AT&T joined T-Mobile and Sprint Wednesday in announcing plans to close a large portion of its retail stores temporarily to stem the spread of COVID-19. AT&T said it would shutter 40% of its company-owned retail stores nationwide – a total of 2,200 stores – and would reduce the operating hours of stores that remain open.
Importantly, AT&T said that "we will ensure all retail employees get paid."
On Monday, T-Mobile announced it would close 80% of its store locations, and on Tuesday Sprint announced it too would close 71% of its own retail stores, both corporate-owned and third-party owned. T-Mobile promised to maintain affected employees' "target income" while Sprint confirmed to Light Reading that workers unable to relocate to an open store would continue to receive 100% of their "base pay."
Verizon hasn't announced widespread store closings – at least not yet – but it said it would reduce both store hours and also the number of employees at stores. The operator said it would pay employees "for any shifts they may miss due to these scheduling changes."
What this means
While it's difficult to calculate the total number of stores closed – neither T-Mobile nor Sprint provided those figures – the number is likely in the thousands. Wave7 Research, which closely tracks US providers' wireless pricing and promotion strategies, reported that the nation's top wireless network operators collectively operate 21,800 postpaid retail outlets. However, that figure is spread across both corporate-owned stores as well as stores operated by third-party dealers.
According to detailed store numbers provided by the Wall Street analysts at MoffettNathanson in 2018, Verizon operated by far the most retail outlets nationwide – across both corporate and dealer postpaid stores – with a total of 7,400. T-Mobile and AT&T were roughly neck-and-neck, with around 5,200 stores, while Sprint operated around 3,900 stores.
However, it's difficult to determine the exact number of stores that operators have closed in total due to the new coronavirus because operators generally don't provide the breakdown between their corporate and dealer stores.
Regardless, the number of wireless retail stores closed across the country likely is in the thousands, thus affecting the handful of employees who work at each one of those locations.
How this all will impact the US wireless industry's performance in the first quarter – much less the wider domestic and international economy – remains to be seen. Verizon on Tuesday warned in an SEC filing that the outbreak of COVID-19 could have a "material" impact on its financial results.