Why Apple Stores Aren't the Best Place to Buy an iPhone

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Beyond all the hype surrounding the pre-phone launch Apple store line-up ritual, when it comes to selling iPhones, Apple does a worse job than its retail partners, even with its meticulously designed stores. Looking at sales data from December of last year through August 2012, both the AT&T and Verizon store outlets sold more sets than the actual Apple store, according to information gathered by Consumer Intelligence Research Partners, as you can see in the chart below via AllThingsD.

One might chalk this up to the fact that Apple has so few stores compared to AT&T and Verizon. It has 372 locations, compared to the over 16,000 AT&T has in the U.S. But, there is something about iPhone in particular, because Apple is able to sell a whole lot more iPads than everyone else, as you can see in another chart from AllThingsD.

We have a theory for why: Complicated phone plans. 

The Apple retail and genius bar workers aren't trained to know the complicated nuances of the Verizon and AT&T contracts. Apple does have an iPad set-up at the store where users can check to see if they are eligible for the phone (pictured right). When I visited an Apple store the other day to play around with the iPhone 5, the iPad didn't accept my information. Maybe I had it wrong. But if I had been at a Verizon or AT&T retailer, I could have asked an employee to help. Apple's people on the other hand can't help much. Nor can they, for new customers,  describe the benefits of a data-share plan. They're primarily there to sell the gadget, not the service that runs it.

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iPads on the other hand don't have to come with plans at all. In that case, the Apple store or Best Buy, which comes up way higher than AT&T and Verizon for the tablet, is the place to go. And the data plans that go with the tablets are pretty simple: you pay for data without having to worry about text messaging or voice minutes. However, maybe habits will change with these shared data plans, which allow users to add multiple devices, like say an iPhone and an iPad, to a bundle of gigabytes, minutes and texts. Those can get complicated fast. And, the Apple store salespeople won't provide much clarity.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.