As we all adapt to a new normal in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, we’re also having to change the way we purchase new phones and phone plans with store closures. Although stores are starting to open back up with reduced hours, many phone carriers still recommend consumers purchase new phones online instead of going into a local store. In this article, we’ll go over all the details for buying a phone online, from carriers, including AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon, as well as from phone manufacturers and other online retailers.
In this guide:
- How to buy a phone online
- Where to buy a phone online
- How to buy a phone plan online
- How to change your phone plan online
How to buy a phone online
Buying a phone online has never been easier. Most carriers and retailers make it extremely easy to purchase a phone online. These sites also make it easy to process returns online if you’re not happy with your purchase.
Once you’ve browsed the current phone deals and chosen the right phone for you, you’ll need to follow these general steps:
- Have your personal information ready—full name, email, phone number, shipping and billing address, and credit card.
- Select the phone you want to purchase, as well as the storage capacity.
- Select your payment option (monthly payment plan or outright).
- If choosing a monthly installment plan, enter your personal info, such as SSN and birthdate, in order to perform a credit check.
- If you’re purchasing a phone from a carrier, you may also need to choose a phone plan as well. Conversely, some carriers may have you purchase a plan after you receive your phone.
- Most online retailers will include a chance for you to add optional phone insurance.
- Continue the check-out process and enter any required personal and payment information. Some sites may require you to make an online profile as well.
- Check your email to confirm purchase and shipment information.
If you need help at any point while purchasing a phone online, most sites also offer both online chat and phone support.
check out the best phone deals to find the right phone for you
Are you wondering how fast your phone will get to you? Shipping times vary between online retailers, so check out the table below to see shipping speeds and costs among popular online retailers.
|Online retailer||Fastest shipping method||Shipping cost|
|AT&T||Same day in limited locations OR 2-3 business days||Free|
|T-Mobile||2-day||Free with new activation and promo code 2DAY|
|Verizon||2-day (excluding HI & AK)||Free|
|Amazon||Varies depending on seller||Varies depending on seller|
|Best Buy||Next-day in limited locations OR standard||Free on orders $35+|
|Target||2-day||Free on orders $35+ or with RedCard|
|Apple||Next-day OR 2-day||Free|
As another alternative to in-store shopping, many online retailers also offer same-day curbside pick-up.
Most online retailers offer an easy return process if you are not satisfied with your new phone. Generally, retailers offer anywhere from 14 to 30 days to return your phone for a full refund, although they may charge a small restocking fee. Check out the table below to compare popular online retailer’s return policies.
|Online retailer||Return period||Refund information|
|AT&T||Within 14 days of device purchase, or the day after your device ships||Full refund + up to $55 device restocking fee (excludes Apple phones)|
|Sprint||Within 30 days of activation or from day of purchase if purchased without service||Full refund + $45 restocking fee (unless phone is returned in original unopened packaging or has not been activated). *Devices received as part of a trade-in transaction cannot be returned.|
|T-Mobile||Within 20 days from the day you received your order||Full refund + $50 restocking fee for smart phones or $25 for basic phones.|
|Verizon||Within 14 days of purchase||Full refund + $50 restocking fee (excludes Hawaii)|
|Amazon||Within 30 days of receipt of delivery from Amazon||Varies|
|Best Buy||Within 14 days of when you receive your phone||Full refund + $45 restocking fee unless product is unopened or purchase/return occur in AL, CO, HI, IA, MS, OH, OK or SC|
|Target||Within 14 days of purchase||Full refund if unopened|
|Apple||Within 14 days of when you receive your phone||N/A|
|Samsung||Within 15 days of delivery||N/A|
Where to buy a phone online
When choosing where to buy your phone online, you have a variety of options. If you’re looking to buy a new phone and a phone plan, it is easiest to buy from a carrier. If you’re looking to buy an unlocked phone, you can also purchase new phones directly from a manufacturer or online retailer.
Check out the list below for a list of popular online phone retailers:
- Best Buy
Buying a phone online from a carrier
If you choose to purchase a phone from a carrier, you will likely need to buy a phone plan and use its service for a certain period of time before you can switch carriers. Buying from a carrier does have its benefits, including a variety of phone deals and flexibility in payment options. Carriers payment options generally include buying the phone at full price outright or breaking up the payments over a period of time with monthly installments or lease options.
With outright pricing, you purchase your phone at full price and theoretically own it outright. If you do decide that you want to switch to another carrier, you will need to make sure you’ve fulfilled its other unlocking requirements first. These unlocking requirements vary from carrier to carrier.
If you’re looking to break up your phone payments, you can take advantage of a financing option, which will be through the carrier or a third-party financing company, such as Affirm or SmartPay.
Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile offer interest-free monthly installments in which the retail price is broken up into even monthly payments, while many MVNOs partner with third-party financing companies to provide you with monthly installments. These monthly installments include interest ranging from 0% to 30%, depending on your credit score. With monthly installments, you will most likely need to maintain service with the carrier during the entire installment payment period, which can range anywhere from 6 to 30 months.
If you like having the newest phone, a lease or upgrade option might be right for you. Sprint offers a Flex Lease program, which lets you lease a phone over an 18-month payment period. After 18 months, you’ll be able to upgrade to a new phone on a new lease term.
AT&T also offers an upgrade program called Next Up, which costs an additional $5/month for the ability to trade in your old phone and upgrade to a new phone once you’ve paid off 50% of your old phone.
Buying an unlocked phone online
The easiest way to buy an unlocked phone is either through a manufacturer, like Apple or Samsung, or from an online retailer, such as Amazon, Best Buy, and Target. This could be a costly option, because unlocked phones typically don’t have any deals or incentives, unlike purchasing a phone through a carrier or with a phone plan. That said, when you buy an unlocked phone, you aren’t tied to any carrier, which grants you nice flexibility.
Buying a used phone online
If you’re looking to save some money, you might want to consider purchasing a used phone. Most carriers, online retailers, and manufacturers offer refurbished, certified pre-owned and pre-owned phones for an affordable price.
- Refurbished: Used phone has been fixed to almost-new
- Certified pre-owned: Used phone has been inspected by an expert
- Pre-owned: Used phone
Take caution if you decide to buy a used phone directly from a person or from a resell site, like eBay or Craigslist, as there’s no way to guarantee the phone will actually work.
How to buy a phone plan online
Most carriers make it extremely easy to buy a phone plan online, whether you’re purchasing a new phone or bringing your own phone. On top of your monthly phone plan payment, you may need to pay upfront one-time fees, including a SIM card fee, activation fee, and support fee.
Here’s how to sign up for a phone plan online:
- Make sure you have your personal information on hand for the check-out process.
- Browse the carrier’s phone plans, then select your desired plan.
- Add the plan or SIM card to your cart, depending on the carrier.
- If adding a SIM card to your cart, you may be prompted to choose a plan immediately after or when you receive your SIM card in the mail.
- Complete the checkout process.
- Once you’ve received your SIM card (or new phone), you’ll have to activate your phone in order to receive phone service.
- Locate your carrier’s activation page in order to activate your phone. This may be an entirely online process, or you may need to contact the live chat or phone support in order to activate your phone.
If you still haven’t decided which phone plan to buy, check out some popular phone plans below.
How to change your plan online
If you’re not happy with your current phone plan, you also have the ability to change your phone plan or switch to a new carrier online.
If you’re sticking with your current carrier, changing to a different plan is as easy as logging onto your online account and making the change there. Every carrier is different, but the process is generally fairly intuitive and only takes a few minutes.
If you’re looking to switch to a new carrier, you’ll first need to meet your carrier’s unlocking requirements. This generally includes having an account in good standing and fully paying off your phone. You can contact your carrier directly in order to confirm if your device is eligible to be unlocked—if so, your carrier will unlock your phone for you. Then you will be free to switch to a new carrier.
Before making the switch, you’ll want to confirm with your new carrier that your phone will work on its network—this only applies if you’re bringing your own phone. Most carriers offer compatibility information online, but you can also contact the carrier in order to confirm if your phone will work on its network.
Once you’ve chosen a new plan, you can switch to your new carrier online. Most carriers also offer some sort of deal when you’re switching. Some carriers may also pay out any early termination fees imposed by your old carrier in order to make switching carriers even easier.