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Buying the new Blackberry Z10 in Manhattan was a chilling experience

Published Mar 25th, 2013 9:27AM EDT
BlackBerry Z10 Launch

To get a sense of demand for the BlackBerry (BBRY) Z10 on its launch weekend, I visited three AT&T (T) stores on Saturday afternoon between 52nd Street and 96th Street. Some of the standard questions I sprinkled between small talk were: “Do you have the new BlackBerry Z10? How is it doing, have you sold many units? What are the best features of the Z10?”

The first shop I visited had one wall for Samsung (005930) phones and another for all other smartphone brands. There was no Z10 on either wall, no banners, no displays. When asked, the sales person whipped out the Z10 from behind the counter. This shop had sold exactly one unit of the Z10 over Friday and Saturday. The sales person described the phone’s best feature as the browser, which is much faster than any other phone can offer, but provided no details on its OS or user interface, even when prompted. There was a Lumia 920 banner above one of the smartphone displays.

Shop No. 2 had the Z10 on the main wall featuring all leading smartphones, but again had no banners, no displays. The sales person was perky and positive about Z10 sales but also extremely vague about the phone itself and provided no details on the phone’s features until she started swiping through the promotional messages on the Z10 display detailing the camera and UI features. She read the messages, but could not explain what was actually special about the photography software. Then she launched into a pitch about buying the new iPad on a special promotion — $100 off if you add mobile network access to family plan.

Shop No. 3 also had the Z10 on the main smartphone display with no banners and no special displays. The sales person at this store was very enthusiastic and informed. He declined to state how many models were sold, but pointed out that there had been a steady flow of buyers. He described key UI features concisely and accurately, demonstrated easy swipe access to unified messaging and gave a rousing run-through of the camera features. This was a real BlackBerry aficionado with an appealing pitch.

All that said, I was surprised that only one out of three sales people in Manhattan could give me such a good rundown. What the hell is AT&T thinking? Why has there been no systematic training of sales people and why are there no window treatments or floor displays? Since they placed the Z10 launch order, why not try to make some noise ahead of the Verizon (VZ) launch? Weirdly enough, Nokia’s (NOK) Lumia 920 launch had a clearly stronger marketing push behind it in these same stores when it debuted three months ago.

This is Manhattan, with a substantial BlackBerry user base in the banking, insurance, advertising and publishing industries. If AT&T is not going to make an effort here, where is it going to happen?

After launching mobile game company SpringToys tragically early in 2000, Tero Kuittinen spent eight years doing equity research at firms including Alliance Capital and Opstock. He is currently an analyst and VP of North American sales at mobile diagnostics and expense management Alekstra, and has contributed to, Forbes and Business 2.0 Magazine in addition to BGR.