Launch Day Horror Story: Two AT&T stores, fictional off-contract rules, and no Lumia 920 (Update)

The worse thing you can do on launch day? Refuse to sell someone a phone with a made-up excuse.

Let me preface the following rant with this comment: I know this is the epitome of a first world problem. But I am a blogger running a Windows Phone site, and in fact simply wanted to review the device. I’m willing to spend $450 (plus 8.5% California sales tax) to give AT&T and Microsoft some free press. It’s $450 I can barely afford (it’s more than a third of what’s in my bank account), so excuse me for being a little grumpy about the ordeal.

Let’s get started.

I am but one of many excited Windows Phone fans eager to get their hands on the new lineup AT&T has introduced today. There are a lot of stories of huge lines, great customer service, and even some amazingly kind discounts. While I am relieved to hear that folks had good experiences out there, mine was unfortunately the exact opposite. Everything that could have gone wrong did.

I had called my local AT&T store the night before, and I knew they would have them in stock though they were unsure about the charging pad offer. I called them again this morning and another rep confirmed that the Lumia was in stock and that they would have to order the charging pads while I was in-store. I entered my local AT&T store at 10 AM today, an hour after opening. I forgot to mention that I truly loathe this AT&T store — if you ever plan to buy anything from it, expect to spend an hour killing time. That’s exactly what I did, waiting patiently with a few other prospective Lumia 920 owners.

I wanted to buy the phone without a contract and [the AT&T rep] looked at me, with a somewhat confused expression

After tweeting my observations in-store and playing with a few Androids and iPhones for an hour, my name was called and I went up to talk with the friendly rep. I told her I wanted to buy the new Lumia, and she began typing away on her computer. I decided that was the best time to tell her I wanted to buy the phone without a contract and she looked at me, with a somewhat confused expression. After pausing, she said I could only buy the Lumia 920 off contract “from Microsoft or the manufacturer”. I tried convincing her that you could buy any AT&T phone at no-commitment pricing, and that a friend of mine recently bought his iPhone 5 without a contract in this same store (which is true). She assertively said they couldn’t sell it without a contract, and after she asked another rep she said there was nothing they could do.

Fortunately, because I live in Southern California, I have a lot of options to buy a Windows Phone. So while I was irritated the closest AT&T store near me didn’t want to take my money, I didn’t hesitate before heading over to a Microsoft Store. Unfortunately that part of the story came to a quick, decisive conclusion since an employee told me their shipment had been delayed. Not willing to waste anymore gas without reason, I called a few other AT&T stores nearby as well as another Microsoft Store. The former did not have any in stock of the color I was hoping for, and the latter repeated the same shipment delay story.

Finally, I discovered I was but a block away from another AT&T retail store. I figured it was worth a shot, and this time I knew what to ask. As soon as I entered the store and after the rep asked me for my name, I asked her if I could buy the Lumia 920 without a contract. She asked another rep who then asked the manager, and then I was told that in fact I could as long the phone was activated before leaving the store. It was an odd request, but reasonable considering how affordable the off-contract pricing was. So I toiled in another AT&T store, alongside a few other hopeful 920 buyers.

I was flabbergasted; in my head I was screaming ‘off-contract means NO F*CKING CONTRACT’.

After 20 minutes, my name was called and I told the rep immediately that I wanted to buy the Lumia 920 without a contract. At first he said they couldn’t, but I told him that the manager just told me that I could. He went to go ask, and when he returned he told me the stupidest possible excuse I have ever heard: “You can only buy the phone off-contract if you activate a new line of service.” I was flabbergasted; in my head I was screaming ‘off-contract means NO F*CKING CONTRACT’. I adjusted in a few seconds and calmly told him that doesn’t make sense, since off-contract pricing is supposed to be without an upgrade or new line. Finally, I was able to speak with the manager face-to-face and he told me without even a flinch that they can’t sell it off-contract. Even now, I don’t understand why.

The worst part of this whole ordeal? I am not the only one. Both The Nokia Blog’s Mark Guim and WinSyde’s Brad Sams suffered at the hands of the same inane, fictional policy. If three bloggers who have dedicated significant chunks of their lives covering Microsoft and Nokia products can’t successfully buy a phone from AT&T, who the hell can?

To conclude my story, I have forfeited dealing with AT&T stores and ordered the Lumia 920 from the carrier’s website — at the correct no-commitment price of $449 plus tax. All I wanted to do was give my readers a look at one of the most exciting Windows Phones to be released yet, and in return I have received nothing more than a headache and a grumbling stomach from skipping breakfast four hours ago.

P.S. Microsoft, please tell AT&T to get their sh*t together if only for the sake of avoiding negative press like this.

Update: To clarify, both of the AT&T stores I visited were corporate stores, not resellers (avoid those stores like the plague).

Update 2: AT&T has responded to the complaints.

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Author Description

Saad Hashmi

Founder of Windows Phone Daily. Currently pursuing a Bachelor's degree in Marketing and Information Systems. While procrastinating on that goal I write, play games a little too often, and watch exorbitant amounts of mediocre half-hour comedies because I lack the patience to watch hour-long dramas that are probably better. Follow me on Twitter: @Saad073