Special: An iPhone 4 Preorder Tale

by on July 1, 2010

A week after its “launch”, the iPhone 4 is finding its way into the hands of millions, depending on the particular order channel you have chosen. Two of our writers have iPhone 4s (more on that in the near-future), but we got them in very different ways. If anything, this is a lesson for future iPhone purchasers and why it does matter where you get it.

All times Eastern. Events occur in real time.

June 15 at 5:15AM

Just a bit of background first—I was an AT&T customer due for an upgrade. Because of work, I have a discount on service through AT&T Premier. On many other phones, there are significant discounts and if you do have this on your account, you cannot order through the “normal” AT&T ordering system. The iPhone does not receive any sort of discount.

I had wanted to order directly from Apple (for obvious reasons), but could not get past the first or second steps. Therefore, I decided to order from AT&T, which meant AT&T Premier. The transaction went smoothly and within about 5 minutes, I had gotten my order in and received a confirmation email and an order number.

June 15 at 11:00AM

One of my coworkers and I went to our local AT&T retail store (corporate owned) so that he could preorder. At this point, AT&T’s computers were down and his preorder was taken on a piece of paper. I wasn’t really sure about how well that would go over, but we both got our orders in before the cutoff that was announced later in the afternoon.

June 21

My coworker’s order had propagated to the main AT&T order status page and was not backordered.

June 22

My order had propagated to the main AT&T order status page and was listed as backordered. My coworker’s order shipped and it was indicated that it would arrive on June 23 (a day early).

June 23

My coworker gets his iPhone and gloats just a bit. Activation, setup, and actual usage all seem to go smoothly. Mine is still listed as backordered, despite the original confirmation email stating “Pre-orders will be fulfilled beginning June 24, 2010. Orders will ship on a first-come, first-served basis.” I do understand that the number of preorders were quite a bit more than anyone expected, so I figured that it would ship on the 24th for the 25th or even the 26th.

June 24

No shipping information, still backordered.

June 25

No shipping information, still backordered. I found a discussion on the topic, and it seems that many Premier orders were mishandled for some reason or another, despite many others who preordered on June 15 receiving their iPhones from AT&T (retail and non-Premier), Apple, or Best Buy.

June 26

I start getting antsy, so I contact the local Radio Shack to see if any when they may be getting iPhones locally (our AT&T Store had no idea and already had numerous waiting lists). The lady at Radio Shack said her husband actually in the same situation as me. This leads me to call AT&T Premier’s order number directly (not the same as 611) and I was told by the representative that “they may get another shipment on Monday, but more likely Tuesday and should have the iPhone on Wednesday.”

Apparently AT&T Premier only made up a small percentage of preorders, and is treated like a separate store. Therefore, for every shipment of iPhones to AT&T, a smaller number actually goes to Premier. The analogy I used to describe it to a friend was like buying a particular item at a mom & pop grocery store versus something like Kroger—they may have fewer customers, but they also have quite a bit less stock in many cases. Not the best, I know, but it got the point across.

June 28

No changes.

June 29

No changes, but I checked with the local AT&T store which had already been sold out…twice, as some others in the discussion board had cancelled their preorders and walked in to get an iPhone. What’s the point of a preorder if someone who doesn’t take the time and effort to do it can walk in and pick something up? I decided to leave my preorder in place, since it didn’t seem like the local AT&T store would receive anymore iPhones that day.

Later on in the afternoon, I noticed that many people who had the 6/15 preorder date and then the 6/22 actually processed date still didn’t have their iPhones shipping or any change in the status. At that point, I had to run some errands and happened to be near another AT&T Store, but in a less busy location. I stopped in and they had quite a few in stock in both capacities. I called Premier, cancelled the preorder, and walked out with an iPhone.

June 30

Checked back on the discussion boards and many iPhones were still not shipping for those who had the 6/22 processed date. It seems the 16GB models were going slowly, but the 32GB ones were still backordered.

July 1

It seems that things are the same as they were yesterday. I’m not sure if I would’ve had my preordered iPhone yet.

So, What Happened?

I think in this case, it’s easy to blame “AT&T” as a whole. However, that would be wrong. Everyone who I had dealt with at either retail stores or customer service (611) were helpful and polite. Unfortunately, they could not do much in regards to my Premier order. If anything AT&T Premier is no different than buying from Walmart or Best Buy, except that ultimately, it is owned and run by AT&T. However, as I now know, my order had to be processed by Premier and once it was done there, was put in as an order with the main AT&T ordering system. Because of this, I was put in the “back” of the preorder line, despite ordering relatively early in the timeline. In addition, because it was a Premier order, nobody else could do much with it.

The lesson? For regular phones, Premier is a great deal (some handsets are free with waived activation when you upgrade/add a line – better than almost any store), but for the iPhone, you’re creating an additional process, which can lead to a mistake. The best places to get an iPhone if you want it early is an AT&T store (corporate-owned), regular AT&T online order system, Apple Store, or Apple.com.

Again, I just wanted to reiterate that everyone I dealt with was helpful, so if there’s anything to blame, it’s the process.

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