The Underground: T-Mobile’s mixed message

Jun 9, 2014
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The Underground: T-Mobile’s mixed message

In case you missed it, T-Mobile opened up The Underground recently. The site is dedicated to limited edition devices we wouldn’t normally get to see or purchase,almost an exclusive club full of chic devices. After poking around for a while, we must say — this is not the T-Mobile we’ve come to love.


The first “limited” phone they’ve launched is a gold Samsung Galaxy S5, which is notably sold at full retail value. That’s a different method from other carriers, who like to mask the retail price with monthly subsidy costs. T-Mobile still offers to let you pay for the gold S5 monthly, but makes no bones about the full device cost.

T-Mobile has held themselves out to be a carrier for the everyman. They’re on our side, they want to break free from the snobbery found at other carriers. That approach is admirable, and widely successful — but The Underground isn’t what we need, and a gold S5 isn’t what we want.

Everything in The Underground has a higher ticket price, with wearables like the Gear 2 (also in gold, if you dare) and UP24 by Jawbone holding court. We’ll pick on the Gear 2, here, noting that its higher price tag doesn’t mean it’s a “performance centric” wearable, which is what T-Mobile would have you believe by its inclusion in The Underground.

What T-Mobile has really done is created a posh marketplace for devices their customers may not necessarily respond to. The prepaid champion, who wants to save you a few bucks, also wants you to return it to them via spendy mobile devices. A gold GS5 isn’t “performance” anything — it’s just a new color. Their order form also doesn’t suggest it’s in any way limited or exclusive, which is what The Underground is about. AT&T has the gold S5 as well.

In fact, none of the device in this special T-Mobile marketplace are exclusive, or otherwise special. They all reside elsewhere in addition to The Underground, and none have any differentiating factor that makes them unique to this online store.

Had T-Mobile taken The Underground and made it a marketplace for “expiring” handsets, they’d likely do much more business, garner a lot more interest, and have more customers coming to them. Rather than offer the Galaxy S5 in gold, a T-Mobile customer would likely want a Moto X. That Xperia Z1 that’s about to be dated (but still great)? Sell me that for a deeper discount rather than a gold -- well, a gold anything. Yuck.

While T-Mobile is still a champion of the people, they’ve had a rare misstep with The Underground. Exclusivity isn’t their wheelhouse, and they should just pivot right out of it before they alienate potential (or existing) fans.


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