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Saturday December 30, 2006 // By Sandy

Sketchy mall kiosk pays off

We got new phones. Do I even need to include “cellular” or “mobile” in that sentence? Seems unlikely; news about a new set of cordless 5.8 GHz in our living room doesn’t exactly break the excitement barrier. Even for the low standards of this blog.

These phones, they have many delightful and completely unnecessary new features. They have cameras, the kind that both shoot pictures and video. They have many more buttons than our old phones, making it milliseconds faster to navigate to the delightful new piece of phone software that we have no business wasting our time with. They have cleverly positioned magnets that enable a cleverly designed clamshell-opening maneuver, which maneuver has stirred many a friend to stare slack-jawed in envy.

Me and my new phone
Me and my new phone

Sarah got a green one
Sarah got a green one

They also have SIM cards, which I’m told are all the rage these days. I was told this by a non-bald, non-musical, non-whale hunting man named Moby, the surprisingly compelling cell phone kiosk salesperson at the Lincolnwood Mall. (Reasons for our presence at a mall on a Saturday afternoon will not be examined at this time, for they are distressing and make very little sense in hindsight.) SIM cards, Moby told us, enable us to use these new phones anywhere in the world. This greatly excited us, as we’d be traveling to Thailand soon and could use a working cell phone while in country. That, plus the allure of all those other doodads and the savings in a new family plan, sealed the deal. Total cost: $170 for the two phones and tax, and we’d get $50 back through a rebate.

Somewhere in the back of my head, a little voice had been yelling at me the whole time. I had ignored it. “You sucker!” it wailed. “You never get the best deal at a mall. Do some research!” But this Moby was such a sweet guy, and $60 per phone seemed like a reasonable price. These were fancy phones, weren’t they?

First thing I did when we got home was look up prices online. Shoulda listed closer to that little voice. Amazon: $0.02 plus a $75 rebate for the pair. T-Mobile: Free, plus 14,000 American miles. In fact, the big promotion right now through T-Mobile is to get these phones for free with new sign-up. We had been suckered. Possibly also hoodwinked.

I was furious at myself. It’s strange how your (i.e. my) attitude can do a one-eighty in situations like this. I was completely happy with the deal we had gotten until I realized how much better it could have been. And I couldn’t let that go. I called T-Mobile to negotiate. As sympathetic as they were, they offered nothing. They suggested going back to the source.

One week later, I was back at the wireless store at the mall (the kiosk was just a feeder point for the store). I found Moby and pleaded for sympathy. Shockingly, he didn’t push back. The original deal had a kind of backroom shadiness to it, and my coming back to re-negotiate appeared to be a fair part of the game. He pointed me toward the manager, who behaved the same way. “It’s free on T-Mobile’s site?” — pause for a few second’s thought — “How about I give you $50 back for each phone.”

Stunned silence. “That’ll work just fine,” I said, unsure if I had really pulled this off. Then he reached into the cash register, took out five $20 bills and handed it to me. “Can I get you anything else?”

Posted by Sam Felder // Jan 2, 14:15
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