a piece of cardboard with the word “iPhone” taped to it.

Craigslist and eBay are risky places to buy phones, too, especially if they are advertised as “new in box.” One of my all-time favorite “Judge Judy” episodes involves an eBay scammer who got her comeuppance as only Her Honor can deliver it.

What's your favorite place to buy a mobile phone? Post your comment or question below…

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Most recent comments on "Is This the Worst Place to Buy a Smartphone?"

Posted by:

Joel Portman
22 Jul 2024
Bought several phones for cheap here and they have all been good. Of course, I never buy new and never buy the "latest and greatest". Buy a phone to have a phone!

Posted by:

22 Jul 2024

Just like Joel, I NEVER buy a brand new phone, nor do I buy a current model. I buy used phones at and ALWAYS get a good value on a phone that someone else has to get rid of because they got suckered in to buying the 'latest and greatest'. I never pay over $100 for an iPhone and if that phone were to be stolen, lost, or crushed by a concrete mixer, no big deal! Just get another.

ALSO, I don't store my personal financial information, valuable original photos, and passwords of any kind on that phone. Again, lost phone? NO BIG DEAL.

Posted by:

22 Jul 2024

The major carriers should never ever be cheaper than their retailers with whom they already have made agreements to provide a minimum price for the products and services.

Posted by:

22 Jul 2024

About 6 months back I got a samsung s20+
( last S version that one can install a micro sd card). Got it from Amazone for $230, renewed. No headphones or cirds, or chargers. All I have in abundance.

Posted by:

23 Jul 2024

I have purchased many phones on eBay and Amazon. Last year I received a "free" Pixel 6a from Xfinity, with a 2-year contract for mobile service. I did this because Xfinity also lowered my internet cost. My total cost for internet and mobile service is less than I was paying only for internet. Good deal. I don't need the "best" phone. I'm very satisfied.

Posted by:

Renaud Olgiati
23 Jul 2024

I have a simple rule for buying such consumable electronics, whether phone, laptop, GPS, etc:

Never buy the most recent all-singing all-dancing version, but look on the net for people who want the latest, or overstocked shops, selling at a reduced price the N-1 version...

Posted by:

23 Jul 2024

The Judge Judy clip I know is a television series but in an English court if someone talked over the judge, or ceased to be silent when ordered, the judge would not tolerate it. Her barrister would be told to control their client. If that did not work she would be in contempt of court - a very serious offence with sometimes severe punishments.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Yes, it's just a TV show. And no lawyers are present!

Posted by:

Norman Rosen
23 Jul 2024

I bought a refinished phone from Amazon. Works perfectly. I then bought one for my wife from Amazon. Works perfectly. Batteries in both phones are excellent. Your comment about retail phone stores, like all your advice) is spot on.

Posted by:

23 Jul 2024

I'm a minimal user of a phone so I use a Tracfone. Have never paid more than 25 bucks for a phone from them. Currently have a Samsung Galaxy A-03s/SM-3134DL with Android 13 - which they gave me. Go ahead and smirk, but it works for me. Service costs me less than a 100 bucks a year; beat that!

Posted by:

24 Jul 2024

As you said, usually carrier deals are terrible. However, when the Samsung S23 came out, I got a GREAT deal at T-Mobile. Even though I had been a T-Mobile subscriber for years, the deal was available even to existing customers. They gave me $800 discount on an S23 Ultra. As another $100 for trading in my S10. I ordered on 2/6/2023 and was told that Samsung wasn't shipping any phones until 2/17/2023. That was OK with me. But mine arrived on 2/10/2023! I went in to look for a case and they didn't have any yet. They were very surprised I had already gotten my phone. Then I went to a Samsung store. They were also surprised because they weren't shipping until 2/17.

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