Comcast opens up on Xfinity Mobile retail expansion plans

Comcast Xfinity store in Denver
Comcast plans to expand the number of its Xfinity retail stores. (Mike Dano / FierceWireless)

Comcast’s top retail executive offered a glimpse into how the nation’s largest cable company plans to expand sales of its Xfinity Mobile wireless service. Specifically, Comcast’s Tom DeVito said that, at least right now, Comcast will continue to focus on selling the company’s mobile service through its hundreds of retail stores.

Perhaps not surprisingly, DeVito said that Comcast is “doing really well” with sales of smartphones and service through its retail stores. “The retail stores are the largest channel for mobile in Comcast. … Our sales are growing every month in our Xfinity stores; they’ve exceeded our expectations.”

DeVito said that Comcast’s retail stores attract fully 20 million customers each year.

But, he added, Comcast’s retail footprint is expanding. DeVito said that Comcast today operates roughly 300 Xfinity retail outlets across its 40-state cable footprint, stores that offer the company’s full lineup of services, from mobile phones to home internet and TV services to home automation offerings. DeVito said Comcast counts another 200 “service centers,” or locations where customers can pay bills and obtain help with their Comcast services. However, DeVito said that, over the course of the next 3 to 5 years, Comcast plans to shutter those 200 service centers and relocate them to storefronts that receive more visibility and foot traffic, and will then reopen those stores as full-blown Comcast Xfinity retail outlets.

But Comcast’s Xfinity Mobile retail effort won’t stop with its retail stores. In addition to selling its mobile services online, DeVito said that Comcast is considering two additional distribution strategies: national retail and “branded partners.” DeVito said that a national retail sales channel would involve Comcast selling Xfinity Mobile in big-box retail stores like, potentially, Costco, Best Buy and Walmartsuch an effort would put Xfinity Mobile alongside offerings from major wireless network operators like AT&T and T-Mobile as well as MVNOs like Consumer Cellular.

DeVito said that Comcast is considering a national retail strategy, but hasn’t made any final decisions on that front.

As for a “branded partner” retail sales strategy, Comcast’s DeVito said such an effort would be similar to wireless carriers’ sales through dealers. Those third-party retailers often run stores that appear to be AT&T or Verizon stores, but are in fact owned by third-party dealers. DeVito said that Comcast could embark on a similar sales strategy, but that the company is still working on that model and hasn’t made any final decisions.

Nonetheless, Comcast’s retail efforts indicate the company may well expand its attack against the nation’s wireless network operators on the retail front, at least in the markets where Comcast sells Xfinity services. That’s noteworthy considering Xfinity Mobilean MVNO that runs on Verizon’s wireless networkcould steal customers from the likes of Sprint and AT&T.

Perhaps in response to the growing threat from Xfinity Mobile and other wireless players, AT&T just last week announced it would open 1,000 new retail operations around the country.

“Mobile is a distribution game,” Comcast’s DeVito explained, but he added that Comcast doesn’t believe it needs to operate thousands of retail stores to be successful in mobile. “We like where we are” in retail.

In the second quarter, Comcast reported a gain of 204,000 Xfinity Mobile lines, bringing the company’s total mobile customer base to 781,000 lines. And the analysts at Wall Street research firm Oppenheimer predicted that Comcast will increase its Xfinity Mobile customer base to around 1.3 million by the end of this year, growing that to 2.3 million by the end of next year and 3.3 million by 2020.