Cricket Communications Prepaid Broadband Confusion
(Orange County, CA)
This week (July 12, 2011), Cricket announced that it's increasing its prepaid broadband pricing by $5 for each of its plans. Along with the price increase, however, they are also adding nationwide data coverage on Sprint's native network.
That in and of itself is not really a big deal in terms of being upset over the price increase. The pricing is still decent, particularly given that you now get nationwide coverage. And no more limited "unlimited" plans being marketed. Up until this point, if you left a Cricket market, you wouldn't get any coverage at all, which made counting on it for any type of travel that has variety in its destination essentially unreliable. Having to become intimately familiar with their coverage map, or checking before traveling really isn't something most people have the patience to do.
It's also understandable that with the increased coverage using the Sprint network comes increased costs, and the $5 price increase is obviously meant to help keep the program profitable.
Now here's where the confusion/absurdity comes into play. If you buy their prepaid broadband service online or in a Cricket store or affiliated dealer, you'll get these new prices and new coverage. However, if you go to a retail store (ex. Best Buy, Walmart, Radio Shack), the $5 price increase doesn't apply, NOR does the nationwide coverage apply.
In other words, depending on where you buy their prepaid broadband product, the price and coverage is different. Do customers understand this? Personally, I doubt it. Lets consider that you're shopping around for a prepaid wireless broadband product online. You find that you like Cricket's offering. You then see it at a Best Best the following week, or seek out a local retailer where you can buy it. You might even notice that it's $5 less than what you saw online (you think, great!). You then buy it and go to your relatives' for the weekend or holiday and find that it doesn't work. But you thought it was nationwide?! Yes, it's nationwide if you had purchased it in a different store!
Am I the only one who thinks this is absolutely ridiculous? With almost a decade of experience in prepaid wireless, I can assure you that the "same brand, with different pricing in different locations" is a very
poor strategy that has failed time and time again.
I understand the desire to manage costs, which can change dramatically when you don't have a native nationwide network, and need to consider roaming costs (i.e. data roaming on Sprint), however, this is not a wise approach.
You'll also note that Cricket offers a $30 broadband plan that is ONLY available in Walmart. Prepaid wireless carriers need to stop retailers from thinking that they own the customer and can control the brand and offerings. Retailers are a point of distribution, period.
If I see a product that I like where a monthly plan is attached to it, I should be able to get the same offer anywhere I can buy it. Specific retailers can offer upfront discounts on hardware, or even one-time bonuses or credits, but having a fundamentally different plan offering is confusing to customers. That type of difference warrants a different brand, whether it's a different Walmart brand, or a different carrier brand (ex. TracFone launched Straight Talk as a completely different unlimited brand in Walmart stores).
To add to the confusion, customers really have no easy way to educate ourselves on these nuances. There's nothing to be found on Cricket's website to describe the existence, let alone the difference, between it's "normal" Broadband plan vs. it's retail "Broadband Mass Merchant" program. To figure this out you'd have to study their online offerings and compare them to their retail offerings, or talk to a knowledgeable store employee.
Part of the spirit of this site is to help bring to light and clarify these types of complexities. However, unfortunately, not everyone finds their way here to learn about these things.
A message to prepaid carriers...if I dare to be so bold ;-)....please, please, build your business, your products, and your services with simplicity in mind. The more complex you make things, the greater the detrimental impact will be on the customer experience, as well as materially higher operational costs to support that complexity. i.e. It's a lose-lose situation when products and services are over-engineered, or you try to out-think yourselves. Believe you me, this is a true statement!
I hope this is helpful to visitors to the site. I felt compelled to describe these nuances, as well as to do a little bit of venting.