Standing in line to buy an iPhone the day it is released is something I’ve done twice, and plan to do again. Buying a second iPhone with the intent to sell it for a profit is something I’ve done once, and plan to never do again.
The plan was simple. Get in line before everyone else, buy an extra iPhone 6 Plus, and sell it for a cushy 50% markup. After all, the odds of finding an iPhone 6 Plus were zero, according to Cult of Mac, which meant that mine would sell instantly if I were lucky enough to get my hands on one. Worst case scenario I could return it. Last year a friend of a friend cleared $3,500 and it was time for me to cash in too.
Here’s what really happened.
Thursday, September 18, 8:55 P.M. My friend and I decided to check out the store ahead of time. We learned that nobody was allowed anywhere on the mall premises until 5:00 AM. Police had already run people off, so there was no chance of camping out. We went home, excited about the next day.
4:00 A.M. My friend called me excitedly, saying it was time to act. Groggily I showered, shaved, drank Soylent, and hopped behind the wheel.
4:45 A.M. While I was still madly pushing through stop lights, a dozen or two customers who had already been near the mall parking lot for an hour were getting antsy.
4:50 A.M. In an coordinated unison from peripheral parking lots, everyone made a frenzy for the mall parking lot. It was chaos. Jeeps were hopping curbs. People were running. The overwhelmed police could do nothing but accommodate. The line had formed, and my friend was ninth in line.
5:00 A.M. By the time I arrived, about 75 people were in line. Those last ten minutes cost me everything. I tried to catch up with my friend in the front, playing it hardball, but a police woman firmly told me this wasn’t allowed.1 I slunk back.2
6:00 A.M. The outer mall opened and we entered whilst Apple employees clapped and cheered with genuine enthusiasm.3 It was a comfortable foggy morning but nice to be inside finally. Employees started issuing the QR codes, which replaced the lovely tactile physical cards we’d been given last year. While I miss those things, the guaranteed outcome of QR-based inventory tracking was nice.
7:30 A.M. Finally got my QR code.
8:00 A.M. The Apple Store opened amidst huge cheers from the crowd. The noise could be heard deep within the mall.
8:45 A.M. Between two friends and myself, we reserved six iPhone 6 Plus units. One of the units my friend had reserved was the exact color, storage, and carrier I was after. They called me to the front to pay for it. I felt a tinge of guilt inverting the line, but it couldn’t be helped.
9:14 A.M. After deciding how I was going to pay for this thing4 we finally completed the transaction. While I was at it, I tried to buy my other two phones on the spot, but an employee regretfully told me I’d need to return to the line. To make things worse, a police woman told me I couldn’t resume my preexisting spot in the line; I’d need to go all the way back. It was a good 4 hours long, so I left for my Software Engineering class. The QR codes were valid until 9:00 P.M closing.
2:00 PM I returned to get the two additional iPhone 6 Plus units. The line was substantially shorter than earlier but still a good 90 minutes’ wait.
3:55 PM Successfully bought my second iPhone for the day, a gold 64GB AT&T without a contract, for $921.31 including tax.5 I couldn’t purchase the third one because I’d maxed out my credit cards.6 The only alternative was to get cash and start at the back of the line for another two hours. I was burned out and went home.
4:30 PM Logging into my laptop, I threw my still-in-the-plastic 6 Plus onto Craigslist and eBay. I had rarely used either platform and was absolutely shocked at how horrible the user experience was for both.7
7:30 P.M. Got a few nibbles but nothing substantial. I called it a night.
Next Morning. Excitedly, I checked my mail and discovered that someone had purchased the phone on eBay, going with the listed “buy it now” price. As the details unfolded however, it became clear that they were trying to pull a fast one. When I asked them to forward their PayPal receipt of payment, they sent me a cleverly disguised email that was 98% real looking. Little did I know that this was the first of a long line of spammers I’d be dealing with.
As the days wore on, I started to notice a trend: all of the potential buyers were either legitimate but unable to afford my 40-50% markup, or they were spammers trying to ship the unit to East Africa, using fake PayPal email notifications and gaming eBay’s auction system. I started to distrust every text message and grow weary of offers for $850 and sketchy-sounding barter proposals.
In the end, I sold it to a friend for the price I paid for it, five days after having bought it, after posting it twice on Craigslist and twice on eBay, and “selling” it multiple times for hefty sums to fake buyers.
There are easier ways to make money.8 Next year I’ll stand in line for the new iPhone, but I’ll only be buying it for myself.
She was clearly enjoying her power trip. Throughout the morning, her bossiness became so apparent that even her own police colleagues started to make fun of her behind her back. ↩︎
My attempted transgression would be repeated by dozens of others throughout the morning, with varying degrees of success. The line in front of me grew steadily longer as the hours ticked by. ↩︎
This energy took me aback. It was impressive how positive they were even when they knew how stressful and exhausting the launch day would be for them. ↩︎
There were a plethora of available options: switch carriers to get a subsidized price; buy out the existing contract and attempt upgrade eligibility (which surprisingly didn’t apply to Verizon); buy the phone outright, switch to Verizon Edge, and obligatorily hand over my current 5S to Verizon for $0; or lastly, pay for the phone outright, keep my current plan, and sell my 5S to Apple for $310 (which is what I ended up doing). You can’t know until the last minute what the cost breakdown is for each option, and by then it’s too late to do an extended cost-benefit analysis of the plans—including the monthly billing implications of each—whilst a sales rep ogles on. None of the deals substantially outweighed any of the others—upgrading to a new iPhone 1 year before a contract has expired is going to be expensive no matter what—so I decided with my gut. ↩︎
The difference between a phone without a contract (i.e. a prepaid phone) and an unlocked phone is subtle. Both are the property of the owner, not the carrier. As I understand it, an unlocked phone has greater ability to hop from carrier to carrier. An employee said it would be a few more months before Apple would have unlocked iPhone 6 Plus units. ↩︎
It was a combination of a low credit ceiling and a billing cycle coming up at the perfect moment. ↩︎
The data sanitization of both platforms was beyond wretched. eBay didn’t allow any special characters (including the em dash, which I consider a basic enhancement) in their fields. Craigslist temporarily replaced every white space in my headline with a dash. A modern startup web app would be roundly criticized if it looked and behaved the way these platforms operated. I don’t understand it. ↩︎
I badgered one of my clients to follow in my footsteps, promising it would be worth his time to camp out and buy a phone for resale. Probably good he didn’t listen to me. ↩︎