If You Want A Cell Phone Without A New Contract, Don't Go To The Verizon Store

If you’re already a Verizon customer and all you want is a new phone — no change of plan, no contract extension, just the phone — it would make sense that you should just be able to go to the Verizon store and pay full price for a new one. But as Consumerist reader Greg learned, things rarely go as easily as you’d expect when you’re dealing with the wireless world.

Writes Greg:

This past weekend, after much research and number crunching, I had come to the decision to replace my ailing Palm Pre + with a Samsung Stratosphere. My current contract term ends in January but after doing the math, it made more sense for me to just buy the phone outright ($409 + tax) and stay month to month rather than committing to two years.

The way I figure, after a year (when the warranty on the Samsung expires) I can buy another phone outright and hopefully sell the Samsung to create my own subsidy on the replacement’s cost. Plus, being month-to-month gives me the leverage to just “walk away” should there be any issues between Verizon and me in the next 12 months.

So on Sunday, 12/18, I walked into a Verizon Wireless Corporate store, found the phone, and informed the nearest sales person, E., that I was ready to check out. He asked if I was upgrading or starting a new line, I responded with, “neither. I’d just like to buy the phone outright.” E. agreed and went to the back to grab one.

After a few minutes, he returned and started the process. He asked for my name and cell number. When asked why this was needed (I was not interested in activating the phone right away and Verizon allows you to do this yourself later on anyhow), he stated that “you cannot just buy a phone outright. It has to be tied to a phone number.”

When asked what if the phone was a gift, I was told that I’d have to buy a gift card in the amount of the phone. My guess is that this is an attempt to keep people from just buying up phones and reselling them?

But another thing I found out was that when a phone is bought outright, the salesperson does NOT receive a commission. It also actually messes with their “sales numbers” somehow. This would explain why E. was willing to bend over backwards to allow my January upgrade to happen on 12/18, and why he, no less than 5 times, questioned why I was buying the phone outright instead of paying $99 and committing to two years.

I had a notepad with all of the math comparing two years vs month-to-month ready to go, and these numbers were still unacceptable to him. The next stall tactic was to not allow me to leave without activating the Samsung. I stated that I would activate it myself later on as I still had some last things I needed my Pre active for. He stated that there was no way I’d be allowed to purchase the phone without activation. After some merry-go-rounds with logic and previous experiences, he “found” that he could simple check a box that said “Activate Later.”

After this, and a little shaming about my decision to buy phone cases and screen protectors on Amazon, I was finally able to pay for my phone and leave the store. It sure felt good to look at my receipt and see only a charge for a Samsung Stratosphere plus tax. No activation fee, no accessories, no contract language with my signature.

But why did it have to be so difficult to get to that point??

Greg’s story is a reminder that most wireless stores — and certainly not just Verizon — exist mainly to sign up new customers or to extend existing customers’ contracts (along with selling chargers, sleeves and other add-ons). Thus, they will do what they can to convince you that simply buying a phone at full price is a bad idea.

Instead, there are several reliable online retailers that sell cells both with and without contracts. Additionally, a number of readers have said they’ve had luck buying directly through their wireless provider.