Sam’s Club, the chain of warehouse club stores owned by Wal-Mart Stores Inc., has joined the world of subscription e-retail.
The move comes months after Target Corp. launched a similar program, and follows similar retail offerings from Amazon.com Inc., which is No. 1 in the Internet Retailer 2013 Top 500 Guide. Wal-Mart holds the No. 4 spot while Target is No. 18.
The “My Subscription” program, open to Sam’s Club members who pay the $45 and up annual membership fee, enables online shoppers to receive free shipping on orders of some 700 items such as baby products and office supplies, says a spokeswoman for the chain. Members can sign up to receive orders every one to four weeks. “Diapers, wipes, training pants, baby formula and baby food are the most popular subscription items to date,” she says. “Printer ink and toner are popular subscriptions among our business members.”
The chain offers no discounts on the subscription products. By contrast, Amazon.com offers a 15% discount to consumers who order five or more products for monthly delivery. Target, too, offers its own discount: Besides free shipping, consumers can get 5% off when paying with a Target credit card.
The subscription service, which the spokeswoman says “quietly” launched in October and remains in pilot mode, is the latest example of Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club investing in e-commerce. For instance, the retail chain late last year announced plans to roll out a new site search tool to SamsClub.com, and said it would offer items from Walmart.com to Sam’s Club members shopping on SamsClub.com. Wal-Mart, meanwhile has been expanding its substantial e-commerce operation in California’s Silicon Valley and testing online sales of groceries in Denver.
That test of taking web orders for free produce and other grocery items is one of several areas where Wal-Mart is competing online with Amazon. And Sam’s Club CEO Rosalind Brewer has talked publicly about how Amazon’s Prime $79-a-year two-day shipping program has proven attractive to Sam’s Club members.
But the Sam’s Club subscription program isn’t a direct response to Amazon, the Sam’s Club spokeswoman says. “This isn’t a specific strategy targeted at Amazon Prime, but one of the ways we are looking to maximize Samsclub.com and the intersection of bricks and clicks to stay relevant to our members’ evolving shopping habits,” she says. “Our objective in piloting ‘My Subscriptions’ is to better understand how our members are adapting to the subscription shopping model. We are pleased with the response from our members and use their feedback to optimize convenience, ease of use and savings as we investigate the next phase of the service.”