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For all of the simple and elegant ways Apple makes our lives easier as consumers, the world’s largest tech company seems to be going out of its way to confuse shoppers when it comes to buying an iPhone online.
There are currently numerous online retailers that sell the original iPhone 4 (or at least it looked that way at first glance). With the iPhone 4S going on sale this Friday (and pre-orders already breaking records), we wanted to find out firsthand which retailers serve as the best destination for purchasing an iPhone over the Web.
Given Apple’s recent crack-down on brick-and-mortar stores not officially authorized to sell Apple products, as well as reports of fake iPhones hitting the online market, we think it’s even more important to provide consumers with better guidance on this critical buying decision.
Surprisingly, the root of the confusion around buying an iPhone online lies with Apple. The company makes it abundantly clear which online retailers are “Authorized Resellers” for Apple’s most popular items, such as the iPod and iPad, but there is somehow one product category conspicuously missing from the Authorized Reseller chart: iPhone.
First, we evaluated Apple’s Authorized Resellers list (shown above). None of the Authorized Resellers actually sell the iPhone 4 over the Web (we define “selling over the Web” as being able to purchase the phone and having it shipped to you). At first glance, it looked like Amazon.com, Target.com and Frys.com sold the iPhone, but a deeper dive into each site confirmed that they do not.
Amazon.com: iPhone’s are only sold through marketplace sellers, not Amazon.com.
Frys.com: iPhone’s are only sold through physical store locations, not via the Internet.
Next, we checked stores from the Internet Retailer’s Top 100 list that appeared to sell iPhones but were not listed on Apple’s Authorized Reseller list. We uncovered seven additional online stores that initially seemed to sell iPhones, but further investigation highlighted wrinkles with each site.
Newegg.com: sells a limited selection of “no contract” phones.
Etronics.com: sells a limited selection of “no contract” iPhone 3G’s (yet all are out of stock).
Walmart.com: iPhone’s are only sold through physical store locations, not via the Internet.
Sears.com: iPhone’s are only sold through marketplace sellers.
O.co (AKA Overstock.com): sells a limited number of “no-contract” iPhone 3Gs (refurbished)
BestBuy.com: a genuine online reseller of the iPhone…? Not so fast – see below.
Finally, we looked at BestBuy.com, which claims to be an Authorized Reseller of Apple products.
This is where things really get confusing.
Despite a clear message on BestBuy.com that the iPhone 4 (and iPhone 4S) are available for sale through the site as an “Authorized Reseller” of Apple products, Apple’s site does not recognize BestBuy.com as an Authorized Reseller. You could argue that Best Buy is a big enough brand that it does not require cross-referencing on Apple’s site, but if that’s the case, why is Amazon.com, the world’s largest Internet retailer, listed on Apple’s site?
Making matters more complex, not all iPhones 4 models are available for purchase (with shipping and delivery) through BestBuy.com. Can you have it shipped (free shipping), or do you have to pick it up in-store (IN STORE ONLY)?
Online shoppers wishing to purchase any AT&T iPhone will find a disappointing message when they reach the end of their checkout process (see below).
Policies, offerings and reseller arrangements seem to be changing by the hour as the release of the iPhone 4S approaches. With so many online retailers quasi-selling the iPhone (or reselling it through a marketplace seller), it’s no wonder consumers are confused, and in some cases getting scammed as they look to the Web to get their hands on a new iPhone.
Consumers are left with three big and obvious questions:
Ultimately, it appears the only online retailers truly “authorized” to sell iPhones through their sites are: Apple.com, BestBuy.com (sort-of), Att.com, Verizon.com and Sprint.com.
Now that we know (or at least we think we know as of 10/11) who the authorized iPhone sellers are online, we’ve decided to rigorously evaluate each site to uncover which online business is the most customer-friendly. STELLAService assessed each site’s policies, features and quality of live customer support to help consumers make a more informed online buying decision. With pricing for the new iPhone standardized across all retailers, the overall customer experience should be the deciding factor in choosing where to buy your iPhone.
Stay tuned, as we plan to share the full results of our study tomorrow!
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