/ Technology

Mobile phone shops aren’t all out to rip us off!

Carphone Warehouse store front

Most of us visit high street shops when we’re looking for a new mobile phone deal, so we went undercover to see whether the advice they give is up to scratch. What’s your experience with mobile phone shop advice?

There are more active mobile phones in the UK than there are people. It’s a stat that’s rolled out time and again to reinforce Brits’ love affair with our mobile. But mobile phone deals are complicated beasts, with lots to think about to ensure you don’t get landed with a dud for a two year stretch.

It’s perhaps unsurprising, then, that Which? research shows nine out of ten of us use mobile phone shops when we’re looking for a new mobile or accessory. This means the advice we get from shop assistants can have a huge influence on whether we end up with the right deal.

Mobile phone shop saints…

Historically, my overriding perception of mobile phone shop advice has been one of suspicion. Perhaps it’s because my job means I hear more horror stories of pressure selling and abysmal customer service than most.

So I was pleasantly surprised when our recent undercover investigation into mobile phone shop advice revealed that not all mobile retailers are out to upsell costly, lengthy and inappropriate deals that disregarded our actual needs.

We mystery-shopped 50 high street mobile shops (five branches each of ten brands) posing as a current PAYG user in need of a new handset and wanting advice on a new deal. Happily, 40 out of the 50 assistants we spoke to gave advice we rated as at least ‘OK’, and often better.

Carphone Warehouse stood out by offering excellent advice in four of the branches we visited, while the fifth was rated good. When we shared the results with Carphone Warehouse, it told us it’s been working hard on a new company-wide initiative called ‘Trust’, which is all about offering genuinely impartial advice to gain consumer trust. It seems to be working.

…and sinners

On the flipside, 10 of the stores recommended deals that were either significantly more expensive than our current spend, or that locked us in to unnecessarily lengthy contracts.

Some managed to combine both of these to push us towards expensive 24 month contracts with far more inclusive usage than we’d ever need. Three chains – 3, Orange and FoneHouse – gave us poor advice in at least two of the five branches we visited.

Doubters will surely cry ‘small sample size’. We’re not claiming our investigation was fully representative of the service stores offer on every visit. But we designed our scenario to be representative of a real life predicament – as a relatively low mobile user, should you stay with PAYG, or switch to contract? Even two poor recommendations out of a hundred visits would have been two too many, in my opinion.

The advisers we spoke to had the opportunity to shine by asking all the right questions, offering good explanations, analysing our usage levels and outlining the pros and cons of different tariffs. And some did just that. But others fell well short, sticking to the stereotype of a pushy mobile salesperson out to upsell at all costs.

The mix of advice we received – even from different staff from the same chain – shows that, for many retailers, there’s still more work to do to offer customers a consistently great experience. But it also shows that we shouldn’t resign ourselves to poor advice – it’s always worth getting a second opinion if you’re uncertain.

What great or poor experiences have you had in mobile phone shops, and what do you think they could do better?


OK, probably not the shops, but the networks certainly are.

pickle says:
28 June 2011

I bought my mobile from Carphone Warehouse – no trouble at all, and I got the phone I wanted”


Went into my local phone shop – simply wanted to change to a Pay as you go sim card – as my mobile phone use was one call a month or less (so cost £15 a call) – they offered a new basic (no camera – no internet) phone – PAYG – all for £14 – I repeat £14!. I went home a happier richer man.


Be careful if your phone is on the Vodafone network. You need to make a call every 30 days or it will be disconnected.

I keep a PAYG phone in the car for use in emergencies and occasional use. Vodafone did reconnect my phone but I now want to find out which network currently allows the longest period of inactivity.

Tracey says:
29 June 2011

I am not suprised that orange featured in the poor advice category, some of their stores are still describing their internet as unlimited!!!!! When you ring them up to test what they say akin to the store no matter how lay it on thick that the phone data wise might get hammered as going to teenager and wanted protection from no unexpected data bills as in unlimited reassurance meant no bills, they kept not mentioning the fair usage policy. When I asked them on three occasions why they did no mention it one replied after hearing a pin drop, that he had never known anyone exceed 500mb!!!!!!! The second said as long as not on it for ten hours everday that you could use as much as you wanted, but tune changed when I said what is the fair usage!!!!!! and the third who also did not mention it then argued that they legally had to describe the data which he was meaning 500mb in that instance, as had to be described as unlimited.

I told all three they were misleading and that were they not aware even orange had removed the word unlimited from its marketing and they could not reply as well had nowt to say.

Ceo office of ornage during my mission to cancel the contracts, said you should not trust verbally what told in an ornage store. I replied are you aware of what you just said being that you are the ceo office and she said yes!!!!!!!

Dont think she should have said that as when told her the call was recorded she got annoyed with me it felt.

Orange helpers on facebook to this replied of course you should be able to trust any orange rep, in so many words, so shocking that ceo office does not feel the same……..

I say to anyone for aide de memoir like me record calls, because when a company plays hard ball that you are so in the wrong and it was not said etc…..you can offer them a transcript of the call and offer them to listen to it for themselves!!!!!!!!!

My contract was cancelled but they admitted no fault. I am not too fussed about the fault aspect as I got what I politely all along requested xx

ConnedbyCarPhone says:
29 June 2011

I am so surprised by this report as my experience was a bit different. Bought a phone from Carphone Warehouse and fell for the con trick where I was told that I will get a £5.00 off every month when you send in your monthly bill… never saw a penny of that… tried couple of time but it was total waste of time as shop advisers keep telling me to go to the shop that sold the phone…. and so on…. some of these advisers even gave me wrong address to contact… may be they have changed their tactics.

However, I guess I will never be able to recover my loss from Carphone Warehouse… being conned is such a nasty experience!!

k f farrell says:
5 December 2016

took a contract out with carphone warehouse 23/11/16 despite numerous emails phone calls 6 visits to branch informed[email] today 5/12/16 there is a technical issue needless to i have cancelled the contract if past history is anything to go by i keep my fingers crossed


Can you recommend a shop that actually has phones that turn on. Most of them just show you a dead machine so there is no way to check the functionality except buy the phone (hundred of pounds over the life of a smartphone contract).