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Wirefly — the good, the bad, and the ugly

TelephoneWhen I received a ReviewMe request from Wirefly last week it really got me thinking. I used to scorch websites ordering a review on ProBargainHunter in the past but this time it is different.

Contrast to some, I am a believer that bad publicity is not something businesses usually make money from, and this is exactly why I am writing this review.

Please accept it as my sincere unbiased opinion and feel free to add your own comments below. But please be constructive. A Wirefly representative will likely come to check on it and I want them to learn something useful from what they find.

The good

Wirefly online store is similar to other websites selling phones online. You can shop by carrier, phone, or service plan. This part of the website is very easy to use. I entered my postal zip code and the list that came back had every carrier I have ever heard of.

The plans are priced at the rates typical to what you will see if you go directly to the service provider. It is the phones where you will find the best deals ever. From my personal bargain hunting experience, Wirefly is one of the names that pops up more often than anything else as far as deals on cell phones are concerned.

In addition to phones Wirefly offers a huge selection of cell phone accessories which you can choose by the phone brand or the carrier.

And finally, they offer a separate section of the website for you, ring-tone junkies. $10 a month will buy you enough credits to annoy excite all your friends with a new collection of 10 regular or 3 music ring-tones every month.

The bad

Wirefly offers great deals on the phones however this is one of the cases when the saying “you get what you pay for” fits perfectly well. I have heard complaints about Wirefly before, and a quick visit to several websites that rank resellers has confirmed my expectations. Here is the roundup:

  • Yahoo Shopping gives 2.5 out of 5 points based on 218 reviews
  • ResellerRatings gives 6.58 out of 10 points based on 92 reviews
  • BizRate reports 77% positive, 4% neutral, and 19% negative reviews
  • Epinions gives 3.5 out of 5 points

The feedback that people leave is ranging from “Everything met my expectations.” to “Avoid this company like the plague!!!”. Looking at particular complaints, the majority is customer support related. To save on costs, Wirefly outsources support calls to a call center in India and the reviewers describe the service they receive as “horrible”, “incompetent” and “abysmal”.

The ugly

It is not the great deals what Wirefly is famous for at the bargain forums I frequent. If anyone posts a cell phone deal from Wirefly that requires a mail in rebate, the first comment is usually “forget it, you will never see your rebate”. But don’t take my word for it. Search for Wirefly Rebate Problems on Google and see it for yourself.

Notably the most interesting Google search result comes from Wirefly itself as their official response to Attorney General for the District of Columbia concerning a consumer protection lawsuit related to the use of mail-in rebates.

The final statement in that letter sounds very promising: “Wirefly is proud of its commitment to customer service and will continue to work hard to serve our customers.” I hope the money Wirefly spent on this review is not wasted and it will help them set their priorities as to how exactly the business can be improved.

This post is sponsored by Wirefly via ReviewMe


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24 Responses to “Wirefly — the good, the bad, and the ugly”


  1. 1 Wallet Rehab - Ways to save money Apr 25th, 2007 at 6:54 am

    Wow, great review. One thing though, the noun is spelled “complaint” with a “t.” The verb is “to complain.”

  2. 2 Markdown Monkey Apr 25th, 2007 at 7:31 am

    Hi Yan, I’ve been impressed with your transparency about which reviews on your website have been paid for. I’m also good to see that a positive review can’t be “bought” from you.

    IMHO, Wirefly is just fine if you know what you want and avoid deals that involve rebates.

    I’ve struggled with whether or not to endorse Wirefly in the past. I posted one or two deals from them on my website, but then decided to hold back to see if their reputation improves. Here’s my dilemma: say I post a link to a BlackBerry 7290 & Bluetooth Headset for free with service contract. That’s a good deal with no rebate hassles. But, what if my visitor gets to the Wirefly site and decides the BlackBerry Pearl that’s FREE AFTER REBATE sounds better? If this visitor never heard of Wirefly before, and they trust me to steer them to the good deals, then I just violated their trust.

    It’s also important to note that Buy.com sells cell phones and contracts through Wirefly, and Radio Shack’s cell phone page looks conspicuously like Wirefly’s.

  3. 3 Yan Apr 25th, 2007 at 12:36 pm

    Wallet Rehab:

    Thanks for the heads up. I fixed the typo.

    Markdown Monkey:

    I understand your concern and… I really don’t have a solution for it. It is a tricky situation.

    Here is an interesting reading from MSN Money explaining the mechanics of mail-in rebate from a business perspective, as well as giving some useful consumer tips: Don’t get ripped off by a rebate ‘deal’

  4. 4 Alex Apr 25th, 2007 at 2:24 pm

    Nice image Yan ;)
    I wonder if that phone is actually working…

  5. 5 Yan Apr 25th, 2007 at 2:47 pm

    The image there is a special for my Russian readers. ;-)

    I am going for a trip to Ukraine next June and it is all I can think of right now. :-)

  6. 6 Inphonic Investor Apr 26th, 2007 at 7:07 am

    Yan, I own stock in this company which is why I subscribe to google alerts about them and saw this post today. This looks like a terrific blog and I agree your review is extremely fair.

    For what it’s worth I thought I’d clear a few things up. First of all, the fact that the wireless sections of buy.com and radioshack.com look like the same company shouldn’t be “suspicious.” There’s nothing hidden here. Wire Fly is owned by Inphonic, which basically owns the online cell phone category. Their main business is running everybody else’s cell phone stores (they literally run thousands of them). So you’re buying from them whether you order from bestbuy.com, radioshack.com, buy.com, overstock.com, motorola.com, samsung.com, blackberry.com, lg.com, or just about any other site that comes up when you search for cellphones on google.

    The reason everybody uses this company is because activating wireless phones is an extremely complicated business, and for better or worse they do it better than anybody. That’s why I bought the stock. Nobody else does what they do (a good criterion for investing in any company, by the way).

    Speaking as a customer, I have ordered from them twice and had a great experience both times. But I have good credit. More than 50% of the orders they get are rejected by the carrier because of credit history or bad information in the application, and this company has to then try to get ahold of the customer to fix things so that the phone can be shipped, then they become a middleman, trying to work things out between the carrier and the customer. I would bet that the negative reviews are from people who fall into these categories. People don’t understand this when they place an order and I’m sure that’s why the reviews are so all over the place.

    As for rebates, they took a big hit in 2005 over their mismanagement of rebates. If you listen to their investor calls (again, they are a public company so all of this is public) they’ve discussed this extensively. As the story goes, they outsourced rebate processing to a third party that screwed things up and in switching vendors they created backlogs and lost rebates and couldn’t quickly respond to inquiries from customers and all kinds of mess that led to them switching back to their previous vendor and it was basically mismanaged and a PR disaster that took a year to unwind. They got sued and ended up settling with the attorney general. But this was all for stuff that happened in 2005 and before. Listening to their investor calls, I for one believe with all the scrutiny placed on their rebates that they have to be squeaky clean now.

    Anyway, I read so much about this company and usually there’s no forum for response, so I appreciate being able to share another point of view.

  7. 7 Markdown Monkey Apr 26th, 2007 at 7:43 am

    Inphonic Investor – Great post.

    I have to agree with you that it appears Wirefly wants to get past the bad rebate reputation. Unfortunately, bad news travels faster and farther than good news. It may still take some time before that reputation changes.

    Regarding the “suspicious” comment. I assume you are referring to my post where I used the word “conspicuously.” I was using that word to mean “obviously” or “noticeably,” not “suspiciously.” I am incredibly impressed with Wirefly’s web interface and what must be going on “under the hood.” Any online reseller would have to think long and hard about why they would want to build their own cell phone shopping cart when they could partner with Wirefly instead.

  8. 8 Yan Apr 26th, 2007 at 12:39 pm

    Inphonic Investor:

    Thanks for your great insight. Bad reputation is very hard to fix. It is in human nature to open up more easily when you get burned by bad service than to advocate good service. I noticed exactly this pattern when I was reviewed ResellerRatings. Companies who didn’t solicit customer feedback via RR premium program tended to get very low rank since people would only go to RR to complain, but never to praise.

    Looking at the same RR ratings, Wirefly rank over the last 6 months is significantly higher than the overall lifetime rank (6.58 vs. 4.17). I hope this is not just a coincidence.

    Many readers of this blog are people who maintain deals/coupons sites and they might as well be hesitating about listing affiliate offers from Wirefly. It is in everyone’s interest to see Wirefly customer support & rebate processing improve. It is a triple win for customers, affiliates and Wirefly employees & investors.

  9. 9 Franz Apr 27th, 2007 at 7:07 pm

    I bought my Blackberry from them in ‘05. What a horrible company. The first sign I got that something was seriously wrong was that the area code of the phone number they assigned me wasn’t even in my state!

    Tried calling them, couldn’t get through. Called T-Mobile, who told me this place was a mess and offered to port my old number. A couple months later Wirefly called and had a fit, said they were charging me $250.00 and were very rude about it. I told them feel free, I’d be disputing it, they said they had a contract with me.

    So I filled out a form with my credit card company (which immediately suspends the charge), never heard another thing about it. Apparantly the $250 was some kind of scam.

    I’m surprised there hasn’t been some kind of class action lawsuit against them, they are asking for it.

  10. 10 haha May 30th, 2007 at 11:53 am

    They didn’t end up coming after you for the $250 you owed them? It says very clearly in their terms of service that any changes you make to your service (including your phone number, duh) can result in their trying to collect back their original discount subsidy. This is discussed ad nauseum all over the internet. I LIke how people tend to cry “scam” whenever they don’t like something or they didn’t read the rules. But I guess the trick is simply to enlist the help of your credit card company. suckers. LOL

  11. 11 Michael Jul 1st, 2007 at 3:57 pm

    Wirefly does offer several deals for phones that don’t require a mail in rebate. That have several deals that offer instant discounts and customers pay nothing up front. Even better they have deals where customers actually make money. I recently reviewed there top deals and there were a few that customers that paid nothing up front to get the phone and they had $70 or $80 in mail-in rebates. It seems like some people have had a bad experience with them, but most have a great experience and get a really good deal on a phone.

  12. 12 Big Boy Sep 12th, 2008 at 9:24 pm

    I went to a kiosk tonight in the mall that said Sprint/Nextel. I talked with the rep. for about 30 min.s and he never disclosed to me that he was working for a third party company called Wirefly. All of what I am hearing sounds suspicious. I was impressed about the price of the phones, but the one I liked has a mail in rebate. Every phone that I looked at had a mail in rebate.

  13. 13 Rob Nov 11th, 2008 at 12:40 am

    I have a simple question about a deal my wife is looking at through WireFly.. if the phone is free (with rebates) and the service plans cost the same as the carrier how the heck does WireFly make money?? It is very suspicious not to know how a business makes money.

    I guess I can surmise that AT&T for example provides phone services at a reduced rate to WireFly so they make money there. Is it as simple as that?

  14. 14 Yan Nov 11th, 2008 at 1:23 am

    Rob, I would think the carrier pays WireFly commission for each customer they bring to them

  15. 15 Mike Apr 10th, 2009 at 5:37 pm

    Yan,

    I know it’s two years later, but I’m looking to use Wirefly to upgrade. I’m already an AT&T subscriber. I don’t mind extending my agreement by two years. Do I just need to select my current plan and enter my current At&T phone number to “port” to the new phone to just keep going as I was with a new phone?

  16. 16 Tired Shopper Apr 10th, 2009 at 11:18 pm

    Mike, that’s it.

  17. 17 Jonelle Apr 21st, 2009 at 10:44 am

    I have always used WireFly with Sprint being my carrier – I have always received my rebates and never had an issue until yesterday. We ordered the Motorola Q (until the Blackberry Curves came back) and there was an issue with my husbands phone – they said it couldn’t be upgraded until 2010 – and instead of calling me to tell me about the issue they shipped the one phone and I told them that I do not want just one phone and that I want a refund of my shipping cost. The rep whom I was chatting with Bosco – told me that shipping is non-refundable. I told them that I will not do business with them in the future. But except for this experience and not being able to actually CALL someone – they are pretty good!

  18. 18 Ripped off - twice May 6th, 2009 at 11:03 am

    I don’t trust WireFly / Inphonic further then I could push them over a cliff.

    I am one of those ripped off customers ($500) in rebates that never came.. THEN, I was on the law suit and told I would be getting my money, and THEN, Inphonic used the law to get out of even that. In the end NOBODY got their money except the executives of Infonic. Nobody went to jail, Wirefly is still in business, and still jerks people around with messed up orders and rebates. Nothing has changed, except now Wirefly knows ahead of time how to get around the law suit thing.

    Buyer Beware – - if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. And a FREE $600 phone is too good to be true!

    Today, I take my chances with EBay and move my SIM Card. less risk and less hassle!

  19. 19 Anon May 15th, 2009 at 2:28 am

    Thanks for all the tips everyone. My Att contract ended a few months back and I am going month to month with them, so I thought I would use Wirefly to get a good deal on a free phone. Well, all the best deals are only for NEW customers, people like myself out of contract and going month by month are considered “Upgrades” and we get a lousy selection of free phones, while the new contract people get the best ones. So I called Wirefly to ask them about this, and suddenly, after waiting about 20 minutes for my call to be answered, I was in an Indian version of the Twilight Zone, except nobody gave me any yummy curry to munch on. I could literally hear the Bollywood music as I tried in vain to get my questions answered by a thick accented indian person -bless their hearts for having to do this crappy work and mine for putting up with it. After spending countless minutes not really getting a straight answer, and not even getting to do one of those funky Bollywood musical dance numbers, I just told the rep “thanks” and hung up. It was only when I called another carrier and asked them about this did they tell me the commissions for new contracts are much better than for “upgrades”, so that would explain my bad phone selection.

    Another thing that really annoyed me about Wirefly is that while yes, you may be getting a great free phone, when your checking out, they usually require you to sign up for some messaging/internet bundle for an added expense for a minimum of 6 months -just add these fees up and there goes any true savings you might have had with that free phone. Not to mention they usually do not list all the cheapest plans offered by a carrier, therefore you might end up having to choose a bigger plan than you need. More things to NOT make me want to use their service.

    Thanks to everyone for reporting the rebate problem, not that I would pay for a new phone anyway, because quite frankly these companies are making boatloads of money off us so there should be no reason why we should pay them for these cheaply made phones.

  20. 20 curious and desperate Jun 14th, 2009 at 2:56 pm

    Okay, here’s my deal. I am currently with Alltel and have been since like 2001 or something. I’ve added two phones to my plan over the years. I currently have a Motorola Razr. It’s on the fritz and will probably not be working at all soon. The soonest any of the phones on my plan will be due for an upgrade will be in late August. I’ve begged Alltel reps to give me an early upgrade but they refuse. I CANNOT make myself pay the ridiculously high price of a new phone without upgrade discounts. I stumbled across Wirefly today and started to key in all of my information. Found a good deal on a phone and I was just too nervous to go ahead and place the order! If I order the phone through Wirefly and I am not due for an upgrade through Alltel yet, will they come back and charge me the full price of the phone later??? How does a contract extension work through Wirefly if you are not due for an upgrade through Alltel yet? If there is someone out there who can tell me how this all works, it would be greatly appreciated!

  21. 21 Advising Jul 19th, 2010 at 9:05 am

    Okay, I am using wirefly now, and I have to say I was skeptical at first. It does sound too good to be true. But, after using them, and using their new communication tools (internet chat connection seems to help with the communication issues) I am sold. They have even contacted me twice to make sure that I was aware of some info i needed to send verizon to be approved. The rep also ensured verizon would not be charging me for activation fees because of the misunderstanding (which took a whopping 15 minutes to resolve). I checked with verizon and they sang the same tune… It would seem that Wirefly has cleaned up their act!

  22. 22 New Kid on the block Jun 14th, 2011 at 1:18 pm

    I used wirefly, and the service was fine, I got my phone no big deal, yes the call service center they use is REALLY hard to deal with, and probably took me about an hour longer to order my phone than talking with a native English speaker. But I got my phone an it worked great, better in fact, than the phone I got to replace my fine working phone(volume button just stopped working in the down direction) from verizon its self.
    However, here is my complaint against them: My 2 year old son fell into the pool on sunday(he was on the steps walking around and decided this was the time to dive in) so I jumped in to get him(not all movie like taking off the extra close and making sure nothing was in my pockets)(he was fine btw was only under for about 2 seconds) but in the process the phone got its water damage, i did all the stuff I was told to fix the phone put it in a bag of rice, no batter and what not. Well I turned it on and now its stuck at the bootloader screen. So I contact verizon about it, since I purchased the insurance through wirefly when purchasing my phone, to which verizon says that I refused insurance on my phone. I am like “what have I been paying for?”, I was informed that it was probably through the company that sold me my phone so I contact them, and they say that they don’t cover water insurance, even though I was told over the phone that the insurance covers theft and all damage, ALL being the keyword there, thus why I bought it. The “insurance” company tells me that it says on the site they don’t cover it. So I am screwed now, unless I wanna drop roughly 400 bucks to get a new phone. I called verizon, and had I had their insurance it would have covered water damage also.
    All this being said I understand the point of a business is to make money, but should they be doing that by trickery? If I were allowed to accept verizon’s coverage I would have been okay, but because I was actually lied to over the phone(and again in my talk with the insurance company before I said anything about water damage they told me it covers theft and damage. Not that it covers theft and damage*.) and told me it covered ALL damage I am phoneless for however long till I can upgrade.

  23. 23 Fishmonger Jun 21st, 2011 at 8:11 am

    Here’s the truth: ALL insurance is trickery. The Verizon-branded insurance is from a company called Asurion. They charge significantly more than you’d pay for third-party insurance. It covers just about everything including water damage, BUT there is a $90 deductible for each claim, and they provide you with a refurbished phone when you make a claim. So over the typical two year life of a phone, if you have a single claim, you’ve paid them over $250, which is more than the cost of a refurbished phone.

    By contrast, the insurance that Wirefly offers is significantly cheaper ($50 to $70 a year depending on what phone you get), with NO deductible per claim, and new phones for replacement. All those things are great, but the policy covers theft and loss but not water damage.

    When you purchase from Wirefly, you can choose to either buy the insurance Wirefly offers, or call Verizon and take the Verizon-branded insurance that’s billed to your monthly phone bill. Wirefly doesn’t force you to take their lower-priced insurance. It was wrong for the Verizon employee to badmouth their own authorized dealer (but that’s pretty typical because Verizon store employees resent the fact that they are required to rip people off by charging hundreds more than their own authorized dealers do).

    I’m not trying to defend either Wirefly or Verizon. I don’t work for either company. I just think you need to know the truth about these programs. For me, I wouldn’t take any insurance at all unless for example I was giving the phone to a teenager who was known to be irresponsible and very likely to lose it. I’m sorry you damaged your phone but am happy you saved your kid! If you get stuck, then the best route is to buy a replacement phone on eBay.

  24. 24 unknowed May 30th, 2012 at 2:25 pm

    this company Firefly,is not fair at all I returned the phone that i had received did not use it at all,they billed me anyway i used the tracing number to find it,and firefly did receive it.I called them back with this information they said they never received it they lied. they were ruled terrible service.

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