T-Mobile pushes postpaid, prepaid retail presence at 2,300 Walmart stores

For postpaid T-Mobile is converting Sprint’s Walmart presence to now be marketed under the magenta brand banner. Previously it was sold with "Sprint now part of T-Mobile" branding. (Credit: Wave7 Research)

T-Mobile is upping its retail presence at big box retailer Walmart, marking a conversion to magenta-branded postpaid (away from Sprint) and the introduction of Metro by T-Mobile at 2,300 stores next month.

T-Mobile’s prepaid Metro by T-Mobile brand will be available at certain Walmart locations starting October 18. The stores will carry Metro by T-Mobile smartphones, including 5G, three options for unlimited plans, as well as prepaid SIMs for eligible devices. Customers can purchase in store and activate online.

Beginning in November, consumers can shop at the Walmart locations for T-Mobile-branded postpaid devices and plans, including Magenta Max, and activate in-store.

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In announcing the move, T-Mobile indicated it's looking to reach customers in more locations for 5G plans and devices.

“In many parts of the country, limited competition when it comes to wireless service leaves some people with few options for plans or access to the benefits of 5G,” said Jon Freier, EVP of T-Mobile Consumer Group, in a statement. “5G for All means T-Mobile is bringing real choice and competition in wireless to many Americans. And even though online shopping continues to grow, we know that retail stores remain one of the primary places where wireless customers pick up devices and service. We’re working to expand our retail footprint across the country to meet more people in more places every day.”

T-Mobile’s low-band 5G using 600 MHz covers 1.7 million square miles in the U.S. and it’s been about 18 months since the carrier acquired mid-band 2.5 GHz from the Sprint merger.

Big move for Metro by T-Mobile

For the carrier’s prepaid Metro by T-Mobile brand it’s a big move, says Jeff Moore, principal at Wave7 Research, which closely tracks the prepaid and wireless retail market, as Metro hasn’t been sold at national retail in several years.

“For many years, we have not seen any presence whatsoever that’s Metro by T-Mobile at Walmart, or at national retail in general,” he told Fierce. “Metro by T-Mobile is the number one prepaid band in the U.S. prepaid market with nearly 21 million customers and for them to gain a presence at national retail is a very big deal.”

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It's a particularly big deal at Walmart, the leading national retailer. T-Mobile stands to face increased competition in prepaid, as Verizon gears up to acquire TracFone and boost its base by nearly 20 million subscribers. AT&T, which has the second-largest prepaid base after T-Mobile, upped its own figures with 174,000 prepaid net additions in the second quarter.

The entrance and T-Mobile-branded push into Walmart also marks a reversal of trends Wave7 Research has seen, in terms of wireless brands moving out or decreasing presence at national retailers.  

“This is an interesting maneuver…because broadly there has been less wireless carrier shelf share at national retail in recent years,” Moore said. For example, AT&T is the only postpaid carrier sold at Sam’s Club or Target, while Dish’s Boost Mobile exited national retailers except for Walmart.  

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For postpaid T-Mobile is converting Sprint’s Walmart presence to now exclusively be sold under the magenta brand banner, a T-Mobile spokesperson confirmed.

“We are converting everything currently Sprint branded over to the T-Mobile brand,” a T-Mobile spokesperson said.

Postpaid service at Walmart is has been marketed with “Sprint (powered by T-Mobile)” branding and is currently available in over 2,100 stores, according to the spokesperson.

Moore indicated a slightly greater presence, of about 3,000 Walmart Super Center stores, that generally had the tripod of AT&T, Verizon and Sprint (now part of T-Mobile) – but none that were strictly T-Mobile.

“There is not a single Walmart store that we’ve seen where you simply have a T-Mobile presence,” he said, based on Wave7 Research, including rigorous store and source checks since the T-Mobile Sprint merger in 2020.

That’s different than what the firm has seen at big box retailer Best Buy, where Moore said T-Mobile has been gradually phasing out Sprint branding.  

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“I think it’s a victory for the T-Mobile brand. They’ve reached the status having acquired one of the other national carriers, where T-Mobile is now a big brand ready to go toe to toe with Verizon and AT&T,” Moore said. “And Walmart is the leading national retailer in the United States, so it would only make sense that they want to have a presence [there].”

In addition to having visibility next to AT&T and Verizon in-store, another plus Moore highlighted about Walmart is that in 2019 the retailer introduced third-party sales reps that are on the floor, who are primarily focused on selling postpaid. A June 2019 announcement focused on AT&T, but stated plans to expand dedicated experts to more than 3,000 Walmart stores.

“We think postpaid sales have gone up pretty strongly at Walmart and that’s been a successful effort,” Moore noted, in terms of the third-party wireless representatives at the retailer.