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Sam's Club executives say the small-format store being built in east Dallas to test new technologies will open in the next few weeks. Called Sam's Club Now, the store will be "the epicenter of innovation" for Walmart Inc.'s members-only warehouse division.

The store will function as both a technology lab and a retail club, John Furner, Sam's Club president and chief executive officer, said in a conference call with reporters last week. He declined to give an exact opening date for the store.

Sam's Club Now is about one-fourth the size of a typical Sam's Club warehouse -- ideal for testing and refining innovations that may eventually be adopted throughout the chain, he said.

"We're out to win, not just today but also in the future," Furner said, adding the plan will require integrating customer service with digital innovations. To help accomplish this, he said, Sam's is creating a new position called a member host.

"They'll be the concierge of the club," Furner said. The host will get members set up with the new mobile phone app they'll need to shop at the store, and explain how to use it.

Jamie Iannone, chief executive officer of SamsClub.com and executive vice president of membership and technology, said in the conference call that the Sam's Club Now app will incorporate the Scan & Go technology introduced in the last few years at Sam's Clubs and select Walmart stores.

With Scan & Go, shoppers scan each item as they place it in their cart. The app stores their credit or debit card information, so when customers finish shopping, they click a button to pay for the items and show the digital receipt to an employee at the exit.

Walmart shoppers largely ignored Scan & Go, but Iannone said Sam's Club members have embraced it. That's why they've made Scan & Go the foundation of the app customers will use to help test and refine new features.

Neil Stern, senior partner with retail consultant McMillan-Doolittle, said in a phone interview that Scan & Go proved more popular at Sam's Clubs because they attract a different kind of customer than Walmart and offer a different shopping experience.

Sam's Club members tend to be higher income and more tech savvy than an average Walmart customer, Stern said, and so are more likely to embrace new technology. Also, the clubs carry far fewer items than Walmart stores, and products are prepackaged with easily identifiable bar codes. "That makes the actual [scanning] process much easier for the customer to handle," Stern said.

In addition, the ease of customer identification in a membership environment makes Scan & Go helpful from an operations and security standpoint, Stern said. "It's very easy to tie membership numbers to the app and what they're scanning," he said.

While Scan & Go does require a bit more work on the part of the customer, Stern said, the benefit is avoiding lengthy, slow-moving checkout lines.

"In that club environment, you do put the onus on the shopper, but the return is I save money," Stern said. "So if you tell me this is a way I can save money, or time, I think I'm more willing to make that investment."

Iannone said the app functions to be tested in the new store include smart shopping lists, which use machine learning and purchase data to autofill a member's shopping list. As each item is scanned, the list will update and move it into the shopper's mobile basket for checkout.

Also, thanks to an augmented reality-enabled function, shoppers can learn more about a product, such as its sourcing, simply by holding their phones in front of it.

The app will also combine wayfinding and navigation features with voice search to show shoppers a map of the store and the location of the item they're looking for. Eventually, Iannone said, beacon technology will be used along with the member's smart shopping list to map the best route through the store on a shopping trip.

Apart from the app, the store will test electronic shelf labels that instantly update prices. And "down the road," Iannone said, they'll use the store's system of more than 700 cameras to help manage inventory and optimize layout.

Iannone said Dallas was chosen as the site of the test store because it's an easy trip from Walmart's Bentonville headquarters, and because of its tech talent pool. Dallas also is the location of Sam's Club's new Innovation Center, which, as part of Sam's Club Technology Team, developed most of the innovative features in-house using augmented reality, machine learning, artificial intelligence, robotics and other cutting-edge technologies.

Business on 10/30/2018

Print Headline: Sam's Club to open smaller, high-tech store

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