AT&T latest carrier to close retail stores in COVID-19 response

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Independently-owned AT&T dealer stores outnumber AT&T-owned retail stores, and it's unclear if those will remain open. (Getty Images)

Following similar announcements by other carriers earlier this week, AT&T said Wednesday it’s shutting doors to some company-owned retail stores across the U.S. in response to the ongoing COVID-19 public health crisis.

AT&T said starting today it will close more than 40% of its company-owned retail stores across the country, with those remaining open operating on adjusted hours (11 a.m. – 7 p.m. local time) and all stores closing on Sundays.

AT&T said closures will continue as it focuses resources on select stores to meet immediate service needs of customers, including fist responders and healthcare providers. The carrier said it will also ensure that all retail employees continue to get paid regardless of whether their store is slated to close.

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T-Mobile earlier this week said it would shut 80% of company-owned stores and Sprint yesterday announced it would temporarily close 71% of Sprint retail stores. Verizon has said it will close some corporate retail stores, and reduce hours at those that remain open, with all shut on Sundays until April 12.

RELATED: T-Mobile closes 80% of corporate retail stores in more aggressive COVID-19 response

The percentages aren’t exactly clear-cut though, as AT&T, like most other carriers, noted closures apply to company-owned retail locations. Many of the carriers’ branded retail stores are privately owned and operated by independent dealers, so it’s not immediately clear how many of those will remain open.

Data from Wave7 Research’s Door Report, released Wednesday, shows that AT&T had slightly more than 2,000 company-owned postpaid stores, but those were significantly outnumbered by the amount of AT&T dealer-operated retail stores.  

Overall, Wave7 Research estimates that 14,400 of the total 21,800 postpaid carrier stores remained open as of Tuesday, March 17 (before AT&T’s announcement today), or about one-third had closed.   

Verizon said it was reducing the number of employees working shifts in retail locations by 50%, and still paying employees for any missed shifts. While it didn't put a percentage on store closures, Jeff Moore, principal at Wave7, said based on checks of about 100 Verizon retail stores across four metro markets, he estimates the carrier has temporarily closed roughly 10% of its company-owned stores. 

Notably, only about 21% of Verizon-branded retail stores are company owned and Wave7 did not observe any store closures or reduced hours at the carrier’s dealer stores.

At T-Mobile, dealers account for about 60% of the carrier’s branded retail stores and while its announcement only applied to company-owned stores, it appears dealers are closing doors in certain markets as well.

RELATED: Verizon, T-Mobile, Apple close retail doors amid COVID-19, impacting carriers' Q1

Moore said after examination, major markets like Boston and Dallas, where there is currently at least one T-Mobile-owned store open – all of T-Mobile branded dealer stores Wave7 checked were shutdown. However, in markets, like Helena, Montana, where corporate retail stores aren’t located, T-Mobile appears to be leaving at least one dealer store open.  

Moore said he takes that to suggest, “T-Mobile is making a commonsense effort to make sure that in every market there’s at least one store open, whether it’s a dealer store or a corporate store.”

In addition to temporarily closing stores and reducing hours, major carriers and communication providers have made committments to help Americans maintain service and connectivity, including removing data caps, providing additional hotspot data, and not terminating service if customers are unable to pay their bills because of circumstances related to the novel coronavirus.

The store closures come as companies and communities work to implement social distancing guidance that top U.S. leaders and health officials say is needed to slow the spread of the global COVID-19 pandemic that is making its way through the country. New federal recommendations include all Americans work and stay at home whenever possible, and avoid social gatherings of groups of more than 10 people, among others.

Numerous state and local governments haven taken action like closing schools, banning large public gatherings, restricting restaurants to take-out or delivery, and even issuing shelter-in-place orders in some major cities as confirmed novel coronavirus cases grow.

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