AT&T Stores Try To Promote iPhone Price Cut As "Manager's Special"

A reader reports that a Bellevue, WA AT&T store is trying to play it like the company-wide iPhone price drop is a “manager’s special.” When he called the regional manager, our reader was told the signs were the brainchild of the regional marketing department.

Does Steve Jobs manage this store? As if. Disingenuous, to say the least.

UPDATE: A tipster tells us these signs are in fact against company policy.


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  1. ChewySquirrel says:

    ahahaha thats genius

  2. Doc Benway says:

    Wait do they actually think people are that stupid? Never mind, they do – that is the AT&T business model afterall. The dumber the customer, the more we want em.

  3. ArtDonovansLovechild says:

    WHAAAAAAAA. How dare they try to advertise a legitimate price drop under the auspices of a manager special. God forbid. Sometimes Ben you are just begging for people to mock the post.

    Is the price what the sign says? Yes!
    Did it add any new requirements? No!


  4. Geekybiker says:

    Only problem I have with it is that it’s marketed as a “special” meaning its a time sensitive price change rather than just a price cut that you can get next week or a month from now.

  5. pestie says:

    @ArtDonovansLovechild: No matter what’s posted here, some toolbox is always going to: 1) think it’s stupid to have posted it. 2) Post about how it shouldn’t have been posted.

  6. ArtDonovansLovechild says:

    @pestie: Nice name calling. Im simply pointing out that Ben likes to nitpick and post stupid and biased post some days.

  7. Rando says:

    You’d be surprised how many people actually fall for it though.

  8. CoolTri says:

    WOW thanks AT&T… now I’m going leave Verizon because your mangers are Sooooo Cool to give me 200 off..

  9. wring says:

    are they actually getting people signing up to get an iphone cus of this?

  10. ceejeemcbeegee is not here says:

    In their defense (I have a cousin who’s a manager at an AT&T store) those are the company provided signs for posting any store information, including “specials” and if they were to use anything else they might get dinged by corporate (and yes, they do frequent spot checks).

    Does that make it right? No. But that’s their flawed policy.

  11. homerjay says:

    I would have thought that those were the only ‘whiteboard’ type signs they had available to write things like that on…

  12. skrom says:

    You would be surprised how many people would fall for it. When I worked at a grocery store as a kid we did a test once where one week we sold loafs of bread at 50% off. The next week we sold the same loaf of bread at buy one, get one free. The second week we sold 10 times as many loaves of the same bread for the same price because when people see FREE they impulsively buy it.

  13. Caroofikus says:

    I bet if you went to the store with the sign on the left you could gripe your way into an iPhone for $199. After all, it does say $200 instant savings, and if the manufacturer sets the retail price at $399, the only way they can really give $200 off is to make it $199.

  14. spinachdip says:

    @ArtDonovansLovechild: That you don’t believe it’s a serious issue and fail to see the implication doesn’t make the topic any less worthy of discussion.

    We have a few things to take away here:
    1. I don’t care that it’s not technically lying. People who mislead are liars, even if their lies are plausibly deniable, or if their misinformation only affects the dumb or the uninfomred.

    “Special” implies time sensitivity. This is inarguable – you’d have to be pretty obtuse not to see this. Basically, AT&T Wireless locations will resort to lies, be it boldfaced or underhanded, to get your business.

    2. AT&T Wireless is so inept at marketing the benefits of its products that they can only sell the iPhone with its price drop (in a misleading way, no less). Granted, they are in a market with so little differentiation between competitors, but if a price cut is your best selling point, then your brand has little value.

    3. AT&T Wireless exercise so little control over its brand that it lets store managers decide what message to send out, the brand message and personality be damned. I brought this up in the post about the style guidelines for the Verizon Guy – people might think it’s silly to have a 30-page style guide on how to use one personality, but when you’re letting thousands of resellers and agents and vendors use your brand, you damn well make sure they don’t do shit that’ll embarrass your brand.

    See, you don’t think these signs really hurt anyone, and I don’t think so either. And none of my three points may actually be true. But the signs are a pretty good indication of a company that’s assbackwards and/or represented by liars.

  15. TechnoDestructo says:


    It’s moments like this that I really LOATHE humanity.

  16. Tzepish says:

    @ArtDonovansLovechild: To call these signs “disingenuous” (as Ben did) is hardly biased. I’d go so far as to agree with SPINACHDIP and call it “underhanded lying”. If you think there’s nothing wrong with companies like AT&T lying to its customers, then that’s simply unfortunate.

  17. Mr. Gunn says:

    Of course, if the iphone was anywhere near as successful as they had hoped, they wouldn’t have to be slashing the prices so. Now with the DRM-free tracks from Amazon, I think someone’s getting worried.

  18. Chicago7 says:

    Does anybody know why the refurb iPod 80GB videos were priced at $219 last week? Is this a permanent price cut or what? They were $279.

  19. kingoman says:

    I agree that this site sometimes takes too-great glee in nailing “certain companies.” But that said, I think this example is fair game. This price cut was announced to the world and now this store is implying that their manager is doing it in this store as a favor to local customers. Misleading and lame in the most favorable of interpretations.

  20. quentin says:

    Not every person out there is aware of the iPhone price cut. Still, hawking it as a “Managers Special” makes it sound very enticing. It’s advertising, but you could present it in a much more ethical way. For example, I don’t think no one would object to “iPhone – now only $399!”

  21. Johnie says:

    I would think this would violate Apple’s branding policies. The magic marker with the 599 crossed out makes the product look cheap.

    I think Jobs will have angry words after seeing this.

  22. mikecolione says:

    @ SpinichDip – Messages posted on these manager special signs are corporate controlled. There are certain message that may be chosen each week. If you write something that isn’t approved you can (and will) get in trouble.

    Actually the signs are used for various price drops, market specials and limited time specials.

    The iPhone fits perfectly for several reasons.

    1. The iPhone did drop in price.

    2. The price is for a limited time (the internal docs have an end date of 12/31/07).

    3. It draws attention to a great price and a popular device.

    In the past I’ve seen the sign used for the Go Phone program, accessory discount, friends and family special, specific devices and buy one get one free sales. There is nothing wrong with it as it draws attention to the product.

    If you look closely, it says to see a sales rep for more info (and disclaimers).

  23. pine22 says:

    i tend agree with homerjay, its prbly the only whiteboards they have.

  24. spinachdip says:

    @mikecolione: Well, I did concede that I could be wrong on my points, so I stand corrected regarding ATTW’s brand control.

    But that just points to a company-wide ineptitude/ignorance in promoting a premium product, and I stand by my other points.

    I guess I wasn’t clear on what I meant by “time sensitive”, but the “special” implies that it’s for a limited time (i.e., less than a whole fiscal quarter) and at the end of the “special” period, the price goes back to the higher, less special price (I hope no one’s obtuse/douchey enough to argue the semantics here). Plus, Apple has never (at least not post-1st gen iMac) raised a price after it was dropped, and price drops have always been carried over to next generation models. So the “the $399 price is only valid until 12/30” argument doesn’t hold water unless, again, you want to be super douchey/obtuse.

    And isn’t the fine print essentially a tacit admission that they’re not being entirely honest?

    And regardless of how deceptive the sign is, as Johnie points out, it looks cheap and Apple can’t be too happy about it, because competing on price hurts brand value, because that communicates to the consumer that it offers no differentiation from its competitors. Case in point, upon its debut, Razr was the hottest phone out, but soon enough, carriers were advertising “FREE RAZR!”, and now it’s just a generic phone.

    Here is the sanest thing I’ve read about the iPhone pricing strategy:
    “What people don’t get is that Apple is waging a marketing war to reshape the value chain for the mobile phone industry. Everyone is trying to figure out which trench Apple is occupying, when Jobs is flying in jet fighters for surgical strikes.

    Consumers value what they pay for. They don’t value things they perceive as free. And that’s the marketing blunder the US mobile phone market has bought into over the last 10 to 15 years. By bundling “free” and generic phones with cell phone service, mobile carriers have devalued both the brand values of the handset makers and their own services.”

    The rest of the post is good, thoughtful stuff: []

  25. Scooter says:

    Very deceptive, but smart in terms of appreciation of marketing strategies.

  26. Anonymous says:

    I work for at&t in washington…not in the bellevue store but close. We have had these manager special boards for years now….it looks deceiving yes…but its the only way we have to advertise things like that. they won’t let us put out any other types of signs…most of the time the malls are the ones that prohibit it. but if the mall allows it then it has to be approved through marketing and so on and so on…the way this was posted on here makes it sound like we were trying to trick customers and we werent….all we were doing is trying to advertise the price drop. so i think everyone needs to stop acting like its shady and realize its nothing other than advertisement.

  27. Anonymous says:

    oh and by the way…you’re right…apple has never raised a price after they dropped it…but AT&T has…multiple times…so this very well could be time sensitive

  28. About that false advertising…

  29. ShadowArmor says:

    Many people are debating this issue on the basis of what is “smart” or what is “right”. I don’t believe that these signs, if done maliciously, are targeting the smart or the righteous.

    Average joe who knows of the iPhone because its hot, but was put off by its price, sees the sign and thinks “wow, this store is a secret hookup”.

    If this is indeed a malicious ploy, then this store doesn’t care that Apple wants to redefine the value of the industry. This store just wants to capitalize off a hot product.

    After the HDTV thread’s “startling revelation” that 40+% of people don’t understand the product, it almost seems silly NOT to capitalize on it.

  30. mefinney says:

    I used to work at a Gateway Country Store, before they went kaput. They constantly had “Manager’s Specials” that were nothing more than our normal packages with a few expensive training packages added on. The illusion was created that it was on sale, which did actually drive sales up.

  31. royal72 says:

    from a conversation seen on a message board…

    -omg!!!!!! it’s false advertising! this is so wrong and that manager should be fired.

    -uh, so how much money did they screw you for?

    -well none, that’s the price it’s supposed to be… but it’s still false advertising and somebody needs to put a stop to it!

    -ok. can i ask you question?


    -do you have an iphone and/or do you use cingular, err… i mean at&t?

    -yes and yes.

    -if you don’t like the way they do business, why do you use their products and support their business?

    -well i have to have my phone and i’m stuck in a contract with them.

    -well i’m not going to get into the necessity of a cell phone, but do you realize that as long as you keep giving them your money, they don’t care if you tell them their mom (collectively) is a fat hairy cunt who sucks horse cock for food stamps…

    -that’s disgusting and has nothing to do…

    -yes of course it does… why you ask? very simple, regardless of your bitching and general unhappiness, you keep giving them money. they will happily oblige your “voice”, as long as you keep sending in your payments every month.


    -hello? no comment?

    -i really don’t appreciate your use of foul language and i’ve reported you to the moderator.

  32. ViperBorg says:

    @royal72: pwned.

  33. spinachdip says:

    @ViperBorg: I’d say both sides are missing the point.

    This really has less to do with consumerism than marketing. I mean, yeah, the false advertising is the most apparent issue, but it’s pretty low on the totem pole. The bigger question is about the business model and corporate culture of the typical American wireless provider, and the effect of pricing schemes on branding.

  34. dsb51 says:

    I’m in Canada and we don’t have the iPhone yet (maybe in January so I hear). I hope we can get as good a price as the Bellvue, WA store when it arrives in Canada.