Buying phones for full price is not always so simple

Taylor Martin
 from  Concord, NC
| February 16, 2011

There once was a time that if I were not eligible for an upgrade, I would just sit and salivate over all of the new phones that hit the shelves. But that changed when I took this job. The only way to keep with the times and new technology coming out is to suck it up and buy phones off-contract. Over the last year or so, I've gotten used to it. Each time a device I've been wanting comes out, I will head to the local wireless store to pick one up. Typically, it's no problem. I've purchased countless Android devices over the past twelve months. It's as simple as walking up to a representative and swiping a card.

You would assume that it would be this easy for any device, right? Wrong. This past Friday, I set out to buy a Verizon iPhone 4 off-contract. Seeing that launch day was all but impressive, I figured most stores would have plenty of devices in stock.

First stop, the local Best Buy Mobile. I walked in and asked if they had any in stock. Unsurprisingly, they did. I can remember the original iPhone 4 launch at Best Buy, buying an iPhone off-contract was not an issue, so I had assumed the VZW version would be no different. Needless to say, I was wrong. Apple will no longer allow Best Buy to sell iPhones off-contract, or at least that was what I was told, verbatim, by two separate locations.

Next, I decided to call the local corporate Verizon store. I asked if they had any in stock and if I could purchase it without a contract. The representative on the phone said, “Yes, we have them in stock. If you buy it without signing a contract, you just have to have it activated before you leave the store.” I told him that would not be a problem, and that I was on my way. When I got there and told them I had called, they went ahead and got me started. Just when I thought my adventure was coming to an end, the representative told me that I would be receiving the device by mail in a couple of days and that there was no way around it.

Simply put, I couldn't wait and needed it sooner than that. Displeased, I left and decided to check out a few Wal-Mart locations. One didn't carry the iPhone at all and the other also refused my sale and said I could only buy on contract. I assume this is for the same reason Best Buy offered – Apple probably has some agreements with third-party locations. There is nothing they could have done about that, it wasn't their fault.

Finally, after five previous stores, I ended up at another Verizon location about twenty minutes from where I live. I told them I wanted to buy an iPhone off-contract, and they immediately gave me the stink-eye. The lady I was talking to told me she simply could not sell the phone to me without a contract. Logically, I asked, “Why not?” She turned on her heel, walked through the door at the back of the store, and returned a few seconds later with iPhone in hand. Roughly $700, half a tank of gas, and four hours later, I was finally the proud owner of a new Verizon iPhone.

Over the last twelve months, I have purchased a G2, HTC Incredible, Droid X, and several other Android handsets without a contract. Even when in high demand, I was never refused a sell. The representatives gladly rang me up and sent me on my way.

Buying an iPhone off-contract should be no different. Unfortunately, it's a completely different story and experience. Apple has struggled to keep up with demand since the launch of the original iPhone, so I understand their concern when it comes to supply. However, every customer should have the same opportunity to buy the phone they want, contract or no contract, regardless of what phone it is.

Verizon never turned down my sale, but they tried their best to make me change my mind by offering to ship it to me when they had already confirmed they had the device on hand. It was definitely an interesting experience, one that I hope I never have to face again. If companies don't want you to buy a phone without a contract, they shouldn't offer it. Did anyone else go out to buy a Verizon iPhone off-contract and get turned down? Were you made to feel like you shouldn't be asking, too? Did you finally get one?