It seems the end may indeed be nigh for AT&T's status as the exclusive provider of the iPhone. Bloomberg reports that the wireless retailer has begun increasing shipments of other smartphones and has begun to retrain staff to emphasize sales of other devices over the iPhone. So far the plan seems to be working, as AT&T has managed to sway roughly half the customers interested in an iPhone over to other devices.
“AT&T clearly has tried to diversify themselves away from the iPhone, and that’s probably the right strategy since they’ve relied so heavily on the iPhone these past few years,” said Stifel Nicolaus & Co. analyst Chris King. “This handset strategy could shelter them from some customer losses.”
Current rumors suggest that Verizon will begin selling the iPhone in January, making this the last holiday season in which AT&T can rely on Apple's smartphone to bolster sales. Still, it looks like under the current strategy AT&T is already trying to diversify customer interested and lead consumers toward Blackberry, Windows or other phones.
For their part, AT&T is denying that they're planning for life after the iPhone, but rather are trying to provide consumers with the most comprehensive information and best available selection for their smartphone needs.
“We made a conscious decision to give our customers a choice and let them decide what is best for them,” said AT&T devices senior vice president Jeff Bradley. “We’re probably there now, at a critical mass."
Complimenting this new strategy is a new training program for employees which will teach them the finer points of each smartphone the carrier stocks, rather than only the virtues of the iPhone. Stores are also being rearranged to de-emphasize Apple's phone and shine a spotlight on other models. After years of trying to steer every smartphone customer to one specific device, this is a major change as the retailer looks to encourage sales of multiple brands.
Though the strategy is a sound one it's strange to see AT&T seemingly concede defeat to Verizon before the competitor even begins to offer the iPhone. While Verizon may indeed offer better pricing or service, it's not like no one will ever come to AT&T wanting to buy an iPhone again, so why try and steer them away? It will be interesting to see what Verizon has to offer when they begin carrying the product, because if they can truly offer a better experience then they may become the de facto exclusive carrier. We can only wait and see how it all pans out.