Failure to Launch: iPhone has a Tough Opening Day in Canada

By Daniel Smith 

I’ve spent most of the day today running around Ottawa and visiting as many Rogers and Fido resellers as possible to get a handle on how well the 3G iPhone launch is going.

The Verdict? 

Well, for the most part, it isn’t going at all.

First of all, let’s talk stock.

From all indications, my assertion one week ago that Rogers stock of phones was depleted was corroborated multiple times by reps who admitted they had originally been expecting many times more units than they received for today’s launch. 

Most locations said they were expecting 100 or more units at first, but on they received on average (of those who would tell me how many they had) just 6-15. 

Secondly, my suggestion yesterday that Rogers was likely diverting the bulk of its iPhones to the special corporate “launch party” locations also seems to have proven true, as many stores today were actively pointing customers in the direction of these central corporate stores saying “They have 10 times as many as we do.”

And I can understand why they would want to send customers away: Many stores couldn’t sell the iPhones today if they wanted to since the Rogers account database (SalesCentral) was down for most of the morning, crushed under the weight of so many simultaneous activations. (Something Rogers isn’t used to, perhaps?)

Every single store I visited today had the same story: They were able to activate a few lucky customers who were at the front of the lines this morning, but soon after, the database started crashing erratically. Every rep I spoke to had a tale or two about customers who showed up at 9:30 or 10am and didn’t leave with their iPhone until noon or later. 

In essence, to describe his launch as anything but chaotic would be a stretch.

Customers lined up for hours at certain non-corporate locations, only to be told upon entering that no iPhones would be sold as upgrades for existing clients. (Nothing like customer appreciation.)

Others waited in line only to find out that they could not purchase an iPhone either because they were on a family plan or a corporate coded account. 

Employees cursed under their breath as they repeatedly tried to log in to the customer database. Said one rep: “I keep trying to call the backup 1-800 number to activate manually, and they just keep hanging up on me!”

And while most stores eventually sold their limited stock to the most patient of consumers, one store that had received 15 units only sold 8 today because it took so long to activate them between system crashes that everyone else who had waited in line walked out and left sans iPhone.

The frustration was evident in the eyes and vocal tone of nearly every employee I spoke with today. It’s no wonder: they had been thrown to the dogs and there was little they could do about it.

One Rogers employee spoke with me candidly and his sentiments sum up today’s general atmosphere quite well:

Our systems have been down all day. Estimates are we might be back up tomorrow. Maybe not. I am swimming to find another job on short notice so I can quit. I have never been so angry in my life.  This is the biggest cluster#$%^ I’ve ever been a part of and I hope Rogers gets absolutely crucified in the media for this. 

Well, crucifixion may be a little harsh, but it sure would be interesting to see them tell it like it is for once.

Rogers isn’t the only one running into issues with this launch (for Apple’s part, the worldwide iTunes sites required for activations has been very unstable all day as well), but somehow I’m just not surprised that they seem to be handling it the worst. 

Frankly, everything that possibly could have gone wrong here (short of not having any stock at all) has gone wrong and it looks like those who decided to stay home were right.

So to all the employees who have dealt with enraged customers all day long and to all the eager early adopters who have only adopted migraines, head on over to your nearest 7/11 because at least it’s Free Slurpee Day. Go on, you deserve it.

Daniel Smith is a blogger, entrepreneur and writer.  You can read more of his insights at his blog, Smithereens.