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Club Stores: Eye on Innovation

PBP warehouse club stores

The Big Three warehouse clubs have been upping their game on the technology front of late. One area of advancement is in robotic scanning.

In March 2023, BJ’s Wholesale Club, Inc., BB #:162875 said it was partnering with Simbe Robotics for its inventory scanning solution called Tally.

Similarly, Sam’s Club BB #:140368 introduced 600 of Brain Corp’s robotic inventory scanners across all of its stores nationally, completing a 10-month rollout in October 2022.

Sam’s Club plans to open two new technology-forward distribution centers in the first quarter of 2024 in Illinois and Minnesota to improve speed and product availability in the Midwest. This followed new distribution center in Oklahoma, as well as a new fulfillment center in Georgia.

Mobile commerce and ecommerce are becoming increasingly important for the warehouse clubs. Sam’s Club offers ecommerce services including curbside pickup, mobile scan and go, ship-from-club, and delivery-from-club, with a wider variety of products online than in stores.

In the third quarter of 2023, the Sam’s Club Member Access Platform (MAP), which gives advertisers the ability to link their ad campaigns to actual sales in the app and in stores, grew 27 percent due to a record number of advertisers.

Costco Wholesale Corporation BB #:150902 was a relatively late entrant to ecommerce, but the business is starting to grow, especially through the buy-online-pick-up-in-store model.

For its part, BJ’s offers in-club shopping, curbside pickup, in-club picking, and same-day and standard delivery from its ecommerce site. Consumers in stores can pay by mobile app through the company’s ExpressPay service.

The clubs are also introducing new perks. Sam’s Club launched a loyalty rewards currency called Sam’s Cash in fiscal 2023. It brings together and replaces cash rewards for Plus members and cash back for Sam’s Club Mastercard holders. Sam’s Cash, which never expires, can be redeemed in store and online, for cash in clubs, or for membership fees.

Similarly, in February 2023, BJ’s launched its co-branded credit card program with Capital One, called the BJ’s One Mastercard program, which offers up to 5 percent rewards on in-club earnings and up to 2 percent rewards on out-of-club earnings, as well as discounts at its gas stations.

The chains are also making changes to their product mixes and store environments, including Sam’s pledge to declutter and brighten aisles, and Costco’s implementation of self-checkout lanes. The latter isn’t without its difficulties, ranging from shrink, negative feedback from members, and use of  membership cards by nonmembers.

Sam’s Club has had success with its Scan & Go app, which allows customers to pay in-store without standing in line, pay for gas at the pump, and arrange for shipping of larger purchases.

Final Thoughts

As they head into the future, two of the three club chains have made leadership changes. In August 2023, Sam’s Club named Chris Nicholas, formerly COO of Walmart U.S., as its new CEO, while Costco announced Ron Vachris as its new CEO in October 2023, replacing Craig Jelinek.

Phil Lempert, the Supermarket Guru of Santa Monica, CA believes warehouse clubs will need to focus even more on the consumer experience.

“They need to get the stores cleaned up and sexier, and to me that’s the produce department,” he says. “The number-one challenge is mindset—they need to think differently about produce and what it can do for the entire operation.”

He adds that the produce industry can be the catalyst, creating tools to help wholesale clubs merchandise produce better, such as with posters, digital tools, and B-roll for their in-house media networks. “Provide the materials and tell them how to use them!”

This is an excerpt from the feature story from the March/April 2024 issue of Produce Blueprints Magazine. Click here to read the whole issue.