Windows Phone still fails at retail–wholesale clubs

These are just observations I made myself, but it is really hard to find decent Windows Phones at retail, when it comes to wholesale clubs like Costco and Sam’s Club for example. Now not everybody buys their phones at wholesale clubs, and I could not find any studies or research that breaks down where consumers buy their phones, but I would guess wholesale clubs have some market penetration when it comes to mobile phone retail.

So Windows Phone 8, based on what I’ve read, is selling at a better rate than what Windows Phone 7 did (or at least it’s not losing as much market share) but it still has a way to go as far as market presence (at least the American one) goes. It doesn’t help when you have poor retail presence for sure.

Between the dashed lines are some reasons why I decided to go for a Windows Phone if you’re interested in checking out, or you can skip below the dashed lines to see the main point of this post.

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I am still one of those people that do not have a smartphone, but I am interested in one. I think nowadays, people do not only pick phones based on just hardware features, but also specific operating systems that they either prefer or would like to avoid for whatever reason.

I am definitely interested in getting a WP8 phone (super glad I didn’t go for a WP7 phone), but there seems to be a much limited choice to pick from than WP7 had, and even limited carrier options too. Although I like how thin HTC’s 8X and 8S are, and whatever features HTC has that’s unique for those phones, I am going to lean towards a Nokia based phone. Why? Nokia’s exclusive apps hooked me in. Nokia Transit is something that a carless person in Houston such as myself could definitely use when I’m on the go. No more having to worry about preloading transit directions from Bing Maps on my (often defective) laptop in a WiFi zone before going, wasting paper printing out transit directions, or having to call METRO and waiting for a few minutes to figure out bus times and such. Nokia Drive is useful when I’m in the car with my parents who don’t have smartphones or a standalone GPS unit and could use it sometimes to beat the traffic or find a spot on the go. Nokia was smart to make desirable exclusive apps as a way of differentiation.

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So I want a new phone, and I came with my family (since I’m on a family plan) to go shopping so we can all take advantage of the expiration of our 2-year contract and upgrade our phones. Well, even though it expired since like fall 2012, but that’s another story.

My dad wants to go to Costco because he likes their no activation fees, how the prices are supposedly very good and even include nice accessories and other useful stuff that you supposedly can’t get elsewhere bundled with such a flat rate. I’m saying “supposedly” because I’m not certain if it’s true, but that’s what he based it on.

In America, we tend to be carrier tied whether it’s for exclusive phones, coverage, or pricing. Our family is a T-Mobile one. So we went to Costco to check out what T-Mobile had. I could see 6 phones laid out, 2-3 of them Androids, 1 HTC 8X (Windows Phone) and 2-3 of them being dumbphones. As I said before, although HTC’s WP8 phones are pretty great, I’m going with Nokia because of the exclusive apps.

The problem is, we’ve tried stopping a few times prior to this at Costco to see if they would have the latest Nokia phones for T-Mobile, but they never did. I did query about this to the sales rep a month ago and he showed me a display model of the Nokia 810 hidden under a shelf and said it’s not in stock yet, and no idea when they would. So I was hoping this time they actually would.

So as you can see, the 6 phones I see do not include Nokia, and I would expect every phone that’s available as an option to be displayed or indicated in some way. But nope. No Nokia.

I’m guessing the sales reps must either a) aren’t Nokia fans, b) they don’t get commission for Nokia phones, or c) their manager probably told them to not even make it visible. Why? Because:

  1. You have to specifically ask if the Nokia 810 is available. If you ask if there are other phones, they’ll be like “No.” but I’m guessing it’s hard to lie when you specify if they have a certain brand and model available, and they may get busted later for lying.
  2. The Nokia 810 display model is hidden behind the counter. Even though there’s room for 5 smartphones to be shown on the front display, 5 additional less visible compartments to hold dumbphones perhaps along behind the display. But when you have only 4 smartphones and 1 dumbphone on main display, plus 1 dumbphone and 4 empty spaces in the compartments, why can’t the Nokia phone at least be given a compartment space rather than be stuffed under the counter where no customer can see it? I think you know why…
  3. None in stock! – So typically, they’ll have phones available to purchase right away in the warehouse near the checkout lanes, but these Nokia phones are so special, you can only receive them in the mail in 2-3 days apparently rather than getting it in the store right away. Wonderful, right?
  4. No working models – To add insult to injury, neither the Nokia 810 or the HTC 8X for this matter are even working display models. So people can’t really try out the OS or see the special features themselves. But there is a working display model of an LG Optimus III they really want you to buy.

So when a customer can’t see a phone on display, there’s practically no mention about its existence as an option, it might as well not even exist when people are shopping.

At least Costco still offers the Lumia 900 for AT&T (that’s 900, NOT 920) and I think a Nokia 820 I believe for Verizon. But the 900 is still a good cheaper phone, if you ignore that it can’t be upgraded to WP8. I’m being serious about that being a decent deal if you don’t care for new apps/features for about 2 years.

Costco does have a fairly decent deal on the Nokia 810, where it costs around $129 with a 2-year contract, where I’d typically see it for $149 with a 2-year contract instead. Plus it comes bundled with nice accessories in a convenient package.

Costco is much better in at least offering Windows Phone than Sam’s Club. I thought Costco was kinda bad about this, but Sam’s Club was worse.

I went to a Sam’s Club across the freeway and they offered NO Windows Phones. Period.

Instead, they had a collection of dumbphones and what I thought were crappy Android phones and I think a BlackBerry or two. But most of the attention is focused on the iPhone 5 or iPhone 4S on AT&T. It’s displayed closest to a main aisle of the store, looks much better displayed than the other phones, and you get the picture. Oh, plus there’s a nice iPhone poster suspended from the ceiling rafters of the warehouse right over the mobile phone kiosk. I’m surprised there’s not a spotlight shining over it also.

I asked the guy if there were any Nokia phones and he grunts a “No.” Well I guess that’s a no-sale. Worse, my dad wants to ask some questions about upgrading and stuff but the rep disappears for at least 5-6 minutes and wasn’t at all helpful with questions when he came back. I guess if you’re not interested in the golden iPhone, you’re nothing.

I checked out the tablets on display instead (with a wonderful iPad poster suspended from the rafters over the entire display area, and I checked out the Nexus tablet and an ASUS Windows RT tablet. The Nexus seemed cool, but not being a big Google user, wasn’t too interested in all the Google stuff it had.

The ASUS Windows RT tablet was a mess when I wanted to see it. First of all, it wouldn’t even turn on because the unit wasn’t even being charged. I found out the charging USB cable was dangling under the table (it’s a wire-meshed type so there’s holes big enough for it to drop through) so I had to pull it out and connect it. Then I had to fiddle around the device to find the power button and finally got it to boot up.

Then came the stupid password lock. Seriously. Why the heck are these devices password locked? How can customers explore if they don’t know the freaking password because a) the idiots in this department really like making certain products a hassle to look at or b) it’s so hard to write a quick password that anyone could read if they’d put it on the display just-in-case so we don’t have to flag the disappearing sales rep.

After chasing down the sales rep to unlock it, I could finally look at it. It was neat, but I was already pretty steamed at them offering zero decent smartphones, the obvious blatant Apple love and preference Sam’s Club has, and offering another possible reason why maybe Windows 8 isn’t selling as well (regardless if you like it or hate it). Needless to say, I don’t think I’m going back to Sam’s Club to purchase any non-Apple products anytime soon.

So after my two experiences at this store, I really think Microsoft should contribute some potential lost Windows Phone 8 sales because of these wholesale clubs not taking Microsoft seriously as far as smartphones go. With near zero visibility or even availability in warehouses, all those customers shopping there are likely going to buy other phones.

I wouldn’t call myself a Windows Phone or Microsoft fanboy for calling this to attention, but as someone that does like Microsoft products and would like to see MS gain some traction in the market, stuff like this irks me because it’s totally meant to shift people away from MS at least. Microsoft can make lots of ads if they’d like, but with little visible retail presence, it’s hard to get interested people to still keep that interest when local retailers like to pretend MS doesn’t exist.

Perhaps Microsoft having their own first party retail stores was a good idea because it seems that these 3rd party stores are either only interested in helping Apple or Google and that’s that.

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