AT&T’s paint job on confusing pricing

attstoreIn AT&T Ridding Some Retail Stores of Cash Register, Counters and Other Clutter, John McDermott of AdAge explains how the company is making its stores “warmer” to improve the “shopping experience” there. Which is all fine, as far as it goes.

Where it doesn’t go is toward fixing AT&T’s pricing. I explain that in a comment under the piece, which I’ll format in a “warmer” way here:

Nice as these showrooms may be, they are still just a paint job on the complicated shell game called “plans.” Right now AT&T is pushing “mobile share” plans, which are confusing in the extreme, and pointless if you’re single. Then you’re here with individual plans, or here if you’re new and solo.

Look closely at the small print. You can pay $30/mo for 3Gb of data or $50 for 5Gb. The overage charge for both is $10 per Gb. So you’re a sucker if you go with the 5Gb plan, and you use only 3 or 4 Gb. I mean, buy the 3Gb and you’ll also pay 50 if you use 5Gb. Confused? Sure. That’s the idea. AT&T, like Verizon and most other mobile carriers, is a confusopolist. See Dilbert for the definition.

AT&T runs these shell games to confuse the customer. Here’s how your mileage may vary::: If you have an iPhone, go to Settings/General/Usage/Cellular usage. See how much Cellular Network Data you’ve used since the Last Reset. Even if you’re a heavy data user, I’m betting it’s way less than 3Gb/mo, which would mean you’re overpaying. But if you want to save by paying for a lower level, there’s only one: $14.99 for 250Mb, or 1/4 of a Gb. The overage charge at that level is $14.99 per 250 MB. That means you pay 4¢ less than $60 per Gb.

Now, how many of us actually look at what we use? And what is the first cost of a bit in any case? (Operations have costs; bits cost ~$0.)

Back when I consulted BT in the UK, an executive there told me the core competence of phone companies was not telephony or communications, but billing. Or, you might say, bilking. Fortunately for the marketplace, Sprint has ceased being a confusopolist and offers unlimited data. If AT&T is truly serious about being good to customers, it should do the same.

Reasonable customers don’t just want a “better shopping experience.” They want a best possible service experience, especially from companies that bill them every month. They also don’t begrudge any business from making money. In fact there are plenty of studies — as well as ample experience in the world — suggesting that people will gladly pay more for better service and human-to-human engagement. For example: Apple stores.

Here’s hoping that AT&T’s new changes are deeper than the paint job they appear to be so far.

Bonus linkage from The Wall Street Journal.