Dealing with a phone plan can be a huge hassle. From the year (or longer) commitments, to the hidden fees, it seems a lot easier to go the prepaid route. I, for one, spent years flitting between AT&T Prepaid (formerly called GoPhone) and Boost Mobile before finally getting absorbed into my husband’s family’s plan. I used to spend a year at a time living outside of the U.S., and return for about two months during the summer to visit friends and family.
I used AT&T’s most basic prepaid plan at the time for only $23 monthly, and it was perfect for my needs. It was simple to pay as you go, although buying a phone outright was much more expensive, so I opted for one that had only the basics: talk and text. I loved it.
Over the past few years, Walmart’s Family Mobile plan has emerged onto the prepaid scene as a contender. While it’s one of the cheapest options on the market, there has been a lot of recent negative feedback since they were bought up by TracFone in 2016. Let’s see what all they offer, and why this “newer” carrier born out of two megaliths is being received so poorly by the public.
First, let’s take a look at the plans themselves. With four tiers, the plans range from only 1GB of data to unlimited at 4G LTE. The fact that they’re all month-to-month plans gives greater flexibility. If you travel out of the country often, or have unreliable income, month-to-month plans are an ideal fit.
Their cheapest plan starts at around $25. For that much, you can get a phone with unlimited talk and text, plus 1GB data at 4G LTE speed. All data you use afterward will run at 2G speed, which is almost comically slow in this era of high-speed apps, GIFs, and social media.
The second tier is only $5 more, and offers the same unlimited talk and text, plus 3GB of data at 4G LTE speed. Again, after this amount is used, it downgrades to 2GB. This is a lot more data, but considering that Instagram alone uses 720 MB per hour – and if you’re the kind of person who streams shows from your phone, the default streaming rate for Netflix is 1GB per hour – this amount of data won’t get you through the month like it may have a few years ago.
The next tier clocks in at $40 per month, and with that comes 9GB of data at 4G LTE speed. This seems like their most reasonable plan. $40 is a good deal, and with that much data, you can stream music – or even Netflix on a low setting – without worrying too much about eating all of your data in the first two weeks of the month.
However, if you aren’t the sort of person who can compromise on video quality, and your mobile device is your primary method of streaming music and videos, or if you are frequently on Facebook, Instagram, or Snapchat, their most expensive plan is the “Truly Unlimited” one at 4G LTE for any amount of data, for around $50.
What’s the Catch?
Sounds sublime? Not so fast. I’ll admit, I was intrigued by these deals. When AT&T’s unlimited plan is $10 more a month, these options were starting to look better and better.
Then I dug a little further. There is no real in-house service for Walmart Family Mobile Plan, meaning virtually all the advice or assistance you need is either on the phone or online, or at the Walmart Customer Service Desk. There is no brick-and-mortar storefront with employees dedicated solely to the ins and outs of your phone service, just employees who are juggling several duties at once: doing returns or exchanges, assisting in money transfers, and finally, helping you with your phone service.
Busy with so many other tasks, these employees aren’t expertly trained to help you with your service. The other option is assistance over the phone, and Walmart Family Mobile is not best known for their stellar phone service. Most of the time, upgrading your phone, trouble shooting, or just asking for advice comparing plans is best face-to-face. That human experience really makes a difference in smoothing out any kinks in your phone plan.
And this lack of a dedicated storefront or employee base is showing. As of this month, the website Consumer Affairs has received over 150 reviews in 2017, and Walmart Family Mobile has a staggering 1 out of 5 stars for consumer satisfaction. The most common complaint? The customer service.
It seems that lacking a true, dedicated storefront shows. Many people have reported their account information going missing, being put on hold for over thirty minutes, and being transferred from place to place with no real answers. Earlier this month, Charisse, a verified customer of Walmart Family Mobile from Utah, said that she had service only one week out of the month before her phone line was abruptly canceled.
And she wasn’t the only person with a story like this. Another verified customer called Walmart Family Mobile’s customer service “a time-consuming nightmare”. According to the majority of these reviews, they feel the problem in customer service and reception began with their switch to TracFone.
Despite the allure of saving $10 monthly, I would say the resounding headache of customer service should be enough to keep consumers away from Walmart Family Mobile. Unless they shift their business model to make customer service a priority, this venture will not continue to be a viable one for them.
There are several other prepaid plans out there with brick-and-mortar storefronts and face-to-face customer service. Walmart can keep their purported savings – reliable customer support and knowledgeable employees are worth a few extra dollars, anytime.