The COVID-19 pandemic moved up plans by AT&T to shutter an unspecified number of stores that sell its Cricket Wireless prepaid brand.
The company did not provide a total number of stores but said it represents a “very small portion” of its overall distribution.
“With more customers shopping online, we are reducing the number of our retail stores to align with our customers’ needs. While these plans are not new, they have been accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic,” the company said in a statement.
Customers’ shopping habits are shifting toward online, and this trend has accelerated during the pandemic. “These changes will help us deliver services to customers in a way they prefer,” according to spokesman Jim Kimberly.
Wave7 Research last week first reported that Cricket was planning to close “hundreds of doors,” citing a source familiar with the matter. AT&T acquired the Cricket brand from Leap Wireless in 2014.
Only 73% of stores of the top three prepaid brands – Metro by T-Mobile, Boost Mobile and Cricket Wireless – were open in early April. By mid-May, that number rose to an estimated 96% of prepaid stores that were open, according to Wave7.
Carriers in general have been urging customers to do their business online whenever possible and to use apps and curbside pickup. Even though the pandemic is forcing the permanent closure of some stores, Wave7 Principal Jeff Moore said he believes most transactions in the future will continue to be in stores, given how deeply involved most people are with their smartphones.
AT&T started temporarily closing some corporate-owned stores in mid-March in response to the pandemic and encouraged customers to first go online to handle things like bill payments, device upgrades, activations and service requests. In fact, executives said during the company’s first-quarter earnings conference call that they could do virtually everything online; it’s a matter of what the consumer wants to do.
Cricket is not the only brand experiencing permanent store closures. In late April, multiple sources reported that T-Mobile was closing more Metro by T-Mobile prepaid stores. T-Mobile did not provide a number of stores set for closure but said it was “optimizing” its retail footprint “as a normal course of business,” acknowledging that it notified some dealer stores that it was transitioning them to T-Mobile stores and closing a “small number” of redundant locations.