AT&T takes an unfortunate page from T-Mobile's playbook with impending store closures
UPDATE: In addition to an unspecified number of Cricket Wireless prepaid branded stores, Fierce Wireless is now reporting AT&T plans to permanently close a similarly unspecified number of corporate-owned stores as well.
Most of these retail locations haven't reopened yet after shutting their doors due to the pandemic and they're likely to keep their doors closed for good as AT&T finds it can serve customers just as well online.
Once again, the carrier insists the decision to reduce its offline retail presence is not new, being however precipitated by a chain of recent events that substantially diminished foot traffic and non-essential purchases in many places around the US.
More and more analysts believe this could be the start of a nationwide trend for all major carriers, with thousands of stores overall likely to suffer the same fate in the near future. Our original story follows below.
The coronavirus pandemic has hit both the smartphone and wireless industries exceptionally hard on multiple fronts, slowing down mobile device production, making it increasingly difficult for carriers to stick to their previously designed network rollout and expansion schedules, and perhaps most important of all, severely impacting consumer demand.
The huge decline in global handset shipments forecasted through the end of the year will unquestionably cause trouble for mobile network operators in addition to actual smartphone vendors, especially in markets like the US, where many purchases are still conducted with the help of carriers.
Brick and mortar stores remain a crucial part of the business strategy of America's big four (or rather big three) cellular companies, but with a large number of such locations temporarily closed in the last few months and many people unwilling to spend money on non-essential items like smartphones, revenue generated by physical Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile stores has undoubtedly fallen off a cliff.
It's hardly surprising therefore to see AT&T confirm rumors of impending Cricket Wireless store closures. We're talking retail locations that are either unlikely to open their doors again after their temporary shutdowns or that have reopened for the time being before closing up for good in the very near future.
For what it's worth, the nation's second-largest wireless service provider insists these Cricket stores were on their way out before the pandemic, with COVID-19 simply "accelerating" a decision already made in the face of shrinking offline sales. AT&T also claims it's doing this to "align" with its customers' needs, which are more and more focused on online purchases of both mobile devices and wireless plans.
Last but certainly not least, the company says the unspecified number of stores set to be terminated represents a "very small portion" of its overall distribution. While that might be so, it's definitely a little distressing that this move comes closely after a similar decision by T-Mobile to shutter hundreds of "redundant" Metro locations.
Metro by T-Mobile and Cricket Wireless are two of the best low-cost prepaid alternatives for the generally expensive postpaid services supplied by Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile, and if anything, it feels like we need more of those in today's uncertain and unstable economic environment.
Of course, just because some brick and mortar stores are going away, that doesn't mean these prepaid operators are too, with Cricket, for instance, touting a pretty impressive 10 million subscriber base last year. That's obviously not something AT&T will be looking to give up anytime soon after acquiring Cricket Wireless parent company Leap Wireless back in 2014.