AT&T Has Commanded Its Retail Staff To Stop Selling People The iPhone [Updated]

AT&T Has Commanded Its Retail Staff To Stop Selling People The iPhone [Updated]

When AT&T reported last month that their iPhone activations only grew by 3% compared to the last quarter, a few analysts were scratching their heads at first but decided people probably weren’t buying as many new iPhones because of iPhone 5 rumors.

But what if there was a more sinister hand at play in the slumping iPhone sales? According to a new report, that’s exactly what’s happening as AT&T Regional Retail Sales Managers have instructed store managers to stop trying to sell the iPhone.

BGR claims they’ve heard from multiple sources that AT&T wants to slow the iPhone’s growth. It’d be reckless for AT&T to just remove the iPhone 4 and 4S from their stores altogether, so their current strategy is that when a customer comes in wanting to buy an iPhone, AT&T’s sales reps are supposed to make a strong pitch and convince them to buy an Android or Windows Phone.

AT&T tells their employees that they should help customers “make an informed decision,” which sounds like a nice objective way to help people figure out which phone would be best for them, but AT&T is no longer permitting staff to buy an iPhone as their company-owned device.

It’s an odd move by AT&T because some claim that at one point the iPhone made up as much as 80% of a store’s sales. Maybe AT&T has noticed that they’ve become dependent on the iPhone to keep their customer base numbers high and are wanting to steer away from it so they have more freedom and ability to screw customers over with text messaging plans?

Have you experienced something like this at an AT&T store? We’d love to hear about your experience in the comments.

Update: Shortly after this article was published AT&T released a statement regarding BGR’s claim, however it is not a total denial of the allegations:

“The idea that we would steer any customer away from a particular device couldn’t be more farfetched. Our reps do what it takes to align customer needs with the best device for them. iPhone remains one of our most popular devices, which doesn’t happen by steering people away from it. Our reps are encouraged to try all devices so they are more knowledgeable on our industry-leading smartphone lineup.”

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  • codeslubber

    There’s nothing odd here. The CEO of ATT answered the cliched interview question ‘what keeps you awake at night?’ with ‘iMessage.’ They are greedy sleezeballs who want to charge their customers $20/m for something that costs them nothing, for the rest of time.

  • Brian Gregory May

    My buddy worked at an AT&T store. He said they got more commission on Android devices. He always tried to sell customers an Android phone over an iPhone.

  • Ed_Kel

    It makes sense – for a company to want to be looked upon as a mobile carrier, not an iPhone dealer. Plus, they’re right in a sense that the company can’t become reliant on the sale of only one device.

  • artfulEric

    Aside from commissions, Android and windows phones cost the company far less to subsidize than Apple’s pricy products. They’re like the music industry, saved by Apple yet resentful that their control of the market has been taken away.

  • Buster

    @BrianGregoryMay Why do they get more commission do you know? Is it because the subsidy is less on Android phones? or just AT&T incentivizes them more?

  • Steven Zahl

    Tranlation: Push the Slow-moving phones to reduce inventory.

  • SkolVikes88

    Recently got my wife an iPhone and son a Galaxy Note from AT&T. Didn’t notice any selling of one over the other – via the phone. Given iPhone 5 is coming and will be huge, I don’t believe this…

  • RadTech5000

    If AT&T really is doing this then they will loose me as a customer. Just wish Apple would buy Sprint or something so we could actually get a decent cell phone carrier going.

  • Mightythias

    I had experience with this issue first had. I went to an AT&T store several weeks ago with my mom. She wanted to get a new iPhone because she did not like the Android phone that she was using. She arrived at the store about 5 minutes before I did and in that time the sales rep had convinced her that she didn’t want the iPhone anymore and was trying to push her on the latest and greatest Android phone at the time which happened to be the ridiculously over sized Galaxy Note. He pretty much refused to to provide us with an iPhone to purchase. Only after arguing with him for several minutes that she didn’t need that phone and knowing her that she would be perfectly happy with the features the iPhone offered did he finally concede to getting us the iPhone that we wanted to purchase. It was such a hassle to get them to sell us an iPhone, all because he probably was told not to or received more money for pushing the Android.

  • Gundark

    My father-in-law went to an AT&T store this past spring with the intention of buying an iPhone. The AT&T salesperson pushed him “really hard” to but an Android phone instead, which made him second-guess himself and call me for advice. I told him that if he wanted an iPhone (which I recommended), then he should just buy it, which he did, but only after going back in a second time and getting the same treatment. My wife and I concluded the same higher commission/lower subsidy with Android as has been mentioned in previous comments.

  • Hjalmer Duenow

    This has been going on for some time. My mother went to AT&T specifically to purchase an iPhone and was coaxed instead to purchase a Blackberry Torch.

  • VFX_Artist

    I’ve had had four different AT&T reps at 3 different locations actively try to steer me away from purchasing an iPhone. Every sales rep listed only the good features of the Android phone and only the negative features of the iPhone. None of them had an iPhone as their personal phone. Two of the reps said the iPhone was a cheap, inferior product and would probably be pulled off the market soon. One of the reps, when I walked into the store and said I was only interested in purchasing an iPhone, refused to answer any of my direct questions about the iPhone and refused to pull one off the shelf to show to me. A friend of mine told me she had a similar experience with AT&T reps and their quoted price to her was $50 more than if she purchased directly through Apple. Needless to say she purchased directly through Apple. Something fishy is going on at AT&T when they would rather lose a customer than sell an iPhone.

  • VFX_Artist

    I’ve had had four different AT&T reps at 3 different locations actively try to steer me away from purchasing an iPhone. Every sales rep listed only the good features of the Android phone and only the negative features of the iPhone. None of them had an iPhone as their personal phone. Two of the reps said the iPhone was a cheap, inferior product and would probably be pulled off the market soon. One of the reps, when I walked into the store and said I was only interested in purchasing an iPhone, refused to answer any of my direct questions about the iPhone and refused to pull one off the shelf to show to me. A friend of mine told me she had a similar experience with AT&T reps and their quoted price to her was $50 more than if she purchased directly through Apple. Needless to say she purchased directly through Apple. Something fishy is going on at AT&T when they would rather lose a customer than sell an iPhone.

  • David_ONeill_

    To be honest with you, I actually do believe this. Working retail for 30 years and understanding the business model Borders worked with and failed to capitalize on, AT&T telling its frontline workers to steer customers away from the iPhone is totally realistic. Yeah, you can couch the lies with the idea that the frontine worker needs to understand all the smartphones that exist, but in the end, you are telling them to do this. It’s not “farfetched” because of the metrics all retail business uses -they decide what product must be pushed and literally forces the frontline workers to do it, with the added bonus of getting written up or get reduced hours if those metrics are not met. And for none of them having the iPhone as their personal phone is logical as well. AT&T supplies a free service to their frontline workers. For that worker, making a base pay and a commission on selling Android phones only, a free monthly phone means they’ll take the Android and run.

  • Ed_Kel

    If AT&T really is doing this then they will loose me as a customer. Just wish Apple would buy Sprint or something so we could actually get a decent cell phone carrier going.

    Funny how you chose Sprint for that little rant. Also funny how you would decide to take your business elsewhere simply because of a minimum wage salesman pitching an Android device. You obviously have your mind made up on which phone you would buy – go the the Apple Store or buy it online. lol

  • Kayneeezy

    Pathetic!

  • Solowalker

    Took my brother into an AT&T store to get an iPhone 4S. One location was happy to help but didn’t have one in stock. They flat out said, “I’d love to sell it to you but I don’t have one.” Sent me to store 2. Trouble. Walked in, told them what we wanted, and sales rep said, “Yeesh, really? Are you sure? You know, nobody uses iPhones anymore. You can do so much more with an Android or Windows phone. And iPhones are really fragile; they break so often. You know, glass on both sides, one drop and you can shatter the thing. You have to be really careful.”

    So acted disgusted, flat out lied about the device’s capabilities, and misrepresented the its durability (dropped by 4 many many many times, far more than I’d like to admit, and it’s never broken though I expect it to each time). He was so reluctant and then took his time getting the phone from the back room, then proceeded to use his Windows Phone to help complete the transaction, as if he was trying to rub it in. Didn’t care. In fact, if I hadn’t have drive 20 minutes just to get the phone, I would have left in a fury.

  • nthnm

    This already happens at many Canadian stores. Associates in Future Shop and T Booth all but refused to sell my friend an iPhone. They’d talk about how crappy it was and how it was so easy to break, bla bla bla. I’ve also heard that commissions are a lot higher when sellings PCs over Macs so this might hold true with phones as well.

  • Steffen Jobbs

    AT&T stores have a sign in the window saying, “Come in for an iPhone, leave with an Android smartphone.”

    The same thing used to happen with Apple desktop computers way back when. Salespeople would push Windows PCs so they could make a nice little commission. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with deceiving a customer who would go into a store for an Apple computer and be bullied and harassed by salespeople to buy a Windows computer and tricking them to buy an inferior product when a commission is at stake. Every salesman’s creed is to lie and obfuscate in order to make money on a sale. This has been going on forever, so why is such a big thing being made of it now. Innocent consumers are just marks to be taken. I’m sure none of you want to see AT&T to be stuck with shelves of Android smartphones that they can’t sell.

  • Gene

    I’m wondering why in the world anyone would buy an iPhone by going in to an AT&T store in the first place. Either go to an Apple store or order it online from Apple – then you are assured of Apple’s first class support and replacement policies rather than AT&T’s nonsense.

  • joewaylo

    Not really farfetched. AT&T is encouraged to convince people to buy the best choice. Of which they’d encourage you to buy an Android phone instead isn’t suprising. Google holds more of the shared market than iOS now.

    The fact they are dominating the market proves most of the reason.

  • sitarro

    I’ve had the same thing happen in a camera store. I have been using Nikon for 35 years and went in to look at a new model…… they pushed Canon on me in a big way. I told them that I had been shooting photographs for almost 40 years and they told me that I just didn’t know enough about how great Canon was(Canon reps give a big spiff for each one sold). I held one and told them that it felt like garbage in my hands, didn’t like the lack of logic in the placement of command buttons and felt they didn’t even come close to Nikon in layout or comfort in my hands, it felt cheap. They still tried to push the Canon telling me that they sell more than anything else. I told them that the public are sheep and are easy to herd with the right amount of product placement and advertising…..I’m no sheep. I’ve been using Apple products since the SE, I wasn’t born yesterday, I know what I like and couldn’t care less what is popular. I am at the end of a 2 year contract with AT&T, I was planning on looking at the new iPhone before signing up for another 2 years, it’s not going to happen if they start the same crap with me.

  • AppleJAX

    This will not bode well for AT&T. I can tell you, if they do this to me when I go in to re-up, then I will take my business elsewhere.

  • BanterClaus

    Honestly wish Apple would just drop the carriers and make their own network. The mobile carriers refuse to embrace changing technology.

About the author

Buster HeinBuster Hein is Cult of Mac's Social Media Editor. Hailing from Roswell, New Mexico, but now spending his days in Phoenix, Arizona, he wastes most of his time eating burritos and reading Spanish romance novels. Twitter: @bst3r.

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