I love the Samsung Galaxy Note I purchased a few weeks ago. It was not an easy product to buy. Despite its general “First Worldness”, there are a whole bunch of things that Singapore has not yet figured out. You cannot use any ATMs in Singapore except for the one that issued your ATM card. Taxis are unavailable in the rain. Customer service is frequently bad. And its not so easy to buy a phone.
My journey to get a new phone started when I saw a couple of colleagues brandishing this new Samsung device. Preposterously large but amazingly beautiful, the geek in me quickly fell in love. One of my colleagues said that my monstrous monthly mobile phone bill (often above S$1000 a month) would entitle me to a free phone or very large rebate on a new device.
I called up my carrier, SingTel. Because I am on EMC’s corporate plan, I could not deal with SingTel directly. They referred me to EMC’s liaison for SingTel. She presented the following offer. If I signed a new 24-month contract, SingTel would sell me the phone at S$400 off the list price of S$1200. Then I learned the rest. The phone’s street price is S$800, so the S$400 dollar discount was worthless. And the contract break fee was S$800! If I broke they contact not only would SingTel get their money back but they would profit an additional S$400.
OK. I was not going to buy this phone from SingTel.
Near my home is a low-rent shopping mall called Lucky Plaza. It is full of shady electronics stores with good prices. I walked into one and the salesman quoted me a price of S$795 for the Galaxy Note. Wow, I’ll take it! But as I reached for my credit card he said, “why would you want that old phone when there is a newer, better Samsung device available?” I was skeptical.
I asked for a few minutes to research his claim using my BlackBerry. The BlackBerry’s horrifically unfriendly browser guaranteed I would need at least 10 minutes to do my research. And while I sat there the “better” phone went from S$900 to S$850 to S$800 to S$750 to, finally, “buy this phone now as S$700 or leave.” I chose to leave.
At this point I really wanted to play with a new toy. And given my two failures so far, I was willing to pay a premium to get the right phone in an untampered box. (The boxes at Lucky Plaza had inexplicably all been opened.) So, I next visited an outlet of SingTel’s competitor in Singapore: M1.
The M1 outlets are designed to make people angry. They always have a 20+ person queue snaking out their entrance in the mall. At the front of the line is a service agent that hands you a number that allows you to wait for a rep’s help. (Why would you wait in a 10-minute line to get a number? Why can you not just grab the number at the entrance?) Because I did not need or want a rep–I just wanted to buy the phone–I walked right to the back.
The woman I talked to refused to help. She said I needed to wait in the front line to get a number. Then I should wait to be called by a rep who would help me complete a contract and then redirect me to the cashier queue, currently seven patrons deep. When I explained that I did not want a contract she said, “you need a contract to buy this phone.” I told her that I did not want M1′s mobile phone service. She said, “with our company you need to fill out a contract to say that you don’t want our service.”
I was pretty pissed off. Everything about this store was designed to anger its customers. And here I was, credit card in hand, willing to pay them a S$200 premium just to hand me the device. By design the store wanted me to wait and by process the company wanted to make this difficult and intrusive.
But that is Singapore service in a nutshell. So many policies do not make sense. And when you ask staff about them they do not see a problem. Locals are so used to these awful policies that they are just resigned that the world should work that way. There is no urgency in service. There is no logic in business. There is only process and rules that no one questions and everyone follows.
Anyway, I finally bought my phone from one of the electronics megamalls called Funan DigitaLife Mall. The first store I walked into had my Samsung on display for S$850. When I asked him if he would give me a discount he said, “sir, we don’t work that way.” You’re my man! I thought. I bought the phone on the spot.