10 Things We've Learned From 'Confessions of A Wireless Sales Rep'

Over the past week, it’s been quite a learning experience here at The Consumerist. Former and current reps from all of the major wireless companies have written in, sharing their tips and tricks and confessing their sins. It’s been a fascinating look inside the daily life of a sales rep, but what have we learned?

We’ve looked over the tips and come up with some general rules that will help you negotiate your cell phone purchase no matter which provider you sign up with. Here are 10 Things We’ve Learned From Confessions of a Wireless Sales Rep:

1) You have negotiating power. This should have been fairly obvious, but a lot of people probably did not realize that purchasing a cell phone was more like buying a car than buying a jar of Cheeze Whiz. You really can negotiate. Prices are flexible. You are in control.

2) Features, accessories and new line activations are important to cell phone salespeople. Cell phone sales reps have quotas they need to meet. You have something they want and will be paid a nice commission for getting. Use this to your advantage to get the best deal. If you’re walking into a cell phone store knowing you’re getting a new line with a bunch of features, expect to get a high end phone for a very good deal. Walk out if you don’t get it. Go to another carrier if you don’t get what you want. Your business is valuable. If you can’t get what you want from one carrier, chances are another one will be able to help you.

3) 2 year contracts don’t offer many benefits. One of the most common tips we saw was “2 year contracts are not a good deal.” Most carriers give you about a $50 discount on a phone for signing a 2 year contract. There’s really no point. Pay the $50. Get a 1 year contract and renegotiate every 9-11 months.

4) Rebates can often be redeemed both in store and online. Here at the Consumerist we tell you not to count on rebates. We suggest that you ask for all your rebates in store. Rebates are designed to encourage breakage and are not a consumer friendly product. The interesting thing about cell phone rebates is that many reps (Cingular, T-mobile) claim that you can get the rebate in the store and online. Hey, it might work. Even if it doesn’t, you already got your rebate.

5) Accessories are a bad deal. Huge markups. Unless you’re going to use them as a bargaining chip, or try to get them for free, stay away from accessories in a cell phone store. Buy them on eBay. Here’s a cute tip: If you need a cell phone charger, look in the technology recycle bin at Best Buy. People get rid of cell phone chargers all the time. It’s not stealing! It’s saving the planet!

6) Price match! Cell phone stores can price match. Check the carrier’s website for deals before you go to the store. Check other carrier’s prices, too. Know when to call customer care and when to use a store. Sometimes the sales rep on the phone will get commission for things that will be a waste of time to a person in a store and vice versa.

7) Deals vary wildly when upgrading your phone. It may be better to switch carriers every two years. Research other deals before you upgrade. When choosing a carrier, think two years ahead. Ask about the upgrade plan. If you’re out of contract, you have much more negotiating power. Don’t feel trapped by your current provider. Shop around. Price match. You may be able to activate an unlocked or pre-paid phone on your existing line in order to avoid signing a contract extension. Look into your options.

8) Unlock your phone if you’re on T-Mobile or Cingular. Good for traveling. Fun. Free.

9) Don’t buy cell phone insurance. It’s expensive, the deductible is high, there are ways to get a new phone without it, and the reps don’t get commission on it.

10) Upgrade early/Ask for loyalty credits. If you’re happy with your provider and want to stay on, why not ask to upgrade early? Most providers seem to agree that if you’re on a 1 year contract, you can upgrade your phone every 9-11 months. You’ll likely have an easier time if you’re on a higher rate plan or have a lot of features such as unlimited text messaging or internet. These make you a more valuable customer, and because of that you have more negotiating power. Use it. —MEGHANN MARCO

(Photo: swanksalot)

PREVIOUSLY: 8 Confessions Of A Former Verizon Sales Rep
7 Confessions of a Cingular Sales Rep
6 Confessions Of A Former Sprint Sales Rep
11 Confessions of a T-Mobile Sales Rep
8 Confessions of an Alltel Sales Rep


Edit Your Comment

  1. lincolnparadox says:

    While the cell phone insurance is expensive, the warranties are pretty much worthless. Any sort of damage that you do to the phone are not covered (dropping, getting it wet, any personal modifications). If you’re a klutz, you might want to spend the extra money IF it’s cheaper than it would cost you to buy a new phone any other way.

    A note on accessories, I’ve always used cellphoneshop.net. They’re a factory-direct discount site that gets everything from Hong Kong. That $20 clip will cost you less than $10. You’re buying at cost or less for most items. It’s a shame they don’t sell phones.

  2. LatherRinseRepeat says:

    Last time I upgraded my phone at a Cingular store, they charged me an activation fee. Not sure why, considering I’ve been a customer for years.

    Those 2-year contracts are lame. I was in an AT&T Wireless store with a friend, and the sales guy offered her a great deal on a phone, plus extended long distance minutes. But when he was creating the invoice, I noticed he tacked on a 2-year contract. I told her not to do it, since there were better phones coming out every year. The sales guy told us that in order to get the long distance and the discounted phone price, it would need to be a 2-year contract. I told her no way, and she agreed. The sales guy hesitated, and then offered to give us the discounted phone and long distance, but with only a 1-year contract. Lesson here is to read the invoice/contract and understand what you’re agreeing to and paying for.

    Yes, ask for rebates in-store at the time of purchase. I got burned once on a phone rebate because I didn’t read all of the fine print. The rebate only applied to new customers with only certain calling plans. The sales rep forgot to mention that bit of information when I bought the phone.

    Different providers have different unlocking policies. I “think” Cingular will let you unlock your phone after your contract is up. You have to call customer service and request it. They’ll tell you it will take about 5 – 7 business days to get the unlock code from the factory. Be sure to get a case number or a direct number to the rep that helped you. They’re probably hoping you’ll forget about it after 7 days. Once you get your code and unlock your phone, obtain a SIM from a different provider and insert it into your phone to test it out. You can just try buying a $5 pre-paid SIM card, or you can borrow one of your friend’s SIM, assuming they’re using a different GSM provider than yours.

  3. pdxguy says:

    ok, ya got the kitties so how about some tabby cats?

  4. m. mangosteen says:

    One piece of advice I learned the hard way is to get your new phone in the store, if possible. I ordered a new Verizon phone and a) was told the rebate offered didn’t apply to me because it was a new every two rather than a new account (someone at the store said that wasn’t the case) and b) thanks to this site, decided only to get a 1 yr contract, but of course realized this after I ordered my phone. The new phone arrived today, I called customer service to change my contract to a 1 yr one, and was told I needed to return my unopened phone via fed ex and it could take up to 10 days before I can get a new one with a new contract! Can’t take it to a store because of inventory issues and they can’t change the contract w/o the phone. ANNOYING! My contract’s almost up and I’d love to leave Verizon, but almost all my minutes are In Network and free, so they’ve got me.

  5. patches says:

    i learned that even when appearing to be helpful, wireless sales reps are pretty much self serving sob’s. oh wait, i already knew that. don’t get me wrong, hooking it up for customers is real nice and all, but all that junk about buying accessories and extra features just to cancel the next day rarely works. then what happens? i’ll tell you: jimmy gets screwed, that’s what.

  6. TM says:

    I have insurance with T-Mo and haven’t had any problems replacing phones, even phones they don’t carry (Treo’s for example). I don’t think they have a deductible, or maybe it’s variable based on length of service or amount of claims. I just prefer to have it, for the klutz factor. Phone’s getting thrown downstairs, dropped in rain, run over… etc.

  7. rublind says:

    A note of advice, the ” marks in the title make the link unclickable in most browsers. I had to dig though the source to get it to work..

    Just saying.

  8. CrackaJax says:

    Any chance on getting confessions from reps outside of the States? I’d love to know, for example, how to get a better deal with Rogers, here in Canada, for example

  9. Transient says:

    A great many of the points don’t remotely apply to me as a sales rep. I talk to people all day who seem to believe I have the power of god when I don’t. I guess it’s just wildly different at a store versus over the phone. Maybe it’s just because I assume folks have a clue and I don’t play pricing games. Unfortunately, people treat me like every other rep (i.e. a criminal), which just makes me want to jump on board with the cycle o’ screwin’.

  10. mikesfree says:

    Just heard about the consumerist on the STL radio station 105.7 the point! Cited all the points in this story and citied the consumerist!

  11. Syndil says:

    Having been a sales rep for all the major carriers, I would agree with most of the points made. However, there are a couple of points I’d like to comment on.

    Firstly, if you are a person that does not change phones or carriers often, I see no reason not to take a two-year contract. If you think you’re going to stick with your carrier for the next two years, then why wouldn’t you let them give you $50? $50 is $50. I’ve been with my carrier for almost a decade, and always sign 2-year contracts. Every time my contract is up it’s like Christmas, because my carrier throws money and free stuff at me just to get me to sign another two-year contract. I have no reason to leave them, so I happily take their swag and sign the line.

    Also, for some people insurance is NOT a rip-off, and if you are a klutz, it’s a definite no-brainer. It usually costs $5-$7 a month with a $50 deductible, but if you are prone to breaking things (or buying a phone for a child/teen), this can be a lot cheaper than paying the full un-discounted price to replace a phone. Even the “free with activation” phones can be quite expensive if you have to buy one before you are eligible for an upgrade. I always dread the customer who comes in with a phone that little Johnny has dropped in the toilet and says “oh, I need another free phone” as if I can just hand one to them. When I tell them their “free” phone actually costs $189 without a new activation, the boxing gloves come out and the yelling begins. True, reps make nothing for selling insurance, but they should ALWAYS at least explain to the customer what will happen if they need to replace the phone before they are eligible for an upgrade.

    And if you have a PDA phone, insurance is an absolute must, if it is even available. Some carriers such as Cingular do not offer insurance on some of their PDA phones. If you break yours, you’re looking at $400 to $700 to replace it, or spending $189 to downgrade to a “free” phone.

    One trick that some customers may use when replacing a damaged phone is to add another line of service to their account in order to get a discount on another phone. Sure, it will cost a bit more a month and leave them with a line that is unused, but for some customers this is a viable alternative to copping the full price up front for a new phone.

    Customers should also be aware that what most carriers sell you when they say they are selling you “insurance” is their total protection package, which includes both insurance and extended warranty coverage. The extended warranty coverage covers the cost of repairs if the phone is damaged, but not a total loss. This can be useful, as it can save you the cost of a $50 insurance deductible if the phone is fixable. However, I personally prefer to save $1 or $2 a month and ask specfically for just the insurance without the extended warranty. If my phone becomes damaged, I would rather pay the deductible and get a new phone quickly rather than wait 2 or 3 weeks for my phone to be repaired. However in this situation, you may have to make certain that a damaged phone is sufficiently damaged to warrant an insurance replacement. ;D

  12. mikesfree says:

    I still think the insurance is a RIP. I got a personal property protection policy for my PDA phone from State Farm. It is about 40 a year and give you full cost of what you paid for the phone. So if it breaks in a year and a half, you arent stuck with a refurb, you can go and buy a new one, or newer model for the same cost.

  13. elboc says:

    For pretty much everyone, I recommend the insurance. If you are reading this post you are most likely at least a little tech savvy. So your phone is at least $300 retail. that means get insurance. you can play with the math all you want but in the long run almost everybody gets p’d off when they get their phone wet and somehow doesn’t know how it got wet and have to replace the phone for $300. If you pay $6 a month for 24 months plus 1 $50 deductible thats $194. Assuming only one accident in 2 yrs. Plus most insurance plans cover any accident. so when you make a claim tell em you dropped it down the stairs. they all cover that. Also most insurance plans cover when your phone gets wet as long as you tell them how it happened. “I don’t know” is not covered.

  14. go123 says:

    i need to get a new plan this summer. im looking for 4 lines and i need about 2500 minutes. im with sprint, and my two year contract is about to expire, ive been with them for 4-5 years. how can i get the best deals? how should i negoitiate?

  15. Major-General says:

    @elboc: Of course, the cost of the phones decreases, and then the “insurance” company sends you a non-factory refurb that costs less than the deductable. I figured that versus the cost of the insurance and deductable, I could have bought a replacement phone for less.

  16. @ lincolnparadox.

    They do sell phones.
    Right now I’m looking at a RIZR for $179.99

  17. LouisaStolo says:

    unlocking my t-mobile or cingular phone is free?