Is Microsoft Trying to Turn Mobile Phone Shopping into a Carnival Game?

In last nights’ debunking of the ridiculous shop local business, one of my gripes was that far too often retail sales people think the point is to convince, cajole and/or trick you into buying what they want to sell, as opposed to helping you find what you want to buy.

Today comes a mind-boggling- at least to me- related development.

Microsoft is allegedly thinking about paying retail sales people a bounty on each Windows 7 phone they sell:

According to Paul Thurrott, Microsoft has put together a $200MM war chest of cash to help promote Windows Phone 7, and is willing to pay store staff between $10 and $15 bounty for each Windows Phone 7 handset they sell, depending on how many units each person sells.


Maybe this sort of thing happens all the time (which is a position taken by some commenters in the Cult of Mac post linked above).  Maybe the hidden agenda is everywhere.  Maybe every retail store is a just a  giant carnival with con artists barking out snake oil offers to unsuspecting marks.  But, damn, I hope not.  Whether this is happening everywhere or just in the case of struggling smart phones manufactured by companies with lots of cash to burn, it stinks.

It completely invalidates the entire concept of the in-store recommendation, at least from the customer’s point of view.

There is simply no way you can compensate someone for making a specific decision and expect that person to be unbiased.  Even if you’re the most honest person in the mall (the whole wide mall), your recommendations will be impacted by a bounty.  Your level of honestly only affects the degree of the resulting bias.  Shoot, if someone recommends a Windows 7 phone because he thinks it is the best handset on the market, even that recommendation is tainted by the bounty.

Let me put it this way.  If this sort of thing is truly widespread, then shoppers need to treat retail stores with the same skepticism they treat carnival games.  It may look like a simple game of shooting a ball through the hoop to win a giant teddy bear for your girl, but the hoop, the ball and the entire setup is designed to put you at a disguised disadvantage.

At a bare minimum, sales people should have to disclose up front that they will get a bounty if you choose a certain item over another one.  Even that is wrong.  But at least then you’d know to stop wasting your time in search of an unbiased recommendation.

Rather than try to circumvent the buying process, why doesn’t Microsoft give a bunch of phones to sales people, so they can see for themselves how good they are?  Maybe come up with a better advertising campaign (I’m sure there are Windows 7 phone ads, but I can’t remember seeing any of them).  Win the game on the field, so to speak.  The craziest thing is that, by most accounts, Windows 7 phones are very well designed.  As a committed iPhone user,  nothing would make me happier than some competition to keep Apple on its game.  Someone needs to take up the role of contender, with the demise of the Blackberry.  In fact, it seems to me that Windows 7 phones could take a huge bite out of Blackberry’s market share based on Microsoft’s Enterprise penetration alone.

I wonder how the owners of these stores will react to this?  Will they stop this madness in its tracks?  Will they require disclosure?  Will they demand a cut?  Are the hardware manufacturers buying their cooperation by subsidizing salaries?  What a confusing web of cross-purposes.

At the end of the day, it’s just one more reason to shop online.  One more problem for bricks and mortar stores to deal with, which is the last thing they need.  Whether they know it or not.

One thought on “Is Microsoft Trying to Turn Mobile Phone Shopping into a Carnival Game?

  1. I caught a bit of this in a sleepy daze this morning from Paul while watching Windows Weekly podcast recording on 

    What is obvious is that while the WinMobile phones are good and have a unique interface, it’s obviously not enough to differentiate them amongst the hoard of other phones made by the Samsung/HTCs of this world.

    Like you say… make the phone better, market it better and give it that uniqueness in the customer mindset and under the counter handouts at sale time wouldn’t be necessary.

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