Commentary

A Visit to Sam's Club Now: Mobile, Cashier-less Experience

Will the future of brick-and-mortar grocery shopping become as digitized and devoid of human contact as possible? Amazon has spoiled consumers with fast, efficient, online shopping. Add the company’s purchase of Whole Foods and a rollout of cashier-less Amazon Go — and conventional retailers are scrambling for their own contemporary options.

Wholesale retailer Sam’s Club is testing its own digital/traditional fusion with Sam’s Club Now, a mobile shopping experience in Dallas. The store is smaller than a typical Sam’s Club -- 32,000 square feet, compared to 100,000 for a traditional Sam’s Club -- and has zero cashiers. 

I recently visited Sam’s Club Now, and while I kept my agency hat mostly on during my trip, I also walked through this store as a consumer who wants his shopping experience to be fast, seamless, stress-free and easy on the wallet.

Here’s what I took away from my inaugural visit.

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Cash is not accepted — only credit cards. Payment is connected to a member’s Sam’s Club Now card app, which differs from the Sam’s Club app and only works at this location. Members scan products as they shop, connect their credit card to the app, and show a QR code to an associate to leave. 

Ideal for “in the moment” shopping. Although Sam’s Club Now has a scaled down list of SKUs, it houses more than 30,000 items. The layout targets a quick in-and-out shopper, offering sushi and to-go items upon entering, not to mention a huge beer/wine display for someone looking to grab lunch and some impulse buys. 

It’s digitally friendly. Shoppers are given a tablet upon arrival to help them navigate the store. Already know the lay of the land? Give the tablet to your child. It’s kid-friendly and uses augmented reality to turn a boring shopping cart into a spaceship. In addition, certain areas of the store are AR-interactive and price tags are digital, which allows for updates in real time. 

My one quibble? The added tablet is cumbersome. I’d love to see it eliminated and have everything optimized so that only a phone is needed. 

This Club is modeled to a young, urban audience. Employees are young, and so is the clientele. Lower Greenville is a part of Dallas where millennials with young families live. There’s townhouses and condos within walking distance of the store. Think of it as Whole Foods-esque urban, hipster shopping.

Employees are specially trained for this position. Dubbed member hosts, employees can be found throughout the store. The Club, and the training given to personnel, is akin to visiting an Apple store and interacting with someone in a blue shirt.

Enjoy the silence. When was the last time you went grocery shopping, or any shopping, and didn’t hear the latest, greatest earworm music? Sam’s Club Now plays no music. I didn’t notice it initially, but when I did, it was eerie.

Aisles are clean and uncluttered. Despite a smaller square footage, maneuvering with a traditional-sized shopping cart was frictionless. There was plenty of room in every aisle for multiple carriages — not to mention advertising messages that won’t be caught up in disarray. You can take the man out of the agency… 

Sam’s Club Now is bridging the digital divide between brick-and-mortar shopping and online buying. It’s as close to buying online a person can get in a brick-and-mortar world. While still an in-person shopping experience, the Club can get people in and out faster than a stop to their local 7-11. 

The future of grocery shopping is shaping up to be digital, nearly devoid of human contact and low on dilly-dallying. 

Do you think that’s a good thing? Leave your thoughts in the comment section.

3 comments about "A Visit to Sam's Club Now: Mobile, Cashier-less Experience".
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  1. Chuck Lantz from 2007ac.com, 2017ac.com network, January 9, 2019 at 2:22 p.m.

    This "shopper friendly" approach sure beats the methods used by other chain stores, who block cell phone signals (God forbid that a shopper uses their phones to compare prices!), and constantly changing the locations of items to "encourage" aisle searches.  There's a fine line between "shopping" and "being held hostage" at a store. 

  2. Jenny Mirken from Jet Networks Inc, January 9, 2019 at 3:22 p.m.

    Very interesting. Can I ask what time of day and what day of the week you visited? You mentioned the lack of music - did you find that to be a positive or a negative? 

  3. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited replied, January 9, 2019 at 5:58 p.m.

    Blocking cells is a good thing. More should do it. One of the last things we need are people crampin ailes blabbering away and not paying attention to moving along, not to mention their yapping about crap we don't care about. Let them take it outside. If someone is worried about their canned corn being 2 cents less at another store, "layza gain" as Mel Brooks has wont to say. What Sam's club et al, is fighting is the single household with smaller storage places and everyone craving variety of THEIR choice.

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