Sam's Crackdown on Membership Sharing

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Re: Sam's Crackdown on Membership Sharing

Post by ClownLoach »

storewanderer wrote: March 31st, 2024, 8:02 pm
ClownLoach wrote: March 31st, 2024, 10:14 am

As far as Sam's assortment, they have about 5,000 SKUs compared to 3,000 at Costco. They have some restaurant supply type stuff that Costco would only carry at business centers now. But they have been gradually moving that stuff online except for consumables and expanding more for the consumer. They used to carry almost 7,000 SKUs at Sam's but as we all know they couldn't manage the inventory well, they had bulk stacks in the aisles and other nonsense which has all been cleaned out and SKU rationalized. When I first saw a remodeled store I thought they had added more merchandise because of the improved layout when in fact a couple thousand items were removed to clear the clutter. Not one item I would shop them for disappeared so they must have known what they were doing. It felt like they really cut the vending machine type stuff, clunkier restaurant equipment and business oriented office supplies the most. They also stopped buying Walmart type deal junk like stacks of noname air fryers for $25 and such. The end result is the assortment skews much higher end, aligned with the Costco demographic.

Where Sam's excels is seasonal merchandise, far better assortment and quality than Costco. Clothing has been improving and is now comparable to Costco with really good quality basics in their house brand. All the house brand items are comparable to Kirkland, I would argue many are better and I have favorites all over the store. They have some really fun areas, spices and seasonings changes constantly and has probably 5 times the selection of Costco with lots of limited buys. Meat is a larger assortment and they have smaller packs at same price which is great for a smaller household. Their Home department is fantastic, the best quality towels, sheets, etc. Deli and Bakery in my opinion are hit or miss, selection is probably double Costco but they have some lower quality items thrown in. They do get lots of seasonal limited time foods, had some fantastic stuff for Octoberfest. Incredible quality garden stuff. Sam's is not the same as it was 5 years ago and continues to get better. They have a very large program where they target their top 10,000 members to test and adjust new house brand products before they come out, so their Members Mark brand moved from being bulk Walmart stuff to rivaling or exceeding Kirkland Signature. I don't care for the Sam's cafe operation but their hot dog is much better than Costco.

The areas I think Costco does better in are electronics, produce, limited time high dollar items, liquor (although Sam's just tripled their selection of whiskeys and tequilas but didn't have anything that excited me yet), bakery and deli, tires, pharmacy, furniture, appliances, and of course the food court.

Sam's selection, especially in the middle of the store, is more fun these days. I went over ten years without shopping Sam's because it was just Walmart junk in bulk in a clunky store, but they have completely reinvented the store and it keeps getting better. Costco is very stagnant and set in their ways, which I can understand from an operational perspective due to their volume where any new friction could cost millions of dollars in a single day. Sam's is the innovator in the industry now, not Costco, and it shows in their performance as they've flipped from years of downsizing and closures to remodeling nearly the entire chain and now expanding again with new warehouses under construction that are larger than what Costco builds today.

And the convenience offerings like the free curbside pickup for Plus members, free shipping etc. all come from Scan and Go and a really good self checkout. One supports the other, and yes half the cashiers went to order pulling where they get more hours, full time status and a fixed work schedule. They're actually treating their people well and it seems like every time I go now there's new faces on a board congratulating employees for 5, 10 year and up milestones. A decade ago Sam's felt like all minimum wage workers that didn't know anything or care because they were going to find a new job next week. Now I see the same people every time I shop there.

They're different like Coke and Pepsi, I can put up with either one but I would say my warehouse visits these days are 60% Costco, 40% Sam's and I usually wind up with a fuller basket at Sam's.
One of the other things I notice at Sams is I don't see many people returning items there. It seems like while the store has significantly more customer traffic than before, the returns/membership area is usually deserted or has one customer doing something. There used to be a line there and a good number of people were returning those junk special buys that they used to love to put on pallets out in the middle of the sales floor.

I'm still waiting for them to take some of this mindset over to the Wal Mart side of the business. I think it is happening. Baby steps.

They need to do something with their cafe. It is understaffed and sloppy (also very BUSY). For the price I really like the pizza slice. Better than slices that cost 2-2.5x as much at Whole Foods or the mall. I think they need to install about 20 order kiosks per store and mandate use of them (or the app) for cafe.

Their meat department is doing a lot of good things and the smaller package sizes are very helpful. They just don't do the sheer meat volume Costco does so they don't have the assortment of packages/cuts out that Costco has which is a big draw to Costco for some customers. The other thing is where Sam's is selling a ton of volume of lower priced cuts and chicken, Costco is selling a huge volume of higher end cuts/beef steaks so the department just isn't as interesting as Costco.

Produce at Sam's was better in 2021-2022 than it has been during 2023-present. Something is up with the supplier they use for a good amount of their produce (some of it appears to come from their warehouse but some is from this supplier). Some independent/small chains I shop, as well as US Foods Chef Store, use that supplier too, and I have noticed issues with produce at those stores too the past year.
The Sam's Cafe operation unfortunately is the worst part of the store consistently, wherever I go. Supposedly this is getting a revamp, but the App ordering doesn't work well and has just backed up the lines more. I agree it needs kiosks.

Interesting what you've seen with meat, because I find they have more Prime meat at my local store than Costco. And a vastly larger meat selection overall. I have noticed some of the older warehouses like the one I shop have larger meat and deli areas. At my store the entire left side of the store is all the "perimeter" including pharmacy, frozen, refrigerated, dairy, deli, meat, bakery and produce all slammed together into a giant block of refrigeration. Then the back and right side are all pallet racking. But another close by store has more of a "Costco style" layout with meat, deli and bakery at the back and it does seem they have less meat.

Some of the stores now have a full service meat, seafood and sushi counter with even more Prime beef. Only places I've seen this so far are Ontario, CA and the SW Las Vegas store near Summerlin but apparently there are more rolling out.
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Re: Sam's Crackdown on Membership Sharing

Post by Brian Lutz »

I think the main thing that keeps Costco on top in this industry, aside from the fact that Sam's Club has completely abandoned entire regions of the US, is the fact that many members seem very loyal to Costco. They seem to like being in a "club" even if it's something anyone with $60 can join. Even if Sam's has significantly improved their product over the last few years I don't think they have any chance of being able to tap into that type of loyalty, at least not while they are associated with Walmart.

Target's demographic seems to be heavily skewed toward people who would never be caught dead shopping at Walmart for various reasons, and I suspect Costco gets a fair bit of overlap with those same shoppers who would also never be caught dead shopping at Sam's Club. On top of that there's also the Costco "Superfans", the types of people who will actually wear their Kirkland Signature shirts out in public and make Tiktok posts about the latest .97s they found in their local warehouse while they're munching on their $1.50 hotdogs in their SUV with the "Bring back combo pizza" bumper sticker on the back (and yes, people actually do these things.) Sam's Club's hotdogs are $1.38, they actually have more than five soda choices in their drink machines, and the stores have better selections in a lot of categories, but even if Sam's has in many ways created a superior shopping experience and has better stocked stores a lot of these people will simply treat the thought of ever shopping there as anathema and keep going to Costco.

My wife and I do have both memberships since we moved to a city that has both of these within a mile of each other, and treat them as complimentary. We still do most of the shopping at Costco, but do frequently also go to Sam's for items that Costco doesn't have since the Scan-and-go makes it easy to go in, grab 1-2 things and get out in just a few minutes without having to wade through the checkout lines and deal with a much less crowded store. That said, the local Sam's Club does still have a more cavernous industrial feel to it than Costco does, with generally dimmer lighting, occasional issues with running out of shopping carts at the entrance and clutter in the aisles at times. The food court also feels like it gets treated like an obligation from corporate rather than something to attract customers, with chronic understaffing, no app ordering and almost always a long single line to order.

All in all, it does still feel like the type of place you go to shop for what you need as quickly as possible, then get out as quickly as you can.
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Re: Sam's Crackdown on Membership Sharing

Post by ClownLoach »

Brian Lutz wrote: April 1st, 2024, 11:24 am I think the main thing that keeps Costco on top in this industry, aside from the fact that Sam's Club has completely abandoned entire regions of the US, is the fact that many members seem very loyal to Costco. They seem to like being in a "club" even if it's something anyone with $60 can join. Even if Sam's has significantly improved their product over the last few years I don't think they have any chance of being able to tap into that type of loyalty, at least not while they are associated with Walmart.

Target's demographic seems to be heavily skewed toward people who would never be caught dead shopping at Walmart for various reasons, and I suspect Costco gets a fair bit of overlap with those same shoppers who would also never be caught dead shopping at Sam's Club. On top of that there's also the Costco "Superfans", the types of people who will actually wear their Kirkland Signature shirts out in public and make Tiktok posts about the latest .97s they found in their local warehouse while they're munching on their $1.50 hotdogs in their SUV with the "Bring back combo pizza" bumper sticker on the back (and yes, people actually do these things.) Sam's Club's hotdogs are $1.38, they actually have more than five soda choices in their drink machines, and the stores have better selections in a lot of categories, but even if Sam's has in many ways created a superior shopping experience and has better stocked stores a lot of these people will simply treat the thought of ever shopping there as anathema and keep going to Costco.

My wife and I do have both memberships since we moved to a city that has both of these within a mile of each other, and treat them as complimentary. We still do most of the shopping at Costco, but do frequently also go to Sam's for items that Costco doesn't have since the Scan-and-go makes it easy to go in, grab 1-2 things and get out in just a few minutes without having to wade through the checkout lines and deal with a much less crowded store. That said, the local Sam's Club does still have a more cavernous industrial feel to it than Costco does, with generally dimmer lighting, occasional issues with running out of shopping carts at the entrance and clutter in the aisles at times. The food court also feels like it gets treated like an obligation from corporate rather than something to attract customers, with chronic understaffing, no app ordering and almost always a long single line to order.

All in all, it does still feel like the type of place you go to shop for what you need as quickly as possible, then get out as quickly as you can.
It will be very interesting to see where Sam's lands in the big expansion they're starting up. I have heard they're scouting sites in Norcal, Orange County and San Diego, which would indicate to me that they're going to make a run at getting back to the PNW too. There is definitely a imbalance as if I recall correctly Costco has only caught up to Sam's store count in the last few years mainly due to the closures in the 2010s when we all thought Walmart was going to pull the plug as it was collapsing with junky stores selling low quality bulk packs of what amounted to "Great Value" brand crap. Some markets where Sam's out numbers and out performs Costco, like Las Vegas.

All the California stores I've been to have a preposterous amount of shopping carts, probably numbering in the thousands and more than they could possibly need. I have seen some Walmart stores with the same situation, a utterly unreal number of carts. I wonder if Walmart botched their cart orders this past year and sent too many carts to the wrong stores.

Its funny that you mentioned lighting because Costco is aggressively pulling out the warehouse bucket lights and replacing them with dim LED strips as well as painting over all the skylights to block natural light. The stores that have received the treatment feel dark and gloomy now. The lights somehow fail in every way as the light doesn't reach the ground in the aisles, but if you look up it produces blinding glare as there are no diffusers. They did this with the original Price Club in San Diego that is approaching 50 years old. The store is a Howard Hughes aircraft hangar with sharply peaked roofs and they had spent millions of dollars on construction just a few years ago to cut hundreds of skylights into the store. They have since painted over every single one of them and installed this terrible glare filled cheap lighting that is so bad Dollar General would reject it. I cannot understand why they are doing this. The newer Sam's Club stores use a odd canopy shaped 8 tube fixture and lots of skylights. I agree their older buildings tend to be darker, but the majority have been reconfigured to follow a Costco-like layout with a horseshoe of racking and open center. The few that lack this configuration were really unpleasant but the only one I can think of that still had such layout was being fully remodeled last time I drove by (Moreno Valley, CA).

I think that the technological aspect of their operation is how they're handing that "Target customer that won't shop Walmart" as they offer curbside pickup, scan and go etc. which Costco won't and can't match. It's the same crowd that is leasing Tesla EVs that I'm seeing crowd Sam's these days which should send a big message as to the changing demographic. And there is definitely a huge difference in demographics and seemingly sales volume between freestanding Sam's Club stores versus the older ones next to or attached to Walmart. The ones next to Walmart are definitely lower performing as they struggle to attract the clientele Sam's wants these days (the Costco customer who has had enough of the overcrowding, lack of technology, and wants a differentiated assortment).
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Re: Sam's Crackdown on Membership Sharing

Post by mbz321 »

I'm more surprised that it took Sam's this long to do something like this, especially given their technology. I've only gone into Sam's a few times (when I had the $8 'Super Bowl' membership promo a few years back). I was given a physical card which had nothing other than a barcode on it, and never saw anyone checking cards anywhere...made me wonder why anyone paid for a membership to begin with.

I wonder if BJ's will follow as well as they also don't check at the entrance except maybe at locations in rougher areas, and they no longer put pictures on cards. As long as you go through a Self Checkout, there are no checks. (I occasionally 'borrow' a family members barcode on occasion to get those few things I can't get at Costco :| )

But both places pretty much hand out memberships like candy anyway though, and as mentioned, you can just sign up with different info. to get a new membership with the promotional price, as long as you don't care about saving your purchase history or tire center after-sale benefits or whatever.
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Re: Sam's Crackdown on Membership Sharing

Post by ClownLoach »

mbz321 wrote: April 2nd, 2024, 9:21 am I'm more surprised that it took Sam's this long to do something like this, especially given their technology. I've only gone into Sam's a few times (when I had the $8 'Super Bowl' membership promo a few years back). I was given a physical card which had nothing other than a barcode on it, and never saw anyone checking cards anywhere...made me wonder why anyone paid for a membership to begin with.

I wonder if BJ's will follow as well as they also don't check at the entrance except maybe at locations in rougher areas, and they no longer put pictures on cards. As long as you go through a Self Checkout, there are no checks. (I occasionally 'borrow' a family members barcode on occasion to get those few things I can't get at Costco :| )

But both places pretty much hand out memberships like candy anyway though, and as mentioned, you can just sign up with different info. to get a new membership with the promotional price, as long as you don't care about saving your purchase history or tire center after-sale benefits or whatever.
I think the current Sam's front door strategy is to let people come in and see how drastically different the store is versus 5+ years ago. I noticed they're running a large social media sponsored post campaign targeting millennials, basically saying "you need to start adulting" and showing off very young looking customers using the scan & go tech alongside the upgraded fresh offerings. They have figured out that there is a whole new generation of potential customers who expect the convenience of technology that Costco cannot and at this time will not provide.

I'm still confused as to why Costco, who gives away free membership at new store openings and has a perpetual $25 first year campaign with other freebies and a fat coupon book, doesn't have a reputation for discounting membership but Sam's who is running a $30 first year campaign does. Although the fact is that Sam's needs to get back the many customers over the last few decades who had given up on them. I was one of those people who went nearly ten years without a Sam's card because the store was worthless, now it has changed so much I always wind up buying more there each trip than Costco.
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Re: Sam's Crackdown on Membership Sharing

Post by storewanderer »

ClownLoach wrote: April 2nd, 2024, 4:31 pm
I think the current Sam's front door strategy is to let people come in and see how drastically different the store is versus 5+ years ago. I noticed they're running a large social media sponsored post campaign targeting millennials, basically saying "you need to start adulting" and showing off very young looking customers using the scan & go tech alongside the upgraded fresh offerings. They have figured out that there is a whole new generation of potential customers who expect the convenience of technology that Costco cannot and at this time will not provide.

I'm still confused as to why Costco, who gives away free membership at new store openings and has a perpetual $25 first year campaign with other freebies and a fat coupon book, doesn't have a reputation for discounting membership but Sam's who is running a $30 first year campaign does. Although the fact is that Sam's needs to get back the many customers over the last few decades who had given up on them. I was one of those people who went nearly ten years without a Sam's card because the store was worthless, now it has changed so much I always wind up buying more there each trip than Costco.
I feel like Costco was Grouponing memberships before Sams was but Sams was doing a lot of free promos in recent years. I actually think the foot traffic that was created by all those free membership promos Sams has been doing were uses as a foundation from which to improve their operations/mix with. And now it appears many people are actually paying for the membership.

The other thing is Sams for online etc. charges prices that seem to be the same as in the club. With Costco online it seems the prices are not the same...
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Re: Sam's Crackdown on Membership Sharing

Post by ClownLoach »

storewanderer wrote: April 2nd, 2024, 10:52 pm
ClownLoach wrote: April 2nd, 2024, 4:31 pm
I think the current Sam's front door strategy is to let people come in and see how drastically different the store is versus 5+ years ago. I noticed they're running a large social media sponsored post campaign targeting millennials, basically saying "you need to start adulting" and showing off very young looking customers using the scan & go tech alongside the upgraded fresh offerings. They have figured out that there is a whole new generation of potential customers who expect the convenience of technology that Costco cannot and at this time will not provide.

I'm still confused as to why Costco, who gives away free membership at new store openings and has a perpetual $25 first year campaign with other freebies and a fat coupon book, doesn't have a reputation for discounting membership but Sam's who is running a $30 first year campaign does. Although the fact is that Sam's needs to get back the many customers over the last few decades who had given up on them. I was one of those people who went nearly ten years without a Sam's card because the store was worthless, now it has changed so much I always wind up buying more there each trip than Costco.
I feel like Costco was Grouponing memberships before Sams was but Sams was doing a lot of free promos in recent years. I actually think the foot traffic that was created by all those free membership promos Sams has been doing were uses as a foundation from which to improve their operations/mix with. And now it appears many people are actually paying for the membership.

The other thing is Sams for online etc. charges prices that seem to be the same as in the club. With Costco online it seems the prices are not the same...
Yes on both. Costco charges more online for the majority of their items below $100.

For large bulky items they charge more than the store, but then use Innovel delivery. They have a perpetual sale where if you buy two or more items that Innovel delivers they basically wipe out the up charge, and 3 or more then you may actually save over the store price.

The large bulky item business is one area I've only tried once with Sam's (a barbecue) and it was delivered by a LTL carrier who thankfully had a forklift to get it to my garage door. I think Costco has a clear advantage on appliances and furniture, while Sam's seems to be just reselling vendor fulfilled items.
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Re: Sam's Crackdown on Membership Sharing

Post by storewanderer »

ClownLoach wrote: April 2nd, 2024, 11:45 pm
storewanderer wrote: April 2nd, 2024, 10:52 pm
ClownLoach wrote: April 2nd, 2024, 4:31 pm
I think the current Sam's front door strategy is to let people come in and see how drastically different the store is versus 5+ years ago. I noticed they're running a large social media sponsored post campaign targeting millennials, basically saying "you need to start adulting" and showing off very young looking customers using the scan & go tech alongside the upgraded fresh offerings. They have figured out that there is a whole new generation of potential customers who expect the convenience of technology that Costco cannot and at this time will not provide.

I'm still confused as to why Costco, who gives away free membership at new store openings and has a perpetual $25 first year campaign with other freebies and a fat coupon book, doesn't have a reputation for discounting membership but Sam's who is running a $30 first year campaign does. Although the fact is that Sam's needs to get back the many customers over the last few decades who had given up on them. I was one of those people who went nearly ten years without a Sam's card because the store was worthless, now it has changed so much I always wind up buying more there each trip than Costco.
I feel like Costco was Grouponing memberships before Sams was but Sams was doing a lot of free promos in recent years. I actually think the foot traffic that was created by all those free membership promos Sams has been doing were uses as a foundation from which to improve their operations/mix with. And now it appears many people are actually paying for the membership.

The other thing is Sams for online etc. charges prices that seem to be the same as in the club. With Costco online it seems the prices are not the same...
Yes on both. Costco charges more online for the majority of their items below $100.

For large bulky items they charge more than the store, but then use Innovel delivery. They have a perpetual sale where if you buy two or more items that Innovel delivers they basically wipe out the up charge, and 3 or more then you may actually save over the store price.

The large bulky item business is one area I've only tried once with Sam's (a barbecue) and it was delivered by a LTL carrier who thankfully had a forklift to get it to my garage door. I think Costco has a clear advantage on appliances and furniture, while Sam's seems to be just reselling vendor fulfilled items.
Over the years especially as Kmart was trying to integrate in Sears Appliance Sales, I've wondered why Wal Mart didn't try to get into more of the big ticket type purchases either itself or via Sams Club.

I'd almost say reselling vendor fulfilled items could be a bigger liability than advantage. anything else. Definitely not an "advantage" in any sense. Not sure what I was thinking there.
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Re: Sam's Crackdown on Membership Sharing

Post by mbz321 »

ClownLoach wrote: April 2nd, 2024, 4:31 pm
I'm still confused as to why Costco, who gives away free membership at new store openings and has a perpetual $25 first year campaign with other freebies and a fat coupon book,

I have never heard of Costco giving away free or severely reduced memberships in any recent history. They used to do a sheet of 'free item' coupons (food court pizza, Kirkland batteries, cookies?, etc.), but I haven't seen that happen in almost 10 years.

The only deal Costco does now to the general public is, very seldom, new member deals through Groupon and the like, but that usually involves signing up at regular price and receiving a gift card after signup of varying amounts.

(There is also a 'secret' promo in store if we catch you as a non-member and you sign up then with auto-renewal, you also get a gift card with amount depending on membership).
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Re: Sam's Crackdown on Membership Sharing

Post by storewanderer »

mbz321 wrote: April 3rd, 2024, 11:03 am
ClownLoach wrote: April 2nd, 2024, 4:31 pm
I'm still confused as to why Costco, who gives away free membership at new store openings and has a perpetual $25 first year campaign with other freebies and a fat coupon book,

I have never heard of Costco giving away free or severely reduced memberships in any recent history. They used to do a sheet of 'free item' coupons (food court pizza, Kirkland batteries, cookies?, etc.), but I haven't seen that happen in almost 10 years.

The only deal Costco does now to the general public is, very seldom, new member deals through Groupon and the like, but that usually involves signing up at regular price and receiving a gift card after signup of varying amounts.

(There is also a 'secret' promo in store if we catch you as a non-member and you sign up then with auto-renewal, you also get a gift card with amount depending on membership).
Do they not blanket the area around a new store with free memberships where you are?

Maybe they only do that in some markets.
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