Harvard Square Verizon Store

I popped into the Harvard Square Verizon store today and got a glimpse of the American worker’s interaction with ever more advanced technology.

  • Customer: “Is the iPhone 4G?”
  • VZ Employee: “Yes.”

[ iPhones run on the obsolete 3G network, not the current 4G LTE system; note that in July, 34 percent of existing iPhone customers thought that they already had 4G.]

  • Customer: “I want to return this prepaid smartphone because the sales guy said it was 3G but the data is really slow and the phone says ‘1X’ at the top” [1X stands for 1xRTT, a slow and ancient standard]
  • Omar, VZ Employee: “All of our phones are 3G. This is definitely a 3G phone. We don’t support any older networks.”
  • Jamie Albanese, VZ Store Manager: (standing next to Omar) “This is definitely not a 3G phone. Who told you that the prepaid phone was 3G? None of my employees would have told you that this phone is 3G.”
  • Customer: “You mean none of your employees aside from Omar, who just now said that it was 3G?”

Curious to know how far up the management chain the ignorance would persist, I called and talked to Kirsten Lyall, another VZ Store Manager. She said “1X is 3G.”

Separately, a friend went into Starbucks and ordered a latte. The employee working the register asked “Do you want milk in that?”

Remember that there are approximately 15 million Americans who are less skilled than these folks.

[The truly sad discovery from this excursion was that the Galaxy Nexus “Google phone” is not yet available.]

Related: my phone call to the T-Mobile store asking whether it was on the north or south side of a major highway


  1. Mark Lutton

    November 27, 2011 @ 11:37 pm


    When the customer asks a question the salesperson has to very quickly think of the answer that will cause the customer to buy the product or at least not put it down and walk out the door.

    Customer: Does this phone have a FreeWheel transmission with Silent Synchro Second?
    Translation: I won’t buy it unless it does.
    Salesperson: Why of course and furthermore only this brand of phone has it.

  2. philg

    November 27, 2011 @ 11:41 pm


    Mark: You raise a good point that I hadn’t considered. Maybe these are amazingly skilled workers, contrary to apperances. They simply answer “Yes” to any question regarding the presence of a feature and thereby sell more! Still, you’d think that returns would be a problem when people got their iPhone home and tried to use it as a 4G hotspot.

  3. Fazal Majid

    November 27, 2011 @ 11:51 pm


    Economists have a term for this, Zero Marginal Productivity, or ZMP.

    That said, even zero marginal productivity is far preferable to massive negative productivity, such as that of politicians, investment bankers, kleptocratic CEOs (or worse yet, egomaniac kleptocratic CEOs), many varieties of bureaucrats, and so on. All these parasites actively harm the economy, as opposed to being a mere drag on it.

  4. Colin Summers

    November 28, 2011 @ 12:11 am


    That is SO unfair to say that about the Starbucks barista. A lot of (crazy) people get their latte drinks made with soy bean juice, which they give some nicer name to sell it to the yuppies. But it is definitely NOT milk. So you can have a latte without milk, and a lot of people do.

  5. philg

    November 28, 2011 @ 12:19 am


    Thanks, Colin. Next time that I am in New Orleans I will go into Cafe Du Monde and demand a cafe au lait with soy bean juice and see how they respond. Perhaps I will order a gluten-free beignet too.

  6. Joshua Levinson

    November 28, 2011 @ 3:23 am


    I wonder if it’s a little too easy to pass this off as the average American worker being stupid / uneducated / lazy.

    It seems more likely that, being minimum wage jobs, the employer (Verizon, in this case) will want to spend as little money as possible training their employees, and as little as possible on employee retention, as possible, knowing that employee turnover is going to be around 200% annually. This would result in employees who are uninformed (as clearly evidenced here), as well as a lack of institutional knowledge at the individual retail outlet level (even the first-level supervisors and managers may not know the right answers, and even if they do, it’s not worth their time to pass that knowledge on).

    Now, granted, the employees could probably go and research this stuff on their own, but they’re probably not even allowed to tell a customer anything that hasn’t been officially sanctioned and passed down from some corporate office.

  7. Tom Welsh

    November 28, 2011 @ 6:42 am


    Colin, your explanation doesn’t work. If (on your hypothesis) the customer had ordered a milk-free “latte”, even a very simple employee would hardly ask if he wanted “milk with that”.

  8. ted

    November 28, 2011 @ 8:56 am


    Colin beat me to it. While I generally agree with your premise, it’s undeniable that a barista has to deal with Starbucks clientele. QED. (half-caf, skinny, soy, double shot, etc.). By your standard, a bartender at the Savoy would be marked ZMP for asking a customer whether he wanted gin with his martini. It’s only because of evolving, ill-informed, or lazy customers that a martini (i.e.–gin+vermouth, etc.) no longer exists (having been replaced by ‘gin martinis’ and ‘vodka martinis’).

  9. AM

    November 28, 2011 @ 1:17 pm


    That’s quite a ludicrous assumption, that all those unemployed are by definition less skilled than all those employed.

    Joshua Levinson made a point I’d have mentioned, that such stores don’t deem it worth their while to properly educate their employees.

    The government has forbidden employers from administering tests to gauge intelligence or other qualities, due to disparate racial impact. See Griggs vs. Duke. So even if they wanted to hire smarter employees, they would run into difficulty.

    I worked in a retail store, where we weren’t paid more than workers at other stores, yet our customer service was much better than average. Having good customer service was mostly a matter of making it a priority. Retail stores have bad employees because the managers just don’t care enough to fire them and hire better ones, or get the right ones in the first place. Independent stores seem to have better employees, because they’re run by a savvy owner who cares about the business, who isn’t use it as a stepping stone to his next post.

  10. Jagadeesh Venugopal

    November 28, 2011 @ 2:10 pm


    is it possible that it was indeed a 3G capable phone with a fallback to 1xRTT so that the VZ employee was partially right? Most of the time, my “3G” Android phone works on the older standard because of the paucity of cell towers where I live.

    As far as employees’ ignorance goes… here’s my take. Would John Q. Public buy a phone that normally retailed for $200, for $225, assuming he got the services of a smart sales associate for 1/2 hour to help him select, try and pick the right one? I think not.

  11. George

    November 28, 2011 @ 2:21 pm


    @philg: Ah, but if someone walks in and ASKS if the iPhone runs on 4G, they likely aren’t a terribly educated consumer to begin with…and the likelihood of them being able to use their phone as a 4G hotspot is slim at best, much less notice that they’re never running on 4G when they use their phone.

  12. DT

    November 28, 2011 @ 5:37 pm


    Mark Lutton – are you saying my iPhone does NOT have a FreeWheel transmission with Silent Synchro Second???

    I’m calling Apple right now!!!

  13. Dan Weber

    November 28, 2011 @ 6:06 pm


    Not on your iPhone you aren’t.

  14. Mark Lutton

    November 29, 2011 @ 3:15 am


    DT: Ask the man who owns one.

  15. Dan Lyke

    November 29, 2011 @ 2:46 pm


    A friend, upon getting back from going to brick and mortar stores last weekend, suggested that lack of online ability and shopping was going to become the new bad credit score.

    Going in to a physical store means you’re going to pay more, be misled by sales staff (either deliberately, or by ignorance), and probably have greater hassles if the product goes wrong. But if you aren’t online (and I don’t want to invoke the “digital divide” thing here because that brings up class issues that I think are generally misrepresented), it’s your only recourse.

    Just like if you haven’t figured out the credit system you may end up in a rent-to-own store, or be continually screwed over by your financial institution, etc.

  16. Stanislav Shalunov

    November 29, 2011 @ 7:41 pm


    Two things about ignorance about mobile standards. I’ve only recently had to learn this stuff myself, but I thought it was worth correcting the basic facts here.

    1. The ancient 1xRTT standard, also known as IMT-MC and CDMA2000, is 3G. See the definitive list of 3G standards: http://www.itu.int/ITU-D/imt-2000/DocumentsIMT2000/What_really_3G.pdf

    The top search result for 1xRTT is the Wikipedia page for CDMA2000. The first line of the article reads: “CDMA2000 (also known as IMT Multi‑Carrier (IMT‑MC)) is a family of 3G mobile technology standards”. The very basic fact that 1xRTT is 3G is really easy to establish.

    While the standard is ancient and very slow compared to anything modern (about 100kb/s, and then this is very iffy in practice, with much more variation in throughput than modern standards), it is 3G, and it is twice faster than the 2G standard from which it is derived.

    In my informal survey of consumers about the meaning of “1x” in the status bar of their Android phones, they mostly said that it means 1G. (” said it’s a 3G phone, but I only get 1G signal on it”.) Now, obviously, 1G didn’t *have* data services. The poor 1xRTT gets no love because of the number.

    2. The iPhone 4S (a 3G HSPA+ device) on AT&T is routinely faster in the San Francisco Bay Area than Verizon 4G LTE phones. We have not conducted tests in Boston, but I’d be surprised if the results were different, given how notoriously congested AT&T is in SF. The advantage of the Verizon network is more predictable coverage, but with uniformly lower peak speeds.

    The iPhone 4S on Verizon is a sorry affair, since it lacks support for LTE and Verizon 3G is very slow. The only rational justifications for anyone to buy a Verizon iPhone is to get coverage in a specific area known to have bad AT&T coverage, or to accept much lower average bitrate on Verizon in exchange for lower standard deviation of bitrate.

    Given the state of the iPhone on Verizon, I’m not surprised if Verizon purposefully misdirected buyers a little to think that the “4” in the phone’s model referred to something else. Otherwise, very few people would rationally buy a Verizon iPhone.

  17. philg

    November 29, 2011 @ 7:51 pm


    Stanislav: Thanks! No wonder the retail store employees are confused about “1X”. I looked at some Web pages and they claim that 1xRTT is really “2.5G” or just 2G (see http://3gstore.com/page/78_what_is_evdo_mobile_broadband.html ) or “3G1x” (see http://www.wisegeek.com/what-is-1xrtt.htm ).

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