For Sam’s Club, Digital Creates Experience, But Proximity Remains A Question

A few months after introducing Scan & Go mobile shopping, Walmart-owned Sam's Club is trying to solve indoor location, says Engagement VP Adrian Fung.

This year, 60 percent of retail sales are expected involve some form of interactivity, noted Adrian Fung, VP of online engagement at Sam’s Club, at the beginning of a presentation on recapturing “lapsed shoppers” at the Shopper Marketing Summit.

Speaking with Sam’s Club loyalty marketing platform partner, Triad Media, Fung outlined the basic premise that’s been facing retailers for the past few years.

“What’s important about that 60 percent figure is how digital is changing the expectations consumers have in a retail environment,” Fung said. “You can get products delivered to your door within hours. You can indulge your Star Trek fantasies and talk to a device that is always on and it will do things for you and get you information instantly. That all changes consumers’ expectations about value, choice, simplicity. If retail doesn’t keep up with the pace of those changes — we all know this — it’s not going to succeed.”

It’s a point everyone in the retail space understands, Fung conceded. But it’s an important starting point that leads to the questions that still have yet to be answered in any clear way by most store brands: “From that starting point, you have to figure out who your target audience is. What do they care about? How are you going to reach them?”

Control In Consumers’ Hands

In response to another familiar idea about “the consumer being in control,” Sam’s Club a launched a dedicated mobile checkout app called Scan & Go last October.

The Scan & Go app lets members of the 659 Sam’s Clubs to scan as they go, pay from their phone, then simply show a digital receipt as they leave. Considering the idea for Sam’s Club is that people pay to shop there in order to get exclusive discounts, the app also allows users to easily track spending throughout their trip.

Still, Fung hastened to correct the impression that Scan & Go and its other digital features is just a way to meet the demands sparked by the rise of e-commerce. In Fung’s view, for Sam’s Club, which opened its first store in 1983, digital is not just another commerce channel, he insisted: “Digital a way of creating a whole new retail experience that’s constantly evolving to meet the needs of our members.”

The convenience of Scan & Go was part of the plan to inspire lapsed shoppers. Just because people retain their membership cards, it doesn’t necessarily mean the feel compelled to go to the store. In that sense, Scan & Go was more about driving personalization, which in turn would spur people to want to return to a local Sam’s Club.

On top of that, Sam’s Club relied on targeting members online with products they knew shoppers — and using lookalike modeling, customers whose habits resembled those shoppers — would be attracted to.

“We know a lot about our members, we know who visited a store and when, and what they bought,” Fung said. “And using machine learning models, we can then target specific members with specific incentives.”

Aside from mobile, Triad also helps power a a video network in all Sam’s Club location that are IP-addressable allowing for targeting at the store level.

Adrian Fung, Sam’s Club

But targeting at the shelf-level remains elusive. And Fung is not exactly enamored of proximity marketing tools like beacons, he told GeoMarketing.

“Beacons are not something that we’ve deployed widely,” he said. “A lot of these technologies still have a ways to go. But the idea of telling consumers that we can create a relevant experience for them based on where they are is important to us.

“For example, if we know someone is in a particular section of the Club, we can tell them about the items in that area that are special or that they might be interested in,” Fung continued. “That is something that our members increasingly tell us they want.”

About The Author
David Kaplan David Kaplan @davidakaplan

A New York City-based journalist for over 20 years, David Kaplan is managing editor of A former editor and reporter at AdExchanger, paidContent, Adweek and MediaPost.