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Too Difficult to Comparison Shop for Smartphones



Shopping for a new smartphone can be both an exciting and frustrating experience. If you already know what you’re going to buy before you head to a local retail store you’re probably in pretty good shape. But if you’re looking to compare smartphones from several manufacturers or carriers under one roof you’re out of luck.

As Om Malik from GigaOm pointed out in an article today, Best Buy doesn’t bother to put every smartphone on display. Instead of real live smartphones, plastic replica models are put in their place. This might be a good way to cut down on theft, but it’s a horrible shopping experience. Both consumers and salespeople don’t get a chance to thoroughly learn about the devices or take built-in apps for a spin.

Wireless carriers’ stores generally have real live smartphones on hand and relatively well-trained salespeople on staff. But comparing phones and plans from multiple carriers  is still a real chore. Best Buy has the opportunity to be a one-stop shop for smartphone shoppers and I hope the powers that be invest in more samples and training. A new smartphone is a major purchasing decision is a big decision for most consumers and they should have a chance to thoroughly check them out prior to signing a long-term contract.

As my father-in-law’s experience pointed out, Apple does a fantastic job in turning dumbphone users into smartphone users. While it’s unlikely to happen in the short term, Om Malik suggests that Google should get more involved to improve the retail experience.



  1. Angel

    09/07/2010 at 3:31 pm

    “Apple does a fantastic job in turning dumb-phone users into smartphone users.”

    I’m not sure if you meant what you said or if your punctuation betrayed you. But it’s hard to argue against this statement. Best analysis of I’ve read on this site.

  2. Pyrotechnomimus

    09/07/2010 at 5:28 pm

    I know this Best Buy. That’s the bigger one in San Francisco, CA. In general Best Buy employees receive little time to do online training and it is merely good fortune to find an employee who happens to know about a particular product.

    Given more training time, and then also real live models, you’d have great comparison capabilities with customers in a store like Best Buy. However, wireless carrier stores do little better when it comes to actually knowing about their products in San Francisco. Perhaps Apple does a better job in their stores, I have only been into the SF one once, and found the employees rude, unapproachable and when finally someone did talk to me they didn’t want to show me anything about the Apple products.

    Vendor representatives inside of Best Buys, on the other hand, have done far better for me. The various vendor representatives that Best Buy allows into their stores are the people you’d rather meet and talk to, and are often times given live models of at least one phone/device to demo to people. It is just luck, however, to find one in a store and available. They just seem to have a higher likelihood of being concerned about a customer than most Best Buys.

    • Xavier Lanier

      09/07/2010 at 6:35 pm

      Yes, the company retail reps are by far more knowledgeable than Blue shirts. You’re correct- this is the Best Buy on Harrison St in San Francisco

  3. Roberto

    09/07/2010 at 7:18 pm

    There’s a reason Best Buy is referred to Worst Buy by some. I have to say I has better luck at Circuit City when it was around.

  4. David

    09/08/2010 at 6:20 am

    Isn’t this sort of comparison shopping what Amazon was invented for?

  5. Edwardo

    09/09/2010 at 11:56 am

    I’ve shopped for my phones at Best Buy for my entire family for almost four years now and the experiences that you are talking about are the exact opposite of what I’ve come face to face with. It’s true that not all of the phones are live when you walk in the door, but I’ve never had a problem with the staff opening them up for me and taking a look at how they work when I’ve asked. They even had a demo EVO to play with that they lock up for theft purposes. You just have to ask to see if they have it at the store you’re shopping in.

    I just got a phone for my daughter about a week ago and they even kept the store open for me to complete the transaction because he could see how disappointed she was when I said we might have to come back tomorrow because it was so late. Your experience is YOUR experience.

    • Xavier Lanier

      09/09/2010 at 11:59 am

      Good to hear you received good customer service over the years at Best Buy. But you pointed out just the problem- people should really be able to check out a gadget without having to ask for a unit. Fine for serious/patient shoppers, but it’d benefit everyone if you could just play with every device being sold.

      • Edwardo

        09/09/2010 at 12:10 pm

        Last time I checked, the SF store had an entire area of live phones for AT&T I think. Everyone sells the same operating systems anyway. Blackberry, Google, etc. Who cares if it’s not THE phone if the operating system is the same. I just want to see how it works.

        • Xavier Lanier

          09/09/2010 at 12:17 pm

          The problem is that not all Blackberry and Android devices are the same. Might be the same underlying OS, but each Android device has different skins, customization and apps.

      • Edwardo

        09/09/2010 at 1:22 pm

        For your average everyday person, they’re not diving that deep into the OS. Basic funtionality is probably as serious as it gets with five minutes in front of any OS in the store. When I bought my wife a Blackberry 8530, all she wanted to know was how to get email and send text. They set the email up for her, showed her how to do it, and then they showed her how to text. To this very day, that’s all she cares about. Every one of the newer Blackberries look the same and for the most part and function the same. They showed us a Verizon demo phone at the time, but our account is with Sprint. Not much difference there in the OS.

        When I was getting my EVO, they were telling me about the Epic, and that I should see how it worked. You know how they showed me the system? On the Captivate that they had on display and live. Minus the side scrolling where the apps are located, and the swipe keyboard, functionally it’s the same feel as the Hero I was leaving behind. It wasn’t enough of a difference to really MAKE a differnce. They were able to show me the features without showing me the exact phone. That’s all I’m saying.

  6. pyrotechnomimus

    09/09/2010 at 1:28 pm

    I think the problem that’s being ran into is the same for any retail store that happens to be large. Apple, Best Buy, or otherwise. If you go in once, you might not get the best customer service, whether because it’s a new employee that’s helping you, in Best Buy especially, someone could be from an entirely different department and try and help because things are slow. There are also a wide selection of skillsets and skill levels in the various departments.

    My experience in most Best Buys, however, tend to be similar to almost any other retail location I’ve been in. Sometimes you get good service, sometimes you don’t. After you pointed out the multiple Apple stores in this area I looked on google maps for them, and found variosu review points too, some very low even lower than the Best Buy stores in the same areas. This at least seems to indicate a range of customer service levels and an inherant inability to serve every customer the same.

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