Maybe the staff of AT&T had a bit too much egg nog at the company Christmas party?  Perhaps someone was just angry over being made to work the holiday weekend?  Whatever the case may be, something very odd happened last week over at AT&T, and somehow its doubtful we’ll ever hear what the real story was.

On Sunday, Dec. 27th, Laura Northrup of The Consumerist ran a post stating that AT&T had halted all sales of the iPhone to the five boroughs of New York City.  Their report indicated that it was both online sales and in the retail stores, but by Mon, Dec. 28th, it became clear that it was only online sales that were truly stopped.

att_logosThe original report included the following transcription of a phone call the writer had with a phone representative from AT&T:

Daphne: Welcome to AT&T online Sales support. How may I assist you with placing your order today?

Laura: Hi, I was looking at the iPhone 3Gs and the system tells me that I cannot order one in my ZIP code. My zip code is 11231. (Brooklyn, NY) Is this true? Are iPhones no longer available in New York City?

Daphne: I am happy to be helping you today . Yes, this is correct the phone is not offered to you because New York is not ready for the iPhone.

Daphne: You don’t have enough towers to handle the phone.

Laura: Thank you for your help. So the phone is not available to people anywhere in the city?

Daphne: Yes this is correct Laura.

It was like a smoking gun had been dropped into the laps of consumers everywhere. For months people had been complaining about the quality of service in New York City and San Francisco, but oddly it was only the former that had its sales cut off.

On Monday morning, Peter Kafka of All Things Digital started doing some digging and was getting a very different story from AT&T customer service.  The excuse du Jour was that online sales had been halted due to a high rate of fraudulent orders in the area.  However, the odd twist was that you could order refurbished models from the online store, just not new ones.  It was also confirmed that sales at all AT&T stores and Apple stores across the city were proceeding as normal.

By Monday afternoon John Paczkowski, also of All Things Digital, was reporting that online sales had been restored to normal on the AT&T site.  Apparently all the fraud had been miraculously stopped?

Through out this entire ordeal, the only official comment came from Fletcher Cook in AT&T public relations that said via an e-mail, “We periodically modify our promotions and distribution channels.”  That was it.  That was the only official statement made at any time beyond some AT&T reps on the phone obviously having no clue what was really going on.

In the age of social media, consumers are demanding more transparency from companies, and AT&T was anything but transparent on this issue.  Here we are several days later and still no one knows what exactly happened.  True, the orders have been restored, but yet we are left with this mysterious 24-hour period where no one in New York City, the most populated city in the country, could order a new iPhone.  Why?  What happened?  Was it a flub up and the company truly was fed up with the lousy service?  Was it due to too many fraudulent orders?  Does anyone really care?

I love a good mystery, but I also like to know the answers, and somehow it feels like we will never hear the resolution to this one.  So, for now, I’m going with ‘the butler did it.’