Buying a new iPhone can be a lot more complicated than you’d think. First, there’s the question of when you should upgrade to a new iPhone. Then, you have to determine which size iPhone you want, or whether you’re willing to forego a few features to get an iPhone that helps you pretend that larger iPhones never existed. And once you’ve sorted out those questions, there’s another issue to tackle: where you should buy that new iPhone.
It turns out that you can figure out the best place to buy an iPhone by determining which of your options is the worst place to buy an iPhone. To do either, you just have to think about your priorities. Are you looking for a deal or just hoping to get the newest iPhone the week it’s released? Do you want to pay for your iPhone in full, or do you want a plan that will enable you to pay for it gradually? Once you’ve figured out your ideal scenario, read on and learn about the worst places to buy a new iPhone for every kind of iPhone shopper.
1. Avoid the Apple Store if you want the best deal
Jacob Davidson and Brad Tuttle report for Money that if you want a deal on that new iPhone, the worst place to buy it is the Apple Store. Retailers and wireless carriers periodically offer discounts and perks, like trade-in and sign-on bonuses, gift cards with your purchase, or other bonuses to attract more iPhone customers. But Apple almost never offers any kind of discount or special deal, which means that if you want to get the most bang for your buck, the Apple Store isn’t the place to go for that brand-new iPhone.
If you’re looking for a good deal, it pays to compare your options. Are the carriers with strong networks in your area offering a cheaper plan than what you currently have if you upgrade to the latest iPhone? Can you get the leasing program you want with some extra perks, perhaps a bill credit, thrown in? If you can’t be bothered to sell your old iPhone on eBay or Craigslist, will a carrier or retailer offer you a great trade-in deal? If you want the best deal, you’re going to need to do your research. But we can virtually guarantee that the best deal will be somewhere other than the Apple Store.
2. Avoid your wireless carrier if you want to purchase your iPhone outright
On the other hand, Harry Guinness reports for Make Use Of that in some cases, it’s better to buy your iPhone from Apple than from your wireless carrier. His reasoning? He wanted to pay for the iPhone in full, without the strings of a contract or a leasing plan attached. Additionally, going straight to Apple to buy a new iPhone outright enables you to get an unlocked iPhone, which means that you can switch carriers or plans anytime or easily (depending on the model) use your iPhone when you travel internationally.
Another good reason to avoid your carrier? If you walk in blindly, you may get talked into a plan that you wouldn’t have chosen had you done your research first. Many carriers have been pushing early upgrade programs that are confusing and really don’t save you as much money as their marketing implies. If you take advantage of subsidized pricing but plan to keep your phone for a few years, you may find yourself being charged the same amount even after you’ve paid off the full price of the phone. And if you really do want a new iPhone every year, you’re probably better off purchasing one outright and financing the purchase, at least in part, with the money you can recoup by selling your old iPhone on eBay.
3. Avoid your wireless carrier even if you want to pay for your iPhone over time
Even if you aren’t planning to pay the entire cost of your iPhone upfront, you should also consider avoiding your wireless carrier when you’re buying a new iPhone. Nate Swanner reports for The Next Web that while carriers have their place, that should be “providing you service — not locking you into a pseudo-contract to pay a phone off.” Avoiding the wireless carrier and going to Apple instead will enable you not only to avoid the poor customer service offered at many of them, since Apple is generally much better at customer service (and handling large volumes of customers who come in looking for the newest iPhone).
If you opt to buy a new iPhone at the Apple Store instead of your wireless carrier, you can still pay for your device in monthly installments through options like Apple’s new iPhone Upgrade Program. (It’s a good way to lease an iPhone if you want a new one every year, though financially, a plan that enables you to pay off your phone and sell it when you want a new one is still a better choice.) Nonetheless, by choosing the Apple Store over your carrier’s store, you’ll just get to sidestep lots of hassles that consumers have come to associate with carriers’ locations, like associates who try to upsell you on accessories, talk you into a pricier plan than you originally wanted, or generally make the iPhone-buying process a lot more time-consuming than it is at the Apple Store.
4. Avoid the Apple Store or a carrier store on launch day if you don’t want to wait in line
As Lauren Hockenson reports for The Next Web, you can end up spending way too long at the Apple Store if you’re hoping to buy a new iPhone on launch day. (Some takeaways from her story: buying an iPhone outright, going to the store with someone authorized on the account, and avoiding switching carriers on an iPhone launch day are all good ideas.) And as Russell Holly reported for Geek.com, carrier stores aren’t any better on the first day a new iPhone is available.
It may be common sense, but it’s worth reminding eager iPhone upgraders: if there’s any way you can avoid the Apple store or your carrier’s store the first weekend of a new iPhone’s availability, steer clear. So what should you do if you want a new iPhone the week it’s released? Your best bet is to preorder online. If something goes awry in the setup, you can always take the phone to your local Apple store or carrier store (perhaps on a less hectic day). But if everything goes smoothly, you can iron out the details of your plan ahead of time and simply have the iPhone show up on your doorstep without wasting hours standing in line.
5. Avoid privately-owned stores or eBay if you want peace of mind
If you want a brand-new iPhone, there’s little reason to turn to eBay or the electronics kiosk in the mall to purchase it. We’re all for using eBay to sell your old iPhone, whether it’s been used gently for a single year or has taken a beating. But it’s way too easy to set yourself up for disappointment if you turn to a private seller, either on eBay or at a privately owned store, to buy a new iPhone. Some iPhones that are listed on eBay are stolen, and some are locked to a specific carrier’s network. While a seller’s previous ratings (or Yelp ratings, in the case of a brick-and-mortar store), can help you gauge his reputation, there are still no guarantees when you buy from a private seller.
If you’re intent on searching for a deal and getting a new (or like-new) iPhone on eBay, the very least you should do is get the device’s IMEI or serial number to check the device’s Activation Lock status. The tool will tell you whether the device is locked or whether it’s ready for you to sign in with a new Apple ID. You can also use the IMEI to check whether the device is locked to a specific carrier, and you can even call your carrier to determine whether the device will be able to be activated on its network. But we wouldn’t recommend buying a pricy gadget like a new iPhone when you won’t be able to hold the seller responsible if something was misrepresented or something goes wrong.