Cell-phone plans for seniors offer more service, lighter data
Consumer Cellular CEO John Marick
Jitterbug Smart smartphone for seniors.
"We're really a company that is focused on helping the older consumer stay independent longer in their homes," CEO David Inns said in an interview. "Using the cellphone is a great method of doing that."
Help with the SIM card
For its part, Consumer Cellular has been rated the number one wireless service by Consumer Reports seven years running; for two years in a row J.D. Power ranked it highest in customer service among “non-contract wireless providers;” and for four years straight it has earned PC Magazine’s Reader Choice awards.
I recently met up with Marick, who came to New York to spread word of Consumer Cellular’s latest service initiative: In-store customer support at more than 1,600 Target retail locations, which has been selling its phones since 2014. The move represents a broad expansion of a program that it began testing with Target last fall. The idea is that seniors can get help with everything from inserting a SIM card to figuring out how to transfer contacts from an older phone.
The company now claims nearly 2.5 million customers, a figure it projects to rise to 3.25 million in 2018 when revenues are expected to cross $1 billion.
In general, the availability of top tier phones on Consumer Cellular may lag a bit compared to when those phones reach the big four U.S. carriers. Consumer Cellular sells simple no-frills phones aimed at seniors, such as the $30 Consumer Cellular 101 and $50 Doro PhoneEasy 626 flip phones.
But Consumer Cellular also sells the iPhone 7 and Samsung Galaxy S8 smartphones, and yes, Marick expects to offer the tenth anniversary iPhone when it comes out as well, presumably in the fall. Phones from ZTE, Alcatel and Motorola are in Consumer Cellular’s device portfolio as well: “For our senior customers that (Motorola) brand still resonates,” Marick notes.
Consumer Cellular will also issue a free SIM card to a person who wants to bring his or her own phone.
I asked Marick how he can recruit new customers when they come of (senior) age, especially since Boomers have likely been wedded to another carrier for so many years. The big guys no longer require consumers to ink the restrictive contracts they once did, and getting a customer to switch is a challenge.
It often boils down to cost—under Consumer Cellular, no data plan is required, per minute voice plans start at $10 a month, and the average user spends $25 a month, Marick says.
He adds that many people experience life changes in their 60s that may have them reevaluate their wireless service options. By then the kids may have moved out of the house, meaning a family plan no longer make sense. Or maybe you’ve cut back on your hours at work or have retired, putting tighter restrictions on the budget.
Of course, someone who has just turned 50 and thus is newly eligible to join the AARP, which Consumer Cellular has a partnership with to give members discounts, is likely still working full-time and still sharing a family plan. “We’re probably not the perfect fit for them,” Marick concedes.
No unlimited data
Nor is Consumer Cellular the ideal service for a heavy data user. The company does not offer an unlimited data plan—the max $40 data plan caps out at 5GB per month, after which you are billed an additional $10 per month per gig. Your service may also be slowed down at that point—and if you reach 12GB of data—presumably an awful of data usage for a senior—your data will be suspended until the next billing cycle.
Starting next month, Consumer Cellular will offer a pay-as-you-go international plan it hopes will appeal to retirees looking to see the world. There is no access fee to enable international roaming. You’ll be billed at $0.30 per minute, $0.10 for text and $0.25 per MB for data. Customers can also take advantage of Wi-Fi calling.
Marick also has designs on selling smart senior-friendly connected devices around the home, though he wasn’t ready to reveal specifics.
Inns of GreatCall says acquiring new customers doesn't always correlate with age. "For us it's actually a mental and physical issue. Call it transitioning seniors. It's the first point where you start worrying about your independence because something has happened to you or something has happened to a friend. Or you've been diagnosed with a disease or maybe you've lost your spouse or maybe you've lost your driver's license."
Besides the senior-oriented Jitterbug phones, GreatCall also sells the Lively Mobile medical alert device, as well as a Lively Wearable a senior can wear around his or her wrist to monitor fitness activity, and if need be, to request emergency assistance at the press of a button.
Email: [email protected]; Follow USA TODAY Personal Tech Columnist @edbaig on Twitter
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