Verizon targets reopening 50% of retail stores

Verizon is in the second wave of its retail redeployment program, with about 1,400 employees expected to head back to stores in the coming weeks, according to Ronan Dunne, head of Verizon’s consumer business, speaking on a Twitter webcast this week.

A little over 40% of Verizon’s company-owned retail stores were open as of May 5, up from 30% a few weeks ago, he said. The carrier expects to move reasonably quickly to 50%, with Dunne on Twitter confirming a June timeline for that target.

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As the coronavirus pandemic hit the U.S., Verizon temporarily shuttered 70% of company retail and reduced hours at those that remained opened. Only about 20% of Verizon-branded retail stores are corporate owned, with the remainder run by independent dealers, according estimates by Wave7 Research.

Retail closures have been expected to hit carriers hard, as most consumer activity is done in-store. Between 70-80% of consumer sales happen in company branded stores, according to LightShed estimates, with only about 10% done via online channels by BayStreet Research estimates.

Multiple Wall Street firms previously forecast device sales and subscriber additions could plummet in Q2.

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As retail stores start to reopen, combined with expanded telesales capabilities, Verizon is beginning to see consumer sales volume start to build up again, Dunne said in the webcast. In the first quarter, Verizon’s postpaid gross adds were down nearly 50%, while upgrades were down 41%.

In approaching store reopenings, Verizon is moving forward with its “touchless retail” strategy, which Dunne said goes beyond simply social distancing and is the template that will allow the carrier to reopen all of its stores in due time.

“We’re actually creating a sustainable, viable, scalable model for our retail, which brings out the best of Verizon and delivers a great customer experience,” Dunne said. “That is allowing us to now build out footprints again.”

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As companies work to understand how consumer behaviors and expectations may change post-COVID-19, the touchless strategy aims to make customers and employees feel comfortable, as well as create a streamlined experience in the future.

Elements of the touchless retail approach include setting up an in-store appointment online ahead of time, as well as mobile check-ins and product scanning. Verizon’s mobile app enables consumers to self-scan IDs and accept terms and conditions via a mobile link sent by employees. They can also check-out digitally or use touchless cash payments through a bill payment kiosk.  

In-store safety measures are also part of the mix, with social distancing markers inside and outside of retail locations, new partitions and sanitizing stations, and all employees wearing face masks and gloves.

Verizon is reducing the amount of accessories inventory on the floor by about 50% and cut down demo devices by around 15%.

“We understand how essential it is for our customers to have peace of mind knowing their safety is our first priority as they are transacting business during this unprecedented time,” said Krista Bourne, SVP of Sales and Operations at Verizon, in a statement. “The Touchless Retail changes we've implemented in Verizon retail stores not only contribute to a safer environment today but also will make shopping in our stores more efficient and streamlined in the future.”