The Worst Place to Buy a Smartphone?

Category: Gadgets

A 72 year-old man went to a Verizon store with a friend to buy a new phone. Shortly after they entered, the place was invaded by three armed men who shot out the glass front door. 'I felt helpless,' the man said, despite having the presence of mind to shield his friend and dial 911. The suspects were quickly captured. And then the real robbery began...

Where NOT to Buy a Mobile Phone

The retail stores of major carriers are the worst places to buy phones. Their prices are 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 S10e, with a MSRP of $749. Verizon offered it for 24 payments of $31.24/month so she bought it.

The next day at the local mall, she found the same phone at Best Buy for $100 less. When she told me that, I did a little detective work and found the same Samsung Galaxy S10e smartphone on Amazon Wireless for $409! That one was an "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 almost $350 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 thid-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, Sprint, 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 Wirefly are two online phone sellers that offer excellent deals. Amazon offers free two-day and sometimes next-day shipping on phones.

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 S10 line, Google Pixel, the OnePlus 7 Pro, and the Moto G7 Power are all available at prices much lower than you'll find at the carrier's company storefronts. One exception would be the iPhone, and that's because Apple keeps tight control over pricing, even at third-party stores. The iPhone 11 Pro will cost cost you $999 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 a refurbished iPhone X, iPhone 8 and older models 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 for $49, $29 or even for free, with a two-year contract. But these are almost 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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This article was posted by on 7 Jan 2020


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Most recent comments on "The Worst Place to Buy a Smartphone?"

(See all 26 comments for this article.)

Posted by:

PgmrDude
07 Jan 2020

About 2 months ago I upgraded my iPhone 6 to a new iPhone 7, at a price of $249.99, at a local Metro by T-Mobile store. Oddly, they only had the 11 and the 7 available. I was actually GOING-to purchase the 11, but they were both out-of-stock, and couldn't order (at the mercy of shipments to the store); so I got the 7.

BTW, it's the iPhone 11 Pro MAX that's $999; the 11 Pro is $699.


Posted by:

BobD
07 Jan 2020

I decided to buy the 2-year Verizon contract on a Motorola G7 Power for $5/month, at BestBuy. The store's Verizon specialist then told me the "plan" was $35/month plus another $20/month for something I didn't catch. So I would buy the phone for $120, and pay Verizon $55/mo to move the plugs around on the operator's plug board, or whatever they do nowadays. Fortunately, my freezes on my credit accounts blocked the transaction. I reviewed the scheme at Tracfone that I've been subject to for years. I ordered a Samsung A10E from them at 10 PM two days ago (Sunday), $159.99. What the hell does $660/year buy that's so wonderful?


Posted by:

louie
07 Jan 2020

nobody ever acknowledges the fact that stupid rich people are the ones who DRIVE THE ECONOMY. You should thank your friend for being "generous" enough to even think about buying a phone from a major dealer.


Posted by:

Sherri Groves
07 Jan 2020

Purchased an unlocked Samsung A20 a few years back at a great price from Walmart.com. Broke the screen and was going to cost as much to replace the screen as the phone cost! So this time ordered a new unlocked Samsung A50 from Amazon. Great price for a good phone. I'm an older senior and this phone works great for my needs.


Posted by:

Kenneth Mitchell
07 Jan 2020

BobD: "What the hell does $660/year buy that's so wonderful?"

A nicer car for the salesman. That's VERY wonderful - for the salesman!


Posted by:

CAB
07 Jan 2020

I've never owned a Smartphone (I call them Stupidphones). I pay $60 a month to Spectrum for my Internet, and I'm using an XP I bought used for $25. It does what I want it to. I don't have to type with my thumb, and I can watch videos and have a mailing list and word processing features so I can write to my list. Maybe if I was out and about I'd be wanting a stupidphone, but since I'm home and have no desire to travel around I am happy with my old XP computer. (ps it's a Dell)


Posted by:

Joe Gill
07 Jan 2020

One small differentiation to make,
I know for SPRINT, TMOBILE, VERIZON, the other main players,there ae two varieties of stores:
- CORPORATE owned and run
- Authorized retailers. The sign out front will say SPRINT (or VERIZON or whatever). But if you look carefully at the sign you will see "Authorized Retailer". In MOST cases this is a smaller mom/pop outfit, a part of your community, selling the devices and service.

That said, deals can be had at either of the groups.

I have been with the same provider for years. Some phones came from a "special" telesales connected to my employer. Some SPRINT tekesales. Recently, I have been a BESTBUY customer.
It pays to shop.


Posted by:

Dave Girvitz
07 Jan 2020

I buy my phones from Amazon or the manufacturer. I just bought my wife a Samsung A70 directly from Samsung. They had a boxing week price of $499 (CAD), about $200 off. Amazon had the same price. I bought my Moto G7 Power for $259 (CAD) from Amazon. It's an international edition, so the warranty isn't valid in Canada. Otherwise, it's a very good phone.


Posted by:

Practical
07 Jan 2020

I've never bought a mobile phone. My only one is an old hand me down tracfone LG flipfone, a strong transmitter and reciever that's very rarely used. Previous owner bought many minutes and received extensions to service time valid to 2029. The 1300 minutes left on it will never expire and there is no monthly cost or fees to me. It stays turned off in a metal sucrets tin in my pocket and is only there in case of emergencies or for when travelling (I'm very happy to never get calls except at my home phone). I do have fast internet at home and do a lot online with my windows and linux PCs. My laptop and tablet can both use wifi hot spots. Am thinking of adding voip abilities, for when travelling. Am happy to not be among the hoards of "zombies" constantly staring at a phone in their hand, oblivious to their surroundings everywhere they go.


Posted by:

Ben
07 Jan 2020

ATT stores have new iphone XRs for $5/month and an unlimited line for $35/per month if you switch from another carrier. We just switched from Verizon and bought 2 phones and lines. We switch between ATT and Verizon every 3 to 4 years to get great deals.


Posted by:

LMC
07 Jan 2020

I found that my local Verizon Store is a company store. I find the prices/service/knowledge is better than the third party stores. Not sure what experience Bob has had, but the Verizon owned stores are much more capable in handling issue and pricing than the franchises.


Posted by:

Mel Brown
07 Jan 2020

FYI: Verizon has "Victra" stores that operate under different rules. For example, their prices are higher than their corporate stores, they charge setup fees, and they charge another fee for returns. I impulsively bought a phone at a Victra store, hated it, but would have had to pay almost $100 to return it.

I called corporate and told them the story. They overrode all the Victra fees, letting me get all my money back. I then went to Best Buy and got a better phone at a much better price.

If you see a Victra sign in the window, turn around and seek out a corporate store! Or just go to Best Buy to start with.


Posted by:

Arline
08 Jan 2020

My sister introduced me to this. It's great if you don't need a lot of minutes. Check-out QVC and Hsn and search for Tracfones. You can buy a smart phone with 1500 minutes/text/data for anywhere from $69-$119. This lasts me 9-10 months. When I run out of minutes, it's cheaper to buy another brand-new updated phone then more minutes. So, for about $10 a month, I have a cheap Smart Phone that is replaced yearly. This works for me as I don't use the phone too often.


Posted by:

Robert A.
08 Jan 2020

For those readers that have Comcast/Xfinity cable TV/internet service, Xfinity offer its customers cell service that is carried by Verizon, the nation's largest carrier, at an extremely economical price. Some years ago Comcast sold Verizon some valuable (to Verizon) radio spectrum, and, as part of the sale deal, Comcast was able, for the first time, to offer cell service to its customers at a rate well below that of Verizon. The Xfinity stores have a large variety of phones and accessories at competitive prices to those of Best Buy, and possibly Amazon. They are definitely worth checking out.


Posted by:

Art
08 Jan 2020

I don't know how 'smart' my Avid 557 is, but it does the job for me. I have a lot of apps from the Google store which allows me to use the 'micro computer' for many jobs not associated with telephones. It cost $40 from Consumer Cellular.


Posted by:

David Horsfall
08 Jan 2020

All too many can't resist buying stuff on "tick": they rarely think what it's actually costing them as their minds are bent on having the latest "toy" no matter. Having a few bob saved is way better than paying some installments on something you don't REALLY need. Same applies to most things.


Posted by:

mike
08 Jan 2020

Hmmm My flip phone from the 90s still works just fine. Why in the world would someone spend hundreds of dollars repeatedly year by year to simply have a new toy? Guess they just have money to waste.


Posted by:

Emily Booth
09 Jan 2020

I use Tracfone. I buy a new phone every 2 years. I look for the best price. I check Tracfone, QVC, Walmart, eBay and Amazon. I research prices and read reviews. I currently own a Samsung Galaxy J7 Crown. I bought a Motorola Moto 6 for out of the country travel to use with Google Fi. I bought the Moto 6 from an authorized seller on eBay. I had just missed a good deal from the Motorola website.

All iPhone users with phones older than 6 will have to buy new phones. Apple is not supporting OS older than 13.


Posted by:

Riccardo Capuano
09 Jan 2020

Regarding Ron's comment about finding a phone with a removeable battery: I still use my Samsung S4 2+16GB because I can replace the battery when its performance dips. It's like getting a new phone everytime I put in a new battery. Ravpower sells them on Amazon for around $15. Bob, I believe you have a Samsung S4 too as a backup phone.


Posted by:

Phixer
10 Jan 2020

"I buy a new phone every 2 years..."
"All iPhone users with phones older than 6 will have to buy new phones."
It's no wonder the world is in a mess with rapidly depleting precious metals and holes in the ground being filled with non-recycled rubbish.


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