I went through the exact same experience two years ago when I got my 4s. Verizon retail stores and their authorized retailers are only worried about making commissions off of people signing contracts. They make no money off of selling you a phone at full price so they save them all for those signing contracts. As far as I know the only official "100% safe" way to buy a Verizon iPhone at full cost is through Verizon's website or at an Apple retail store.
When I purchased my 4s at the Apple Store they acted shocked when I wanted to pay full price but they gave me no fuss doing so. This time around I went a head and bought through Verizon's website using the month to month option. It process was very easy and I was able to keep my unlimited data plan.
I asked on Wednesday before they went on sale if I could buy one at full price (mine was stolen) and they told me no. On Friday they would only sell them to new customers or upgrades. They didn't know if they would be available online or not (they were).
The Apple store was only selling unlocked / full price phones for T Mobile - not Verizon or others.
New phones are always exciting! I know how important it is to have the right plan for your usage. I apologize that you went into the store to purchase a device at full retail price and the store was unable to fulfill this request. The full retail price option on any device is at the store location discretion. You can purchase any device at the full retail price via MyVerizon http://bit.ly/xB4iTc , please select the month to month plan option.
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