The number of postpaid stores for Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint that closed permanently between November and June is estimated at nearly 1,500, while the number of prepaid stores that closed during the same time frame is estimated at more than 1,100, according to Wave7 Research.
Wave7 has mostly stopped tracking how many postpaid carrier-owned stores are closed due to the pandemic because most of them have re-opened, with the exception of Verizon corporate-owned stores, but even there, the majority are open, albeit with limited hours and curbside service.
The big take-away from Wave7 Research’s most recent report is all carriers are closing retail stores, and that was happening even before the COVID-19 crisis forced the temporary closure of many stores. The tendency pertains to the four national postpaid brands: AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile, and three prepaid brands: Boost, Cricket and Metro by T-Mobile.
“I don’t think that was a terrible surprise. It was basically trending that way any way, but I think the pandemic ended up enhancing things a bit,” said Jeff Moore, principal of Wave7, which provides clients with more detailed estimates for each brand.
More people are doing business online or through apps, something that was encouraged during COVID-19 stay-at-home restrictions. It’s a trend that also started in 2019, before the pandemic.
Wave7 still believes the retail store will be where the majority of transactions occur. “We think there are a lot of reasons people will continue to do transactions in stores,” he said. Consumers may need accessories, insurance, mobile charging solutions – “there are a lot of reasons the stores will still be out there. They’re very important.”
Of course, a number of Sprint stores are closing for good as part of its merger with T-Mobile. Last November, Wave7 counted 3,835 stores connected to Sprint, and that number was in the range of 3,300 at the beginning of June. Since then, hundreds more Sprint stores have closed, and it’s probably going to be at zero when the brand gets retired August 2, according to his sources.
Because so many Sprint and T-Mobile stores are located close to one another, T-Mobile had to decide which ones it would keep and which ones would go. In the case of a tie, Moore said it would likely go to the T-Mobile store as the one to keep due to the costs of re-branding.
As for dealer stores, most of them remained open during the pandemic and of those that closed, the majority are now open.
T-Mobile closed its merger with Sprint on April 1, and it will be interesting to see if T-Mobile changes its national retail strategy. T-Mobile for years has been sold at a minority of Costco stores, but since the acquisition with Sprint, T-Mobile has been taking the place of Sprint at Costco, according to Moore.
Since 2015, one would find AT&T and Verizon at pretty much all Walmart stores, and Sprint was in a minority of those stores until recently. In 2019, there was a major launch of Sprint at Walmart stores, ending up in the majority of those stores.
As for dealers, a lot of Sprint dealers have moved over to the new T-Mobile, however, “I’m unaware of any dealers moving over to Dish,” he said. Dish Network closed on its acquisition of the Boost prepaid business on July 1.