Bargain hunters

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Mobile News hits the high street to see how far retail sales staff can be pushed to secure a new contract sale

Six-years-ago to the day, Mobile News hit London’s and the world’s busiest shopping area as part of a test to see just how far a mobile phone retailers would go to secure a new, post-pay contract.

Our target was Nokia’s then-flagship device the N95 8GB in black, valued at £600 SIM-free. Whatever the advertised price, typically free on £35 and £40-per-month plans, we would attempt to haggle in a bid to bag ourselves a bargain.

The results of the test, which saw us visit 21 stores – Phones 4u, Carphone Warehouse, O2, T-Mobile, Orange and Vodafone – showed that sales staff were more than willing and able to bend the rules to achieve a sale. Offers ranged from under-the-counter lower tariffs and cash-back offers to free accessories, particularly bluetooth headsets.

In some instances combined savings topped close to a whopping £300 on the advertised pricing, such was the competitiveness and fears that we’d be purchasing elsewhere. Not bad for five minutes of haggling.

But marketing conditions have since changed. Operators have been hit by the full force of regulation, with the abolishing of Mobile Termination Rates (MTRs) and, more recently, cuts to roaming fees, the latter already costing EE £20 million in lost revenues this year. Would these losses have an impact on the shop floor?

Six years on, and the market having long reached saturation point – Ofcom estimates 83 million subscriptions by the end of this year against a population of 63 million – we headed back to Oxford Street to see what, if anything, had changed.

Using the same methods, we headed to the same stores (EE replacing T-Mobile and Orange) in search  of the HTC One (M8), valued at around £530 SIM-free on a consumer deal with  at least 1GB of data (minutes, texts unspecified).
Who would bend over backwards for our bank details? The results were surprising…

CARPHONE WAREHOUSE

Raj at Carphone Warehouse on Tottenham Court Road, picked up the price-driven nature of my enquiry instantaneously, offering me unlimited calls, texts and 1GB of data for £28 per month on O2. He also mentioned the Vodafone deal with 600 minutes for £30.50. On the cheaper O2 offer, the handset was £50 upfront but he said he would use his discount to knock this down to £20 and offered to throw in a free case as well.

When I asked if he could he do it any cheaper he said I didn’t need to check anywhere else as Carphone was “far cheaper” than Phones 4u. He said that no matter what they offerered, CPW would beat them.

Shamira in the branch beside Totteham Court Road Station was very good and moved as much as she possibly could on price to seal the deal. She offered the same O2 deal that was on offer at the other Carphone store to start with but I explained that Phones 4u were offering the same with a free handset on the EE network and she said not to worry, she would just go and check with her manager.

She said that O2’s network was brilliant for 4G and, in fairness, in London, all the evidence points to there not being a huge amount of difference between the two operators. Back to the sale and a beaming Shamira reappeared after successfully getting authorisation from the manager to knock off the upfront price and throw in the free screen protector. Price matching was again brought up as I made my exit.

The Carphone Warehouse on Oxford Street offered a £31.50 contract on Vodafone which included a whopping 4GB of 4G data as the standard offer. The adviser said there might be a little bit of upfront cost but he could probably get this down to about £15. When I told him that Phones 4u were offering me a free speaker worth £50 and more goodies he went off to get his manager, reappearing after about five minutes. The Vodafone deal appeared to be off the table as the discussion moved onto the EE deal on offer at Phones 4u. He said that he would price-match it and said he would throw in a case as Carphone did not offer any speakers and the screen protector. There would be no upfront cost for the handset.

The manager and adviser were very disparaging about Phones 4u, claiming if could only offer O2 and Vodafone. When I said I wanted to check Three, the manager said it would probably be cheaper but the problem would be using the data, alleging a poor quality network.

£28pm with free £10 screen protector

EE

A delighted adviser at one of the EE stores on Oxford Street complimented me on my choice of phone as I walked in, remarking that he had the same one. After some confusion reading his printed crib sheet, he advised me that 1GB of data would mean that the cost of the handset would be prohibitively high.

Another Oxford Street store visited advised the same, saying that there was no movement on prices. The best they could come up with was £38.99 for 2GB of data on 4GEE Extra, which offers speeds of up 60Mbps in selected cities and minutes and calls inclusive within the EU. When I told him of an offer which was more than £10 per month cheaper on the EE network from Phones 4u, he couldn’t contain his envy, remarking “wow”.

When I asked whether he could do anything else, he said that he had to stick rigidly to what was on the sheet. There was no flexibility that could be offered. It was a similar tale in EE’s other store on Oxford Street – the sheet was the ultimate arbiter and there was no wiggle room or flexibility whatsoever.

£38.99pm – 2GB of 4G data

VODAFONE

No surprises at Vodafone where both stores on Oxford Street told me that there was no budging on pricing. Two advisers seemed almost to lose heart when I mentioned the offers available from the independents. After prompting from a colleague, one made an attempt at getting a call centre to ring me while another went all out pushing the value of being with Vodafone directly, saying I would get much more support. The deals on offer couldn’t cut the mustard though, with a best-priced £38.50-per-month deal for 600 minutes, unlimited texts and 1GB of data. It couldn’t hold a candle to what was on offer through the independents.

£38.50pm for 600 minutes, unlimited texts and 1GB of data

Full article in Mobile News issue 572 (September 8, 2014).

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