Survey finds AT&T stores still recommending iPhones to Lumia interested

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imageCNET has been able to corroborate the anecdotal reports we have received regarding AT&T retail staff steering buyers way from buying the Nokia Lumia 900.

They performed a small secret shopper survey of 5 AT&T stores in Manhattan and did not find the Nokia Lumia 900 high on the list of recommended handsets.

The reporter notes:

But when I asked for advice on buying a new smartphone, sales associates in five different stores in Manhattan actually recommended the Apple iPhone and not the carrier’s latest "hero" device.

Even when I prompted them to tell me more about the Lumia 900, none was willing to recommend it to me for purchase.

"Windows Phone is alright," said an associate in a store on the Upper West Side. "But it’s no iPhone."

This became clear to me when I walked into the AT&T stores and told each associate I encountered that I had never owned a smartphone but was looking to buy my first one. I explained I didn’t have any preconceived ideas about which device I wanted to buy. I told them I was a PC user, who knew little about cell phones and was looking for something easy to use. My main objective for owning a smartphone was to access email, surf the Web and check Facebook.

While all these activities could be easily achieved with a Windows Phone, associate after associate first pushed me to toward an iPhone and then suggested an Android device as my second option.

"For your first smartphone, you should get an iPhone," an assistant manager at an AT&T store told me. "When you get bored with that, you should try an Android phone."

When I asked him about the Lumia 900 and the Windows Phone OS for someone such as myself who had never had a smartphone, he told me he thought it was too complicated. He admitted he hadn’t used the Lumia 900 much. He had only gotten the device a couple of days before the launch on Sunday.

A similar survey by Ramon Llamas, senior research analyst at IDC in Massachusetts found the same results.

He notes:

Llamas said he also checked out a handful of AT&T stores on Monday in Massachusetts where he lives. Like me, he found that many of the sales associates he spoke with were unable to articulate what makes Windows Phone different from its competitors. And the salespeople he talked to recommended Google Android phones, like the Galaxy Note. But he said he found one sales associate who was an enthusiastic backer of Windows Phone and was able to explain the benefits of the device. Still, he admitted that this one salesman seemed to be the exception and not the rule.

Nokia claims when they visited AT&T stores they found a lot of buzz for their new handset, but Greg Sullivan from Microsoft admitted that more needs to be done to educate the AT&T sales force.

"We are working to get as many sales representatives trained as possible and to give each of them some hands-on time with the device," he said. "There are thousands of retail stores and even more authorized dealers throughout the country. Educating all these sales associates is not something that can be accomplished overnight. And we can’t get to 100 percent on launch day. But we’re making steady progress."

Sullivan said that Microsoft will continue to offer training sessions for sales associates as it works to get AT&T retail staff more familiar with the device and the operating system.

"Winning the point of sale is critical to the success of the Lumia 900," said Ramon Llamas, senior research analyst at IDC. "That’s where the salesperson can educate potential customers about what Windows Phone can do. It’s where they explain why it’s different from the competition."

Microsoft’s Greg Sullivan however emphasized that they will continue working on gaining buyers, and that the Nokia Lumia 900 was not the be all or end all.

"Some folks want to create drama around this narrative that this one phone will make us or break us," he said. "They say that if it doesn’t top the charts, it’s over. That may make good copy, but that’s not reality. We are in this market for the long term, and we’ll do what it takes to make it a success."

It is clear to me however that the only way sales staff will be convinced to give Windows Phone a fair shake is by a concerted program of secret shoppers who challenge retail staff who appear to be apposing the expressed wishes and preferences of buyers to satisfy their own biases.  With only 2,200 AT&T retail locations, do we have any volunteers?

Thanks Mark for the tip.

More about the topics: AT&T, nokia lumia 900, retail, windows phone 7.5