FAIRFAX, Va.-Verizon Wireless and Apple Computer opened some of their stores in the Washington, D.C., area early today to satisfy public demand for an iPhone from a carrier that isn’t AT&T. Despite the fact that there was some snow during the night, there were substantial lines of customers waiting outside area stores well before the 7 a.m. opening time. One Fairfax, Va., shopping mall opened its doors at 5:00 a.m. to accommodate the anticipated shoppers.
Even though the mere mention in weather reports of snow in Washington is usually enough to cancel schools (which happened this time) and close the U.S. government, the determined iPhone buyers lined up at stores throughout the region. There were about 25 prospective buyers lined up at around 6:30 a.m. outside the Verizon Wireless store at the Fair Oaks Mall here. Other people waited in their cars until shortly before 7 a.m., when there was a rush of about 25 more people to join the line of people waiting to get their hands on an iPhone.
The first customers in line at the store visited by eWEEK reported that their new iPhones were being purchased as gifts for loved ones to be presented on Valentine Day. Others were escaping AT&T or other carriers. One prospective buyer (she was No. 4 in line) offered a litany of bad experiences with AT&T customer service along with a lengthy series of dropped or poor quality calls.
The mood was quite different from the crowds at AT&T and Apple stores when the iPhone 4 was released last year. The then mood was a determination to get the latest, coolest thing from Apple. At the Verizon store, the customers appeared to approach their decision with purpose-they needed the capabilities of the iPhone, but they just couldn’t see using AT&T.
Several of the people standing in line waiting to buy iPhones told eWEEK that they’d been waiting for a very long time to buy an iPhone, but weren’t willing to use AT&T as a carrier. Some of those mentioned the carrier’s poor reputation for customer service, while others mentioned the history of poor wireless communications. Either way, the buyers seemed to show a sense of relief along with delight as they made their purchases after waiting more than six months since the word first leaked that Verizon would start selling the iPhone in early 2011.
Some Customers Glad to Get Alternative to ATandT
The mall where the Fairfax Verizon Wireless store is located also contains an Apple store, which opened early as well. Apple store employees, who paraded to the Verizon store to hold a pep rally, said the early opening was to provide shoppers with an alternative way to buy the Verizon iPhone. However, the Apple store employees rebuffed eWEEK’s efforts to discuss iPhone purchases with those customers.
Each prospective iPhone buyer was presented with the opportunity to combine his or her purchase with an iPad purchase, which would allow the new iPhone users to take advantage of the built-in WiFi hot spot that comes with the Verizon Wireless version of the iPhone.
Notably, in this particular location the Verizon store is located directly next door to an AT&T phone store, which remained closed during the early opening for the Verizon iPhone.
While it’s impossible to learn much from the limited sample of customers available at a single location in a single city in the Washington, D.C., suburbs, overall sales in the area were very strong, with long lines at some stores. According to Verizon Wireless spokesperson Melanie Ortel, sales today have been “brisk across the board.” Ortel said this included online sales as well as sales at stores.
The iPhone launch in Fairfax was attended by Marquett Smith, Verizon Wireless vice president of Corporate Communications, who told eWEEK that he was “very excited,” to have the iPhone in Verizon’s inventory. Smith engaged a number of customers, who told him tales of woe regarding other carriers and who expressed excitement at the availability of the iPhone.
The first customer in Fairfax was Chantilly, Va., resident Mike Palmer, who secured his spot in line by having his father arrive at 5:00 a.m. to hold his spot. Palmer told eWEEK that he’d been waiting for the store to open for several days so that he could buy a new Verizon iPhone for his wife as a Valentine Day surprise. Hopefully, Mrs. Palmer won’t read this story before the big day.
What was most remarkable about the crowds waiting for the Verizon Wireless stores to open was the level of enthusiasm that the customers showed and the delight they exhibited after they made their purchase. More than one person danced their way out of the Verizon store, shopping bag in hand, in the sheer delight of having made their purchase.
Verizon Wireless reopened online ordering for existing customers on Feb. 9 and opened online ordering for new customers at 7:00 a.m. EST on Feb. 10. Verizon has not released sales figures or provided details about the sales of the iPhone other than to say that the device has broken all sales records in the company’s history. And apparently in the D.C. area, even the dreaded forecast of snow (there was a treacherous half-inch of the white stuff) wasn’t enough to dampen sales.