AT&T Shipped Me An Empty Plastic Bag Instead Of An iPhone!

David ordered a refurbished iPhone from AT&T. What he received was a brand new empty plastic bag. Apparently, AT&T has 500 backorders for refurbished iPhones, so for some completely unknown and nonsensical reason, they’ve decided to start shipping empty plastic bags. Let’s join David as he tries to track down the iPhone he ordered…

David wanted a refurbished unit to test-run iPhone applications he was developing for work. AT&T gave him a a mishmash of conflicting information after he placed his order. One CSR said the unit would ship that day. Five days later, another CSR said the unit would ship within 3 days, but that was also wrong, and the package shipped that night with DHL.

DHL delivered the package the next day:

My wife calls to tell me she found the DHL delivery, but it’s not a box. It’s a shipping envelope. She asks if she should open it. I tell her please do.

“It’s just a bag.”
“It’s a what?”
“It’s a bag. It’s an empty plastic bag.”
“Well, um, er, is there anything else in the package at all? A note or anything?”
“There’s a shipping label. But this is just a bag like you’d get if you bought something in their store.”

When David called for an explanation, a supervisor explained that “there was a memo telling him that refurbished iPhone shipments had a technical glitch in shipping and would be delayed for a few days.”

David isn’t alone. AT&T’s heavily moderated forums are littered with similar complaints. When David tried to post contact information for AT&T’s executive office (877-734-0766,) he received the following reprimand:


We’d like to ask that you not post contact info for the Office of the President in posts or PMs until an AT&T moderator can PM you. Failure to follow moderator directions can result in loss of posting privileges.


David only wants the iPhone he ordered. The applications he designed just don’t work the same on AT&T’s Empty Plastic Bag ®.

AT&T is shipping empty plastic bags to iPhone customers [Where’s My iPhone?]


Edit Your Comment

  1. xorez says:

    everybody got the plastic bag. I ordered one too and got the plastic bag last week, but today I received an email with a tracking # for the actual iphone that was sent out…you should get one shortly

  2. ngth says:

    Its a free country. I’ll post that number if i have the same issues!

  3. Whitey Fisk says:

    It’s a fine looking bag though.

  4. parad0x360 says:

    @ngth: Then you should post it here because last I checked AT&T’s private servers dont have to allow free speech.

    How is this a shipping glitch? Someone had to send the bag, are they all morons? Did nobody question why hundreds of bags were being shipped out?

  5. Maybe you’re allowed to take the bag to the nearest AT&T store and take everything that you can fit into the bag for free.

  6. Perhaps it’s not a glitch, maybe you’re supposed to take the bag to your local AT&T store and whatever you can fit inside of it you get to keep for free.

  7. I apologize for the double post.

  8. SayAhh says:

    Perhaps by having shipped the bag, AT&T has fulfilled its “next day shipping” obligation. Twisted, but that’s perhaps their way to get around dealing with backordered items.

    Maybe you should sent a piece of Saran wrap in lieu of your cellphone payment along with this explanation: “my checkbook had a technical glitch in shipping and would be delayed for a few days.”

  9. homerjay says:

    ‘Tis a fine bag bit sure ’tis no iPhone, English.

  10. NoNamesLeft says:

    Oh noes, my refurbished iPhone didn’t come. Why not buy a new overpriced one instead of the refurb?

  11. cyberkoko says:

    @homerjay: D’oheth

  12. sauceistheboss says:

    Obviously, his wife took it for her own use.

  13. Macroy says:

    AT&T: Your bag. Delivered.

  14. SowndOfDeth says:

    Apparently he lives in an empty world.

  15. Cliff_Donner says:

    Didn’t James Brown write a song about this?

  16. Hawk07 says:

    Somebody must have put this plastic bag in the shipping envelope, right?

    Nothing dawned on that employee that shipping a plastic bag was somewhat unusual?

  17. ByeBye says:

    OOP doesn’t do much, except put the blame on the rep that handled it. See, when something is ordered it is handled by a team known as Direct Fulfillment, they then process the order through a system called OTIVA and it’s tracked through there. What the customer did was a good thing by calling and and speaking to a manager (yes, our call centers actually have managers that want to talk to the customers) – as for it being a “memo” it’s not so much a memo, just an alert in the main ATT Mobility resource page known as CSP – but really, called the OOP is not the best thing to do – I’d recommend going straight to the BBB (and yes, I do work for ATT) to get it resolved sooner, but since Apple essentially controls the stock, I’d doubt if even that would make it go any quicker.

    But as for the empty bag, it sounds to me somebody at our main FT Worth distribution center was lazy…you can actually call in to regular customer care (although I recommend you call the “Device Support Line” at 1-800-801-1101, and press option 4 – the IVR will try to through you off, but when you call it and speak to a live rep, ask them to send an email to the Direct Fulfillment team – if the customer refuses, try to the Resolutions team (they are specially designed team just for escalations, and they are TOP notch), if the rep you then speak to refuses to help you, then ask to speak to their manager, and if they refuse, say you want to speak to the Save Team, also known as the Customer Relations Team (aka retention) and if all of the previous channels haven’t been able to help you out, this team will, but please remember if you do escalate to be as NICE AS POSSIBLE, it will get you miles further through the system. If all of that fails, you CAN CALL BACK for a credit. Customer service rep’s max limit is $250 and manager’s limit is $400, anything higher than that would have to be submitted the High Level Adjustment (HLA) team…it may not be much, but this should help you out.

  18. spinachdip says:

    It’s the long-rumored second generation iPhone, iPhone Air.

  19. Cynicor says:

    “Nothing dawned on that employee that shipping a plastic bag was somewhat unusual?”

    I once got a pair of hard plastic drive rails – about the size and shape of popsicle sticks – inside a box, then double-wrapped in bubble wrap – for about $20 in shipping costs. They could’ve put them in an envelope and mailed them to me.

  20. dragonfire81 says:

    Yeah we sent you an empty bag instead of a phone, but don’t try calling us to complain, we don’t want to listen!

  21. dragonfire81 says:

    And on a sidenote: What a waste of postage and shipping materials.

  22. Anonymous says:

    “Failure to follow moderator directions can result in loss of posting privileges.” Wow, it doesn’t have a hint of Indian English usage in it either which is unlike AT’nT deathstar customer-so-service.

    I posted their number in my blog. Let them change it. Who the h!$!$ do they think they are… reprimanding a customer who they’ve already kicked once. Haven’t done business with ’em since 1994 and NEVER will again.

  23. muffinpan says:

    @themanator: Please re-read your post. As you do you will see that their is way too much for a customer to have to go through to get an issue resolved. Your post clealy illustrates where AT&T fails. The guy got a bag not the phone he ordered. He calls and reports it to customer service they take care and fix the problem. See thats how it’s supposed to work. All the crap you wrote only tells us that AT&T is more screwed up than we could have ever imagined. They need to fix their customer service so that it works, not so that we as customers have to get to know the whole company structure just to get a the product we ordered. Take a step back from your job read your post as if you were a customer of AT&T. I know you were just trying to help. You helped me by letting me know to stay as far away from AT&T as possible.

  24. humphrmi says:

    I think something’s loose inside an AT&T marketing person’s head. When I bought an iPhone in-store, they insisted on putting it in one of those bags. When I refused, they said that they had to, it was policy: every iPhone has to be sold in one of those plastic bags. No exceptions.

    So what I’m getting at here is, in CYA mind of some fulfillment manager at AT&T, he’s probably been told that every iPhone sold has to go into a bag. But he can’t put the iPhone in the bag, and he’s got thousands of bags in his warehouse, and if he doesn’t send a bag with each iPhone, he’s gonna have to explain why he violated their policy.

    That, so far, explains the bag (in my mind, anyway.) As to why the OP got a bag and no phone – it’s no huge jump. Maybe AT&T planned to drop-ship the refurbs from Apple, and shipped the bags out (to stay in line with the aforementioned policy…) but then the phones didn’t ship, so all the customers got were the bags.

    I know it’s a stretch, but it’s the best I can do to explain it based on my experience buying an iPhone.

  25. humphrmi says:

    @humphrmi: Of course what none of this explains is that AT&T apparently expects mail-order recipients to put their iPhone into the bag before opening it. But, again, not a stretch… this is the Death Star we’re talking about.

  26. NoThru22 says:

    Same thing happened to me. I thought this was based on my tip at first, until I asked myself “where did they get the picture?” Kind of crappy that Consumerist didn’t even mention my tip in the article.

  27. levenhopper says:

    @NoThru22: That has happened to me a couple times…it sucks. But oh well.

  28. kostia says:

    They must have to do it, same thing as this post ten days ago:


  29. Techno Viking says:


    Absolutely Brilliant on your part. Why should companies be able to get away with this crap and you are obligated to keep the contract intact. Something to think about it.

  30. edrebber says:

    Contact your credit card company and dispute the charge. Try to purchase the phone at a later date or from another vendor.

  31. enfused says:

    I totally faced the same problem when I ordered from them. The bag came first and then I received the phone a day later. It was messed up.

  32. ByeBye says:

    @muffinpan: It has absolutely nothing to do with customer service though, as the ONLY way you can order a refurbished iPhone is through the website. Customer care has no way of sending it through. And if you think what I said makes ATT fucked up more than you thought, I got much more than that!!

  33. ByeBye says:

    @TheManator: What I left out to say is, if you live anywhere but in NY, NJ, PA, DE, ME, WV, or VA, then you’re pretty much royally screwed with most ATT customer call centers…

  34. JackAshley says:

    @ngth: It may be a free country, and you can say what you want, but when you register to post on THEIR forums on their servers which they pay for, you agree to their terms and conditions, and they can do whatever it is they want to their forums.

  35. ShariC says:

    I wonder if this is some sort of internal method of dealing with invoices. This has happened to me in Japan before. The logistics department receives an order from the department handling orders and they are obliged to act on them whether there is stock or not because of the way in which their entire system is organized. If there is no stock, they send an empty box or bag (with a note explaining what is going on).

    The order is then entered into the system by the logistics department as an incomplete order and it goes around again. It’s like a “partial shipment” situation, but there’s only one item so they send an empty bag or box.

    This happens when the computer system is set up such that there’s no way to deal with insufficient stock and each department is fairly isolated from another. It happens much more at large companies where the logistics department isn’t located in the same building (or even city) as the sales areas.

    That doesn’t make what happened “OK”, but it makes it make a little more sense.

  36. agb2000 says:

    amazing. i think i’d honestly rather just file a lawsuit than deal with at&t

  37. Lucky225 says:

    Maybe the phone was recycled, “refurbished”, if you will, and the plastic was used for the nice paper bag he received.

  38. aurf says:

    What an absolute waste of resources. Money, gas, time all of it wasted. No wonder AT&T charges so much money for everything, they need to recoup their costs from shipping unnecessarily. I know this is the first time we’ve seen it wide scale like this, but I have to imagine this has happened before in smaller amounts.

  39. dweebster says:

    @JackAshley: Nope, sorry – not a free country anymore. A certain large telecommunications company was discovered to have installed a huge illegal tap on the Citizenry and is spying on them. Forgot their name, believe it started with an “A”….

    Oh yeah, []

  40. PølάrβǽЯ says:

    @dweebster: Lovely post, man, lovely! [No sarcasm intended, either]

  41. thalia says:

    @dragonfire81: Yeah we sent you an empty bag instead of a phone, but don’t try calling us to complain, we don’t want to listen!

    I think you mean, “Yeah, we sent you an empty bag instead of a phone, but without a phone you can’t call us to complain!”

  42. legwork says:

    What a hopeless nightmare of a company. I tried them briefly when shopping for a new cell contract. Every call to them left me feeling like my head had been under a hydraulic press. Hangup, transfer, upsell, “don’t offer that anymore”, etc.

    It really was like they didn’t want me around, but they couldn’t come out and say it. Very strange experience.

  43. krispykrink says:

    When the iPhone was released last year my girlfriend bought hers at the Apple Store and got the nice black bag. I had to buy mine at an ATT store since I was out of town. They insisted on making sure I did not leave the store unless they placed the iPhone inside that ugly orange plastic bag, and sealing it.

    A few months ago when ATT decided to have the refurb iPhone sale after the SDK announcement, in March I believe, I ordered a refurb from their website for $250. The phone arrived a few days later, no problems. However, a few more days later, another DHL box arrived. I was perplexed, what the hell is this I thought. My iPhone is already here and this new box is light like nothing is inside it. So I open it up and what do I find? A lone orange plastic bag folded in half and an invoice/packing slip listing this plastic bag. No charge thank god. I had to call a CSR just to ask why the hell they’re shipping me a plastic bag in an 8×11 BOX. The CSR was dumbfounded and had no explanation at all.

    At least this guy got his in a nice space saving envelope instead of the box they used to ship me a bag.

  44. JN2 says:

    I was going to suggest you purchase a refurb through but a quick look shows none available. Reports suggest supplies of iPhones have been running slim and if the factory has begun manufacturing the 2nd generation phone already (should be in stores in a week or two) then there may be a general shortage of iPhones in general.

    Maybe they will be shipping you a brand new 2nd gen phone when they get around to it?

  45. I have a feeling that this is what happens when strange software applications are written and no employees ask why in the world they are doing such an odd task. I would hope someone would ask why they are shipping one empty bag to someone, but I have been around the block enough times to know better.

  46. mmstk101 says:

    @Lucky225: lol! If so, at least they made it into something useful in the end.

  47. kyle4 says:

    @rmric0: Actually it was a triple post.

    AT&T is just trying to cover up for their mistakes. This article made me appreciate the Consumerist more than I did before though because AT&T pays for advertising on some of the Gawker sites. It’s great that there’s no “Kane and Lynch” type stuff going on.

  48. razremytuxbuddy says:

    Interesting that the President of a phone company doesn’t want to be contacted by phone.

  49. satoru says:

    Isn’t the Apple WWDC next week? In about 1 week there will be a flood of ‘refurbed’ phones as the new 3G ones are released (in theory)

  50. 2719 says:

    Your World. Delivered. In an empty bag.

    It just AMAZES me that this company has so many customers. I never had to deal with them and I never will because of stories like this.

  51. @2719: I’ve been an AT&T customer for over 5 years and I’ve never had a problem with them. Even through the switch from AT&T to Cingular, then back to AT&T. I guess it all depends on what experiences you’ve had personally. I don’t have a bad thing to say about them, but that might be just me.

  52. HairyJew says:


    Yeah, I’m pretty sure it’s just you…

  53. IrisMR says:

    @ngth: free country indeed but the internet isn’t a free country. It’s the internet. It’s their boards. they can be asshats all they want on their servers.

    Of course… You can ALSO be an asshat back and take your business elsewhere. That’s what I’d suggest. AT&T sucks.

  54. spinachdip says:

    @JN2: Apple has been known to ship updated/upgraded hardware when customers ordered older machines, but usually, that’s directly from Apple, and the new iPhone isn’t really an upgrade but a new one.

  55. blackmage439 says:

    I really don’t understand how this is an issue, in this digital age.

    Dell has practically real-time inventories of its refurbished systems. Hell, your cart gets erased after 15 minutes of shopping at their Outlet website.

    How AT&T/Apple managed to accumulate a backorder of over 500 refurbished iPhones is beyond me. It’s quite simple. If you don’t have it, don’t sell it! It’s a completely unpredictable business. After more than a year, you may be able to get a good baseline of how many refurbs you can offer in one month, but that’s it. You can’t guarantee to any degree that you will have “x” units available in the coming month(s).

  56. stuny says:

    Maybe if you place an order with AT&T for an empty plastic bag, you might get an iPhone instead!

  57. xmod2 says:

    I read something online where someone ordered an iPhone online. They received the iPhone and a separate package with an empty ATT bag.

    According to them, the empty bag was packaged better than the phone.

    Perhaps the iPhones are on backorder, but the bags aren’t?

  58. The iPhone bag thing is strange. The stores have bags that are exclusively used for iPhones. From what I understand, they’re actually not allowed to put anything but the iPhone in them. They even have their own SKU and UPC, which can be seen in the picture.

    They must have some ridiculous policy that every iPhone customer must receive an official iPhone bag, even when the phone is bought online.

    I was sold a Blackjack 2 and was given an iPhone bag. I later had to make a return on a bluetooth headset and went into the AT&T store with that bag. The ATT employee asked me about the bag and whether I purchased an iPhone. I told her no, and she told me about the official iPhone bag policy and said that the employee who sold me the phone could get in trouble for giving me the wrong bag. She then confiscated my iPhone bag and replaced it with the standard AT&T bag. I’m not even making this up.

  59. SharkD says:

    I very much appreciate all the gasoline and Jet-A that AT&T is frivolously wasting on overnighting empty plastic bags to everyone who orders, not to mention the petroleum used in making the useless plastic bags.

    I wonder how much the price of crude would drop if AT&T would seek help for its obsessive-compulsive shipments of empty bags?

  60. humphrmi says:

    We should all start a movement to make AT&T sales reps heads explode. Whenever anyone buys an iPhone at an AT&T store, after it’s all wrapped up pretty in that iPhone bag, take it from the rep.

    Then rip the iPhone bag open, take out the iPhone package, pull a cheap plastic grocery store bag out of your pocket, and stick the iPhone in the cheap plastic bag. Throw the iPhone bag on the floor and walk out.

  61. Buran says:

    @HairyJew: It isn’t. Bu this is still ridiculous.

  62. khiltd says:

    Writing to the president of AT&T’s mobile division is pointless anyway, so I’m not sure why they’d care about anyone leaking his contact information.

  63. turi319 says:

    @rmric0: lolz

  64. xnihilx says:

    The real question: Is the plastic work on Apple OS?

  65. Mr. Gunn says:

    humphrmi: But the iphone bag “just works”.

  66. Mudpuddle says:

    lol “Your World Delivered” is AT&T making a statement with that bag? I’m upset they didnt deliver my world? I’m gonna have to make a few phone calls to fix this ASAP.