How important are display models in wireless retail stores?

Evan Selleck
Contributing Editor from Arizona
Published: April 23, 2013

When you walk into a wireless carrier retail location, whether it's a third party store or a corporate spot, the one thing your'e likely to find --other than sales representatives (hopefully) ready to help you find a phone-- is display models. Some might be dummy models, which are just empty shells of the real deal, but hopefully most of them are functioning devices. This gives you the ability to play around with it for a bit, to see if you like it at face value. It's a quick rundown of what a phone's capable of, but is in no way comprehensive.

Every time I've gone into a retail location, I've played around with a floor model. I usually do this while I'm waiting to talk to a representative, so it passes the time when there's nothing to do. Sure, I could use my own phone, but I can do that at any time. Why not mess around with something else? See what the "competition" is like, if you will.

There's no doubt in my mind that display models play a big role in the selling of a phone. Sales reps use them all the time. I used them all the time when I was selling phones, too. It's one thing to talk about features in general, but a different thing entirely to actually show someone what you're talking about. I could say the HTC One's or iPhone 5's display is amazing to look at, but until you see it for yourself, that only holds so much weight.

That's why live, functioning demo versions of devices is so important, and why dummy models are so pointless.

There is a small problem with floor models, though. Especially the ones that are easily accessible to anyone and everyone who walks into the store. I've worked at retailers in both situations, where the store kept display models inside cases, so that they could be handed out when needed. Others, like many corporate locations that I see these days, where the phone is left out, on a stand next to a card detailing its features, with a demonstration video playing on the display, just waiting to be touched.

The issue is that many locations don't put much attention into their display models once they've been set up and turned on. I've heard of some locations not even turning their phones off during the night, while the store is closed. Instead, these devices just stay on, for days and days, if not weeks, while constantly being used, accessed with applications and whatever else. As you can imagine, this can cause all sorts of issues with a device over time.

It can certainly deprive anyone of getting a really clear image of how the phone functions with only one owner. Instead, we get a device that's effectively borrowed, misused in some cases, and never reset at any point. This can't be considered indicative of the device itself, in those specific cases, if you ask me.

Worse, is when important accessories are removed from a phone's display area. More often than not, when I go into a retailer and check out the Galaxy Note II, the S Pen is missing. To me, that's a huge disservice to the phone itself, considering the S Pen is, in my opinion, one of the major selling points for the device. If I had played with a Galaxy Note II without the S Pen, I wouldn't have ever purchased it. Just that simple.

It's a strange back-and-forth for display models, then. The fact that they are indeed essential in many cases for a sales representative to help sell someone a phone, because seeing is believing, is weighed down by the possibility that the experience can be maligned by constant usage in the days past.

But it isn't all bad, I guess. After all, a sales rep should be able to spot when a phone isn't acting like its normal self, right? Especially if they try to use a feature and it doesn't work as well as they know it should. And if an accessory is missing, like a Galaxy Note II's S Pen, then it shouldn't be too hard to find another, right? Especially just for a quick demonstration.

Which is why I want to know if you've ever hard an interesting experience with a floor model before. Not a dummy device, either, but a fully functioning handset on display. Have you ever walked up to an Android phone on display to see that an app has Force Closed? Have you ever walked up to an iPhone that just wouldn't turn on? Tell me how a sales rep has used a display model to sway you to buy a phone; or has it worked in the complete opposite way for you? Let me know!