RealTime IT News

Report: Buying Wireless Becoming More of a Hassle

Service plans, extended warranties, model comparisons, salespeople trying to "upsell" you to higher-priced models have all conspired to make buying a wireless phone at retail an increasingly onerous chore, according to a report released this week by J.D. Power and Associates (JDPA).

While many of these factors aren't new, perhaps the most surprising result is that they're getting worse. JDPA surveyed more than 6,000 consumers for its semi-annual wireless retail report. It based its overall customer satisfaction with major wireless carrier-branded stores on four factors: sales staff; store display; store facility; and price and promotion.

The sales staff issue as the biggest factor responsible for a decline in customer satisfaction it said has been going on since 2006, according to JDPA. Customers at so-called "big box" or large retail outlets reported particularly low satisfaction levels with the sales process, according to JDPA.

But there are also problems across the board. For example, the JDPA study states the average wireless retail sales transaction takes approximately one hour to complete from the time the customer enters the store to the time the final paperwork is finished and the cell phone is received. That's an increase of nearly four minutes from the last reporting period.

Also, retail satisfaction is 18 percent lower among customers who report they were pressured during the sales process. The average overall satisfaction rating among customers who report experiencing no sales pressure is 736 on a 1,000-point scale, compared with just 607 among those who say they were pressured.

"Since the study's inception, overall wireless performance has generally trended downward based on a number of industry changes, such as the increase in new products and services, and the expansion of competitive retail sale channels," said Kirk Parsons, senior director of wireless services at JDPA in a statement.

"These forces have made it difficult for carriers to meet customer expectations as wireless service gains mass appeal."

The study finds that overall satisfaction with the wireless retail sales experience has dropped to 709 points based on a 1,000-point scale. This is down seven points since May and down 12 points from a year ago. Two companies, Verizon Wireless (726) and T-Mobile (725) came in above the average; AT&T (708), Alltel (695) and Sprint Nextel (679) were below.

Analyst Roger Kay said one of the main issues leading to a poor consumer experience are structural.

"The U.S. wireless market is so fragmented and these different carriers do all they can to lock in customers," Kay, president of Endpoint Technology Associates, told InternetNews.com. "My own personal experience at the retail level is that they just don't act like they really want your business. You have to sign long-term contracts and it's all take it or leave it."

Kay credits Apple with improving the phone using experience with the iPhone, but the buying experience still hasn't been improved: "It's still a lock-in with AT&T, their contract and their network," he said.