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T-Mobile’s retail store count climbs past AT&T, Verizon

Since sunsetting the Sprint brand earlier this month, T-Mobile now has the most retail stores of any postpaid carrier, overtaking AT&T’s footprint by more than 2,000 stores based on Wave7 Research counts.

The operator merged with Sprint on April 1 and put the brand to bed August 2. Inclusive of the former Sprint stores, T-Mobile now has more than 7,500 retail stores operating under the magenta brand. By Wave7 estimates, T-Mobile also has hundreds of more stores than Verizon, which previously had the largest postpaid retail footprint.

Jeff Moore, principal at Wave7, told Fierce it’s “another feather in T-Mobile’s cap.” Just last month during second-quarter earnings, T-Mobile claimed the title of the No. 2 U.S. wireless carrier by customer count. At the end of June, the new T-Mobile had 98.3 million customers, overtaking AT&T, which reported 92.9 million postpaid and prepaid customers as of Q2.  

The Metro by T-Mobile prepaid brand also has a larger retail store presence than AT&T’s Cricket Wireless and Boost Mobile, Moore noted, making T-Mobile tops for both prepaid and postpaid wireless stores. Dish recently acquired Boost as part of merger-related conditions.  

Still, the new T-Mobile is certainly consolidating stores and shedding redundant locations as it integrates Sprint operations. Wave7 estimates that the number of T-Mobile postpaid stores is down about 15% from the 8,800 combined T-Mobile and Sprint stores that were operating in late 2019. Of those about 5,000 were T-Mobile-branded and 3,800 were Sprint. Wave7 provides detailed counts in its postpaid competition report.

AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon all temporarily closed some retail stores at the start of the pandemic, though most have now reopened. But as Fierce previously reported, the four national postpaid carriers, as well as certain prepaid brands, were already shutting locations before COVID-19 hit. The pandemic may have accelerated the permanent closure of some, but carriers had been trending in that direction.

AT&T, for example, had acknowledged it was closing stores to reflect more customers shopping online, and that while plans evolved, the pandemic pushed that along more quickly.

Wave7’s postpaid competition report for August said that while T-Mobile currently has the most store locations, the operator has much less exposure to sales through national retail stores compared to competitors. However, carrier stores historically are where the lion’s share of wireless sales happen, and that practice doesn’t seem to have changed drastically yet.  

That said, Moore indicated T-Mobile could be getting ready to have more of a presence at national retailers.

Overall, Wave7 is seeing “a transitional ‘Sprint now part of T-Mobile’ brand at Walmart and Best Buy, which seems to presage a launch of T-Mobile sales at the two top national retailers,” Moore noted. “Also, T-Mobile is now being sold at substantially all Costco stores, versus previously being sold at most Costco stores, but not all.”

Sprint brand gone, but not dead yet

Even though Sprint is no more, the brand is surviving in some places, including via mid-Atlantic Sprint affiliate Shenandoah Telecommunications (Shentel).

Wave7 checks in recent days indicate that dozens of stores in Shentel markets continue to operate under the Sprint brand, Moore said.

Shentel has been a Sprint affiliate since 1995, offering wireless service under the Sprint brand and says it has around 1 million postpaid subscribers. The company also provides wireline and cable services, operating in western rural Virginia, West Virginia, and portions of Pennsylvania and Maryland.

Negotiations got started in April with T-Mobile, which has the option to buy Shentel’s wireless business or enter into a different arrangement, but the outcome hasn’t been resolved yet.  

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