America Movíl's U.S. MVNO, TracFone Wireless, appears to be in the process of launching a handset leasing program for its Straight Talk brand. Straight Talk Plus, which will allow eligible customers to pay for their smartphones in monthly installments, is rolling out in Walmart stores across the country, according to a new report from research firm Wave7.
"Straight Talk is in the process of rolling out Straight Talk Plus, a lease-to-own option," Wave7 Research noted in a recent research note provided to FierceWireless. "Checks indicate signage at Walmarts saying that Straight Talk Plus is 'coming soon.' Reps are saying that a launch is expected in June or July, although reps in Arizona and Kansas have said that launches at many stores have been delayed by systems glitches."
Wave7 noted that customers will be required to submit to a credit check in order to obtain the leasing option, and that handset protection will be included in the Straight Talk Plus and that there will be no activation fee.
A Straight Talk website appears to confirm the launch of Straight Talk Plus. The site notes that customers can purchase a Samsung Galaxy S7 for 24 monthly payments of $30.12, as long as they purchase an unlimited service plan. Straight Talk offers unlimited plans starting at $45 per month for unlimited talking and texting and 5 GB of high-speed data. Customers must purchase the phone and service through Walmart, and must apply for the Straight Talk Plus option with a Walmart associate.
TracFone executives generally do not comment on their brands or operations. As an MVNO, TracFone generally resells service from the likes of Verizon (NYSE: VZ), AT&T (NYSE: T) and others.
According to the Straight Talk website, the financial portion of the leasing offer is being handled by SmartPay Leasing. SmartPay is a brand from BillFloat, a startup also sometimes referred to as Better Finance that was founded in 2009 and that has conducted handset financing tests and deals with MetroPCS, C Spire Wireless and Sprint's Virgin brand. BillFloat was a winner of the Fierce 15 award in 2013.
It's no real surprise that TracFone's Straight Talk is moving to offer leasing plans for smartphones. T-Mobile first introduced the concept of an equipment installment plan (EIP) in 2013, and since then virtually every major and minor carrier has moved to the model -- indeed, most carriers no longer offer the two-year contracts that were standard prior to the rise of EIPs. EIP offerings allow customers to break up the cost of smartphones into manageable monthly payments, and generally do not include interest fees.
America Movíl reported losing 458,000 U.S. customers during the first quarter, primarily under its TracFone and SafeLink brands, and its U.S. revenue of $1.8 billion was down 3.3 percent from the prior year.
- see this Straight Talk page
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