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Verizon to reopen half its retail stores by June

The head of Verizon's consumer business confirmed the operator is sending more than 1,000 retail employees back to work in the coming weeks as it works to reopen roughly half of its stores by June.

On Twitter, Verizon's Ronan Dunne confirmed the operator expects to have about 42% of its retail stores open this week, up from 30% last month. He said the company hopes to continue reopening stores throughout this month.

Dunne outlined Verizon's new "touchless retail" strategy for the reopening effort. It will include things like appointment scheduling, social distancing markers in the store, sanitizing stations, partitions to separate employees from customers, and payment methods that don't require the exchange of physical payment methods. The strategy makes no mention of requiring customers or employees to wear masks.

"The Touchless Retail experience introduced in the wake of COVID-19 was out of a desire to not only protect employees and customers but also to enhance the customer experience. In preparation for a post-COVID world, many of these critical components of the customer journey will continue," the operator wrote, adding that customers will soon be able to ask questions via chat in advance of a store visit.

According to Wave7 Research, which closely tracks US operator promotions and pricing strategies, Verizon closed roughly 70% of its corporate stores during the pandemic. However, the firm estimated that fully 91% of the operator's dealer stores remain open. Dealer stores are typically owned and operated by third-party companies, but sport Verizon products and branding.

Wave7 added that around 48% of AT&T's corporate stores are open, and around 55% of T-Mobile stores are open. In March, AT&T said it would shutter 40% of its company-owned retail stores nationwide, while T-Mobile said it would close 80% of its stores.

"Our top priority is the health and safety of our employees and customers as we reopen our stores to perform the critical work of keeping millions of people connected," AT&T wrote in response to questions this week from Light Reading about the operator's reopening strategy. The operator did not provide any numbers about the stores it might open. "We provide our employees with the tools they need to help stay safe while on the job during this difficult time. We continue to follow federal, state and local guidelines to protect our employees and customers."

T-Mobile officials did not respond to questions from Light Reading about its own reopening efforts.

Cellphone stores are considered essential and therefore are not subject to mandated closures, though operators generally closed stores deemed non-essential in select locations in order to stem the spread of COVID-19.

Partly as a result of the closures, Verizon said it expects total wireless service revenue growth in the second quarter of 2020 across its consumer and business units to be 3% to 5% lower on a year-over-year basis than it originally expected prior to the spread of COVID-19.

Mike Dano, Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies, Light Reading | @mikeddano

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