Sam's Club boosts member services with new products, free drugs

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark.—Sam's Club is tweaking merchandise and adding services to create more excitement in stores and attract members to its most profitable membership, ranking with a new pharmacy initiative that includes free drugs.

Walmart's membership club format is focused on four key areas, according to Sam's Club President and CEO Rosalind Brewer: merchandise transformation, growing membership, increasing e-commerce and enhancing member value.

The average club members visits 17 times per year and the goal is to create more of a treasure hunt experience. To that end, buyers are tasked with adding "newness" in all departments, Brewer said. And they're doing so by bringing in unusual merchandise in finite quantities. The goal is to "sell out, not sell through," said Dawn VonBechmann, senior VP of technology, entertainment and office at Sam's Club. Buyers are actively seeking new products and vendors with open calls in a Shark Tank-like pitch session. Departments are also calling out the expanded inventory available online.   

New membership campaigns are now focused on younger shoppers. "Sam's has been a boomer-based business and we're looking at ways to engage millennials," said Brewer. The club is using social media, promotions with Groupon and Living Social, and developing subscription based services to reach this group and grow e-commerce.

Member services are undergoing some of the most dramatic changes with programs such as a new business lending center to make capital more readily available to small business members.

A program that had been called Club Pickup has evolved into Click 'n Pull, which lets members shop online and pick up their order within two hours at a Sam's Club. Mobile check-in paired with geofencing speeds up the collection process while earlier store hours are aimed at better serving small businesses.

And finally, there are the free drugs. Sam's Club has made generic versions of the five most popular prescription drugs available to its members. Medications for Alzheimer's disease, diabetes, mental health, men's health and women's health are now available in 30 day supplies for free to Sam's Plus members in the 35 states where it's allowed.

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