Buying An iPhone Is A Huge Pain In The Butt For Business Customers

So there appears to be something of a shortage of iPhones this time around, and while it’s probably good for “creating buzz” it’s not so great for wooing busy business customers away from their Blackberries, according to reader James. You see, only the Apple store has iPhones, but only the AT&T store can activate them for James.

James writes (to Steve Jobs):

…Since opening day, I have been tracking stores in my travels in Virginia, North Carolina and New York, since I have been traveling through all those states in the last few weeks. Last night, the Richmond Short Pump Apple store again had stock. I had a flight at 10am the next morning and figured I could leave my house at 630, get there at 730, hopefully have the phone by 8:30 and be at the airport by 9. When I arrived I was third in line and all went smoothly. I had all of my information and was on my way, until the Apple store employee got an error.

‘Are you a corporate customer with ATT?’, he asked.

I answered yes, at which point they told me they could not activate the phone this morning, therefor could not sell me an iphone. They tried to call ATT but to no avail and I was not allowed to purchase.

‘There is an ATT store across the street, you should try them’. I talked to the ATT store, and they in fact did not have any.

‘Can I buy a phone, take it over there and activate it?’, I asked.

‘No. Sorry.’, said the employees.

At this point i started to express just how lame this policy is (all in good taste), all the while making it known that it wasn’t their fault directly, but Apple should know better than this.

I see this as a very broken customer experience, as ATT has no stock compared to Apple stores, but I cannot buy one from an Apple store since I must activate before leaving. So as a ‘business customer’, I have to jump through extra flaming hoops for this? As I understand it, the iPhone is a direct competitor with other business solutions such as the Blackberry Bold.

This is not a very good start to my first experience with an iPhone. Something that is supposed to make my life easier and more convenient has already wasted more time and frustrated me quite a bit. If anything, business users usually get leverage, not the run around.

By making it that you cannot purchase a phone without activation in store, the equivalent of DRM (which lets not kid ourselves, people will break it) has caused a horrible experience to me and probably many others. In my head a solution would be to let mainstream consumers buy and activate at apple stores, business users only at the att stores.

I understand the wish to build hype with a product (like the Wii), however there is a very fine line between hype and frustration and a real difference between a personal/business communications product and a home entertainment system. In part of building an experience you must plot the various customer journeys and scenarios, the one of the business customer was certainly not overlooked, but it seemed that in the end, no one cared that it is fractured, time-wasting and detrimental to the experiences that Apple is known for building.

As unfortunate as it is, I must say I am truly annoyed at this point in time and would have expected more from a company that is such an innovator in this industry. I am truly done trying to buy an iPhone, it has already wasted more of my time and resources than the cost of the iPhone itself and will be spending no more time on this task.

James says that after not being able to get an iPhone on “opening day” he was told that business customers would have no problem activating their iPhones at the Apple store, so we understand his frustration. People are going to unlock the phones anyway, why make your customers miserable?

(Photo: Todd Kravos )


Edit Your Comment

  1. seldon452 says:

    Apple was boasting about how they added exchange so now this is a real option for businesses. Then they make it impossible for them to be bought.

    I don’t understand.

  2. Puck says:

    I just ordered one this weekend finally at AT&T, but was told it’d be 2-3 weeks. No big deal for me personally, but yeah, this really sucks for the want it now (or maybe even need it now) segment. If a business uses iPhones and hires someone new, it’ll make it difficult on them to provide another company phone right away. Apple definitely isn’t helping themselves here.

  3. dragonfire1481 says:

    Why would you want an iphone for a business account anyway? Stick with a Palm or Blackberry, much better for business IMO.

  4. SkokieGuy says:

    Interesting post, but we are left not knowing if James has obtained his desired Iphone or has changed his mind about purchasing one.

    Since the James has been tracking Apple stores throughout his travels, he does sound like the type of fanboy that will not be deterred by the unreasonable amount of hassle required to obtain the phone.

    James, you can vote with your dollars and buy a competitor product, or simply continue using your current phone.

    So are ya going to jump through hoops to get your new Iphone? Buying an Iphone sure does validate the current marketing strategy that you are critical of.

  5. mike says:

    Couldn’t he purchase the iphone and activated a new line and then convert it to his corporate account?

    What’s the difference between the two iphones?

  6. zigziggityzoo says:

    As a business customer, I got mine with little hassle from the Apple store in Ann Arbor, MI.

    I had to call AT&T, remove my FAN (dumb name for corporate) discount, and then purchase, followed by a re-add of my FAN discount. All done.

  7. elislider says:

    they gave my dad and i the same run around at the att store. we dont even have a business plan, just a 2-line family plan with a discount from my dads company. we have to wait “10-21 days” instead of just going to the apple store and getting them…

  8. BigPapaCherry says:

    I ran into a similar problem because I am on a family plan to save money. Apple couldn’t sell me the iPhone I got up bright and early to pick up since I’m not the primary account holder, and AT&T won’t have any until they finish all the direct fulfillment orders. I ordered one through DF and am waiting for it.

    My advice for James: Order it at AT&T through direct fulfillment, and wait the three weeks. You’ll be waiting even longer if you wait for AT&T to get them in stock.

  9. Puck says:

    AT&T also doesn’t charge your credit card until it ships, in case anyone was curious about the ordering and waiting system.

  10. skitzogreg says:

    I’m in the same boat. I called AT&T and asked them if I could switch my line from business to consumer. There response was that while I could do that, I would loose any company ties and discounts applied onto the account for 3 pay cycles. Well, obviously I couldn’t do that. I want an iPhone, but I’m about ready to just wait until maybe the end of August when maybe AT&T will have some in stores.

  11. snoop-blog says:

    I love how Apple will pay for the csi’s on t.v. to use the iphone in their program, but not pay for the actual csi’s in real life to have them.

  12. 00447447 says:

    I do love my Apple products, but the customer service is absolute shit.

  13. EyeHeartPie says:

    From the last lines of the email (emphasis mine):

    I am truly done trying to buy an iPhone, it has already wasted more of my time and resources than the cost of the iPhone itself and will be spending no more time on this task.

  14. stickystyle says:

    We are stuck with the same annoyance at my office. Except for the 5 people to get iPhones our AT&T rep told us all 5 people would have to go down to the store in person since they could not give our boss 5 phones to hand out; “Policy says just one phone per person” they say.

    Yeah, I could just imagine a big company having to shut down a dept just so everyone could go to the freaking at&t to pick up their phone.

  15. Floobtronics says:

    If you really want that disaster of a phone (I had one for 1 days – terrible reception, awful battery life), and you’ve got a personal responsibility account that just has a corp foundation acct number (aka FAN) attached, you can do it like this:

    1. Call AT&T Customer Care, ask them to remove the FAN from your account.
    2. Go to the Apple Store, buy your iPhone, activate, etc.
    3. Call AT&T Customer Care, ask them to re-add the FAN to your account.

    The time between steps 1 & 2 is instant, as Apple’s systems query AT&T’s live.

    No joke – the phone has half the RF power my Nokia N82 does. I get nearly full signal strength and never have no-ring missed calls on it at my house. With the iPhone 3G, I had 4 no-ring calls that went to voicemail. How do I know it never rang? The phone showed ZERO missed calls, but 4 voicemails, all with timestamps that were while the phone was on.

    I played with all the battery sucking toys the first day I got the iPhone 3G – GPS, wifi, bluetooth, 3G. Before plugging in before going to bed on that Friday night, I shut off BT, 3G, wifi and the GPS service. It was checking my gmail box hourly over EDGE. I unplugged the phone the next morning around 11am. I continued to allow it to poll gmail hourly over edge, left all the goodies turned off. I spent about 15-20 min talking on the phone, and by 3pm, the battery was half dead. If I can’t expect to take a phone out of the house for a full day’s use and not need a recharge mid-day, what good is the thing? Fail. Massive fail.

    Operationally, the phone was beautiful. Fantastic integration with my Mac too. It’s really a shame it didn’t quite finish getting baked.

    In the end, I wound up going with a Nokia E71. It’s got wifi and US 3G as well. Smaller screen, but it’s got the most popular smartphone OS on the planet, and works very well. Very smooth ActiveSync client as well. And my battery lasts 3-4 days at a clip.

  16. Norcross says:

    @SkokieGuy: “I am truly done trying to buy an iPhone, it has already wasted more of my time and resources than the cost of the iPhone itself and will be spending no more time on this task.”

    Pretty much answers that.

    Personally, as a business user, I wouldn’t want an iPhone, or any phone that was purely touch screen. Too much fear that screen dies, no more information.

  17. Snakeophelia says:

    My company already announced they wouldn’t support the iPhone, but they’re phasing out the Treos and not working with the Blackberrys either. Apparently the Motorola Qs are the easiest to set up, use, and troubleshoot, so that’s what we all might have by the end of the year.

  18. NikkiSweet says:

    @Floobtronics: I upgraded from a Nokia N75/N95 (I was switching back and forth) to the new iPhone. I’m a very heavy phone user, one of the few that I know that actually warrants having an unlimited minutes a month plan. I’ve used my phone for 2 days without plugging it in, and it didn’t die. Maybe the battery in yours was the specific problem?

    As far as reception, that depends on where you are. Here, I get awesome reception, even in places where my Nokias would start dropping calls. I had very good reception while I was in California as well… but when traveling to Oklahoma to see family, not so much.

  19. xbusinessxcorex says:

    I have wanted an iphone, they look neat and are really cool. i’ve had a blackberry since my 7100 and now have an 8100, because i dont want to carry a huge pocket computer ie:8800 or something. I didn’t get an iphone for the first generation because it didn’t do anything more than my blackberry did, granted the things it did it may have done them more fluidly and easier. But why would i pay $600 for a phone that is just as slow at browsing the internet, cant be insured, cant expand on the memory, and doesn’t copy / paste (which i use a lot). my 8100 was $99 and has lasted almost 2 years and i cant say anything bad about it really. ive been considering getting a 3g iphone really just for the 3g because it would be nice to be able to browse the internet at an acceptable speed. I have used apple computers for the last 8 years and i really do like apple, but since they became a cell phone company i really have lost a lot of respect for the company and think that they have lost sight of what they were doing in the past, granted i love my ipod, but the overall quality of apple products has taken a significant hit… longer made in california :-(

  20. KitanaOR says:

    I have a corporate discount with AT&T through my company. I found out after buying the 1st gen iPhone, that the discount does NOT apply. An AT&T salesperson at a store said that the discount does go into effect with the 2nd gen, but when I called AT&T’s corporate line, I was put on hold, then hung up on.

  21. that_matt says:


    Apple still dropped the ball. You shouldn’t have to take off a corporate discount, then wait, then buy, then reapply the discount. Just figure out how to activate corporate users in an effin APPLE STORE. They missed what could have been a huge steal of marketshare from RIM.

    I don’t know how many people I’ve run into with the same problem as James. Additionally, everyone else I talk to says.. “oh you have the new iphone? They’re having a lot of problems with that aren’t they?”

    That’s not really the response you want to have Apple. I shouldn’t have to explain to everyone that it was just an opening day mishap. Here’s my math calculation:

    Bad press = bad opinions = misinformed Consumer = you blew it

  22. joebobfunguy says:

    Apple doesn’t have more stock than AT&T, they’re just selling it differently. It’s not Apple’s fault they are selling them in advance, so any new stock they get is already spoken for. I really doubt it was Apple’s idea for business customers to go through AT&T. So really this is a bad experience with AT&T. Are you really complaining this much because you might have to wait a couple weeks?

  23. coolkiwilivin says:

    Once again, this is why the Kool Aid drinkers can’t be trusted to make real business decisions. What company that is selling to businesses make them go through this kind of junk so that they can take that businesses money? I could possibly understand if this was a depreciating piece of hardware that they would get no more revenue from them on but come on. They will bilk the customer for over 2 grand over the life of the contract. People this is just a smartphone that can’t cut and paste.

  24. axiomatic says:

    I got the same run around and “no sale” answer from the regular idiots in the ATT store, but then after talking with a store manager she reprimanded the employee right in front of me and said “Yes, he is a corporate customer, but since there are no corporate discounts on iphones treat him as a normal customer and let him buy a iphone, don’t send him away to the “Premier site” they can’t help him.”

    It’s just a lack of training and common sense problem.

  25. khiltd says:

    While I can sympathize with his plight, he really should have spent a little more time proofreading if he wants to be taken as a big time serious businessman.

  26. boshaus says:

    I’d just like to say it couldn’t go better for our business account. We ordered the iphones the thursday night before they came out on their website. I received mine the following tuesday. Gave AT&T a call, got it activated and visual voicemail working.

  27. jefino says:

    My experience was quite pleasant when i bought my iphone. I went 45 mins early, two people were already in line, so i go wait. By openeing time, the line grew to about 30 people, as we horde in, an apple employee says iphone customers line up there, everyone else continue. using one of those hand held things, first question is if you are a at&t customer, then last 4 of social, and then at&t phone number. Since i had a business discount on my phone, they said, nope, but call 611, and they can help. I call 611, 5 mins later, they cancel the discount, the lady comes back to me(she let me stay at the front of the line), asks the same questions, bam, this time i get the green light. I get pointed to another apple representative standing there, he went and grabbed my phone. Did everything on his little hand held computer thing. 15 mins later, im walking out of the store. I called at&t this morning, and my business discount is back on my account. Oh, this was sunday morning, 7/27/08.

  28. nicemarmot617 says:

    Or you could just not be a huge tool and stop buying Apple’s junk. Seriously, is there anything less interesting than more stories about how Apple fool tools can’t get/use/activate their precious iPhones?

  29. LouSir says:

    When the original Iphone came out it seemed that people had no problem activating it or buying them. Now that ATT is in the mix the process sucks. Wonder why?

  30. Trai_Dep says:

    @snoop-blog: point of fact: Apple (a bit proudly) doesn’t pay for product placement. Their brand is strong enough that they don’t have to. You’re dressing a set and want to make it seem as though the characters aren’t lumpen salesguys scamming little old ladies? Outfit the place w/ Macintoshes. Done!

  31. snoop-blog says:

    @Trai_Dep: Sorry, but no one can convince me that apple didn’t pay for the spots it gets on csi. I watched an episode one night where that was what they used to show mugshots to the victims. You can believe what they tell you, and I’ll believe what my gut tells me. Not that it really matters which one of us is right, but I’m sure when I’m standing at the gates of heaven, I’ll be told just how wrong I was…

  32. HeartBurnKid, creepy morbid freak says:

    @Trai_Dep: Yeah freaking right.

    Are you familiar with a practice called “greeking”? It’s used for any brand-name product that appears on a television show or movie without a corresponding product placement, both to encourage paid product placements and as a legal defense (i.e. no angry companies claiming you made the product look bad). Short version, all logos (all logos) either get covered up with a generic or fake logo, or, if it can be done in a reasonably attractive manner, get covered with gaffer’s tape.

    Trust me, studios are VERY serious about this as a CYA measure.

    If Apple wasn’t paying for product placements, you’d see a lot of iMacs and Macbooks with black circles where that shiny white Apple logo would be.

  33. BrianT says:

    We had that same problem, we called ATT customer support, had the discount taken off, got my iphone, then went across the street to the ATT store and had the discount put back on, I think that was the dumbest thing ever, ATT should know the difference between a normal business customer and one who is just getting a little discount on their bill because of where they work. The thing that makes me angry is the ATT store rep told me to go to the Apple store to get the phone because they usually get them in stock faster, he even checked my account and said I would have no problems getting it activated at the apple store.

  34. KilbyJobonomic says:

    This was a known issue before July 11th. The weekend prior to the release a
    friend of mine who works at an Apple store told my wife and I that there was
    a store-wide meeting detailing the launch and this exact problem. My wife
    has a business phone contract with AT&T and our friend told us there were
    going to be a lot of unhappy people as a result this. She still has not
    gotten one yet.

  35. toddkravos says:

    @Puck: Incorrect, I orderded mine on Sunday 07/27/08. The charge showed up online by the time I got home.

  36. toddkravos says:

    Oh and the Call ATT to remove the FAN ID and then go and get the iPhone does work. There is a bit of a glitch to that in that you have to wait up to 48 hrs for the update to hit Apple’s side of the system since they are NOT polling ATT live data, they are using a stale copy of the data. At least that’s how it was explained to me by the rep this past Sunday.

  37. Puck says:


    It could have been your store/rep then. My card still has not been charged, days after I visited.

  38. toddkravos says:

    Maybe, she also said I would likely get mine in about 6 to 10 biz days since they do not get shipments on weekends.

    We shall see if she’s right. I’m certainly in no rush.

  39. reeg2 says:

    Our business rep said “don’t wait in line, I’ll just order one for you.”

    That was the day before the iPhone released and the phone showed up on Monday after. Walked in to an AT&T store, which was quiet due to the lack of iPhones. Walked out after 5 minutes, the end.

    So use your business reps!

  40. Trai_Dep says:

    @HeartBurnKid, creepy morbid freak: Allowing use of, and getting paid compensation are two different things. Apple’s fine with having their products used (in the right way), and will sign releases allowing that. But none of this is to say that Apple pays for product placement. Or rather, they pay in other ways: the spend a fortune on branding and design so that set designers will desire that Apple products be used.

    It doesn’t always work out like this, though. I’m with you there. For instance, if there’s ever a sequel made from Boilerroom, I’m sure that Dell would be PERFECT! :P

  41. ppiddy says:

    It was well publicized before the launch that Apple stores wouldn’t be able to handle any ‘complicated’ stuff like business accounts and FAN discounts.

    Businessmen should know how to read the fine print: []
    “Current and new iPhone users who now or will receive service under a corporate account and wish to upgrade to or purchase iPhone 3G need to contact AT&T directly. iPhone 3G is configured to work only with the wireless services provided by AT&T.”

    FWIW, my experience getting a phone under a FAN plan on opening day (in Ann Arbor) was painless as can be.

    Yeah, it’s annoying, but I think most problems can be chalked up to limited supplies and Apple putting themselves in bed with an entity that doesn’t have a lot of flexibility built into their incredibly complex system.

  42. JC13540 says:


    I’m glad the experience was so “easy” for you, I was at the Ann Arbor store on launch day and my experience was exactly like James….

    “On Friday July 11th (Launch Day for the new 3G iPhone) I arrived at the Ann Arbor, MI (Briarwood) Apple store promptly at 7:35am, since the store didn’t open until 8AM EST and it was in a Mall here in Michigan, I walked inside the mall and got in line with about 40 people in front of me. All of your Apple staff was quite friendly while I was in line and offered water, bagels, bananas to make the experience more pleasant while we all waited for our chance to purchase the iPhone 3G. At about 9:30AM we were told that activations were not happening as expected and there were some technical difficulties. As the store emptied around 10:30AM (after being in line for about 3 hours) I was admitted into the store to purchase my iPhone 3G.

    I have been an iPhone owner since December of 2007, so I explained that i was on a Family Plan and was simply upgrading, so a specialist in the store took me over to a station to work with me. After obtaining the appropriate information to access my AT&T account the Apple Specialist said “Oh, do you have a Corporate discount?” I said yes i do, however I’ve had it since I opened my AT&T account about 3 years ago (AT&T Acct No. 237384106). The “Specialist” now explained that he’s getting an error code when pulling up my account and that he may not be able to sell the phone to me due to a Corporate Discount. When I asked what had changed since I purchased my first iPhone on 12/24/07 at the very same Apple store the employee didn’t have a response, then he said wait a moment and he took my bag with phone and walked over to another employee, I saw an exchange with a lot of head shaking “No” and he walked back over and told me he would not be able to sell the phone to me today and that I couldn’t buy an iPhone from the Apple Store and that instead I would have to go to an AT&T store.

    I responded to him that I had waited in line since the first 40 people that morning and had waited 3 hours and consequently missed 3 hours of work just to get the opportunity to purchase this phone, unfortunately my pleas were dismissed without any resolve whatsoever, not even an option of speaking with a manager. I asked if they were informing people in-line about not being able to purchase if they have their company’s corporate discount and he said “Well they’re supposed to”. I also explained that all AT&T stores were out of stock around 8:45AM according to the Detroit Free Press and that’s why I decided to come to the Apple store.”

    Needless to say I didn’t purchase an iPhone 3G, I’m sticking with my 1st Gen as I’m not wasting another moment waiting in line. Also, Apple was not helpful in the slightest and gave me a sour taste in my mouth. I have contacted the contacts that I gained through Consumerist for Apple and to no avail, I’ve not had one person even send me a reply or call me back. I realize you think the “policy” was foolproof, however keep in mind that if it’s so “obvious” they should probably tell people in line since they had about 10 of their staff just wondering around talking about the 3G with people in line.

  43. lolan64 says:

    People just need to do their research before they buy. I bought my iPhone with no problem on Saturday – in and out of the Apple store on 5th Ave in about a half an hour with no problem. Before I made this trip I called AT&T and asked them to remove my corporate discount as you cannot activate your iPhone if you still have the discount applied, as the OP discovered in the store. Just do your reading beforehand and you can avoid 99% of the headaches you read about.

  44. jackspat2 says:

    You mean Apple wouldn’t take your money even when you offered to buy their product? WOW. Seems like Apple is getting a little head of itself.

  45. The Waffle says:

    The issue lies in the fact that it is actually ATT that is restricting such. Not Apple. Apple employees WANT to help you get the phone, but ATT places restrictions that make it difficult for business customers to get the phone.