Best Buy Mobile has long been a source for devices and accessories for devices on many carriers. As a major one-stop-shop, a customer can browse options across specific carriers and talk to a Mobile Expert to find the best fit. This includes the big three in AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile.
The well known brick and mortar store also carries connection kits for many popular prepaid brands, like Mint Mobile, Ultra Mobile, Tracfone, and Boost Mobile. Most carriers maintain a great relationship with Best Buy Mobile – their networks drive foot traffic to locations, and Mobile Experts help customers make informed decisions on where their money is best spent.
However, it seems Best Buy has decided to put that model to the test in a new pilot program. As of November 12 and lasting well into next year, third-party vendors might be greeting you instead of a Mobile Expert at select Best Buy locations.
Those vendors will represent one of two carriers – AT&T or Verizon – and will aim to steer you towards their product. Worse yet, if you went through the doors to hopefully walk out with the new iPhone or Galaxy, these vendors are ship-to only. You’ll leave empty-handed and waiting, but also potentially left out of a carrier that might have been better for you.
This news comes via exclusive documents obtained by us here at The Mobile Report, and they detail what the programs entail. Both pilots have similar plans outlined, but we will cover both in detail with those similarities intact.
AT&T Exclusivity Stores
As mentioned, this new pilot will mean certain Best Buy locations will be restricted from selling new Verizon activations in favor of using AT&T third party labor (3PL) systems. These individuals are not AT&T employees, but vendors who will be in Best Buy locations to sell exclusively AT&T products.
The vendors will be in locations on specific days of the week. During the pilot, Best Buy employees also cannot sell AT&T products and must defer to the 3PL vendor for all AT&T sales. They will never be available on Wednesdays.
This raises an obvious issue. Mobile Experts (Best Buy employees) must constantly defer to the 3PL AT&T vendor, but they are not scheduled to work every day of the week. Experts therefore end up telling customers to go to another Best Buy location or order online. Even if you purchased the device at that store prior to the pilot, you are out of luck. It is a full stoppage of sales and even returns of product on AT&T and Verizon.
Do’s and Don’ts for AT&T Pilot Locations
Here is a quick rundown of the do’s and don’ts of a Best Buy location in the AT&T pilot:
- The location CAN activate an unlocked device on AT&T. Only the 3PL vendor can activate AT&T service for the customer.
- The location CAN activate service on AT&T, but must do it through the 3PL vendor. If the vendor isn’t scheduled, Mobile Experts must direct the customer to bestbuy.com or a different location for assistance.
- The location CANNOT activate service on Verizon. They must defer the customer to bestbuy.com and select in-store pickup, ship to home, or go to a different store. It is unconfirmed if customers can select the Best Buy location in the pilot as an in-store pickup location, but likely not.
- The location CANNOT activate AT&T service with a Best Buy promotion. The 3PL vendor does not have access to the same promotions as Best Buy does, as they use an exclusive order system not tied to Best Buy promos or inventory. Customers who want a Best Buy promo must do so at bestbuy.com or a different location.
- The location CANNOT process a return for a purchase made by the 3PL vendor. The customer must work through AT&T by calling 1-833-835-4826 or going to att.com/returns. They can also go to an AT&T retail location, but must make the employee there aware the original purchase was through a National Retail free shipping program.
The document also details some Q&A on the program, and certain answers stand out as a bit concerning. We have highlighted the most alarming, but the entire Q&A is available here.
Some of the Q&A was repeated above, but there is quite a push to get customers out of the store unless they are meeting specific requirements to do business with the AT&T 3PL vendor. Most concerning is how customers looking for the best option are being pushed to AT&T or a prepaid option (Lively and Google Fi). The end result is the parity once offered by Best Buy Mobile is compromised as part of the pilot.
Verizon Exclusivity Stores
Verizon’s side of the deal is similar, and has a lot of the same contingencies. There are three Verizon Hybrid Advisors (Advisors) going to select stores. However, the document also states they are studying the ‘impact of moving to Verizon exclusivity’. This ‘study’ is not mentioned as part of the AT&T pilot.
Like the AT&T pilot, Best Buy locations in the Verizon pilot cannot activate AT&T service. They must also defer all Verizon activation activity to the Advisors. Many of the same conditions apply – Advisors will have to ship devices to a customer’s home and cannot use store inventory.
The customer can, however, purchase an unlocked device in-store and activate with the Advisor (more on that below). Best Buy will still be at a full stop for returns and support for AT&T and Verizon products in the locations during the pilot, and customers must go to a different non-pilot location for support.
Finally, stores in the Verizon pilot will see a decrease in AT&T device inventory shipments coming in.
On the bright side, Advisors will be more readily available than with the AT&T pilot: 7 days a week. It will likely be much easier for locations in the Verizon pilot over the AT&T pilot. They should always have a helping hand under normal circumstances.
Do’s and Don’ts for Verizon Pilot Locations
The Verizon pilot also includes a quick run down of do’s and don’ts:
- The location CAN activate new service on Verizon. The Advisors must be the ones to transact and handle the activation.
- The location CAN sell an unlocked device to activate on Verizon, transitioning the customer to the Advisor for the activation after the purchase. This is the same as the AT&T pilot.
- The location CANNOT activate service on AT&T. The customer must be directed to bestbuy.com for in-store pickup or ship to home, or to another Best Buy location. As with the AT&T pilot, it is unconfirmed if a Verizon pilot location can be selected as an in-store pickup for AT&T product. It is unlikely.
An interesting note is the Verizon document includes a section on AT&T customer handling. Most of it follows the same rules already stated – offer an unlocked device purchase (the customer must activate on their own), direct to bestbuy.com, or purchase at another location.
However, the document also directly states to actively offer to switch the customer to Verizon first. So much for the impartiality and best recommendations of the past at Best Buy Mobile.
Much of the Q&A is similar to the AT&T document as well. The same point about leveraging Verizon or prepaid only is there, of course swapping out the carrier. There is a committed push of a specific carrier depending on which kind of store you end up in.
Locations and Conclusions
The specific locations where each service is offered is now available in our dedicated article here.
Major changes to Best Buy Mobile might be coming if either of these pilots succeed. The days of Best Buy exclusive offers for certain carriers could be coming to an end.
Would you be upset if you wanted to activate Verizon or AT&T service at your usual Best Buy, only to be told you had to do it elsewhere? How do you think the pilot will go? Let us know in the comments below.