Sam's Club vice president of ecommerce highlights the need to make digital options more convenient for shoppers.

Sam’s Club adapted fast and under pressure when COVID-19 first forced retailers to rethink in-store and omnichannel experiences in 2020. In 2024, the chain of club stores, which operates under Walmart, Inc., is building off what it launched and learned over the past four years.

Sabrina Callahan, who arrived at Sam’s Club in 2019 and now serves as vice president, ecommerce at Sam’s Club, was there when its members’ lives and needs changed over days and months. In 2020, Sam’s launched nationwide curbside pickup. It realized value from its existing investment in Scan & Go, a feature in the Sam’s Club mobile app, which enables customers to scan items in stores to check out through their phones. Within the past few months, Sam’s Club has gone further. It debuted new exit gateways that use computer vision to remove the need for customers to have receipts checked manually upon leaving.

Sabrina Callahan, vice president, ecommerce, Sam's Club

Sabrina Callahan, vice president, ecommerce, Sam’s Club | Photo credit: Sam’s Club

Callahan and Jordan Eddy, vice president, digital merchandising at Sam’s Club, appeared at eTail West in Palm Springs, Calif., in February, to discuss the customer preferences they are watching and some of the omnichannel implications. Callahan sat down later to get into more detail with Digital Commerce 360, walking through some of the changes she has seen, what she believes is working for Sam’s Club now, and what lies ahead.

Walmart is No. 2 in the Top 1000. The database is Digital Commerce 360’s ranking of North America’s online retailers by web sales. Walmart appears there in the Mass Merchant category.


How Sam’s Club adapted when COVID hit

Callahan’s first role at Sam’s Club was director of brand and social marketing, coming to the company from the hospitality industry at Hilton. She calls her initial mission todevelop and launch the brand” a “massive opportunity.” It was also one that put her in a position to observe how club members were experiencing Sam’s on public social platforms. 

“The launch, development and rollout of the brand happened fast and we had great momentum, and then COVID hit,” she recalled. “I wasn’t on the ecom[merce] side at that time, but what I watched is the world change overnight, and I think what was really interesting is where retailers adapted.”

She said she was motivated seeing Sam’s Club associates show up during some of the hardest times during that period. Moreover, she was well-placed to see the solutions that emerged through omnichannel offerings.

“We had Scan & Go, right? So it made [customers] feel comfortable to be able to come in and not have to talk to someone or touch someone or be within range of someone,” Callahan shared.


“But if they didn’t want to come into the club, what were their options?” she said, remembering the circumstances being confronted. “We didn’t have same-day delivery, but we had shipping. But then we also didn’t have curbside really at the time.”

All of that changed when curbside pickup became a national option that summer.

“Curbside just rolled out like wildfire, and our members craved the opportunity, and they immediately adopted,” she stated. “That for us was this giant shift, right, because now all of a sudden you introduced a brand-new channel and a brand-new convenience. And our members are loving it, but we rolled fast.”


Sam’s Club omnichannel priorities in 2024

Stepping into ecommerce at Sam’s Club in 2022, Callahan took on a leadership role in online and omnichannel efforts that followed. The Sam’s Club mobile app offers multiple features beyond online ordering. In addition to Scan & Go, it also gives members a way to order at a club’s café, pay for gas or scan an item’s barcode in-store to have it shipped.

Currently, about one-third of Sam’s Club shoppers buy online, according to Callahan. She sees the app as a growing opportunity — and one that Sam’s is positioned to pursue.

“[About] half of our members have the app, but only a third of them are purchasing online through us,” she assessed.

Also, she sees positive signals in mobile visitors to Sam Club’s website, who could potentially become app users as well.


“Almost 80% of our traffic’s coming through mobile,” she said. “50% of that’s coming through the app.”

Some core needs remain the same. According to Callahan, her focus is on convenience, mapping solutions to paths that expand upon traditional Sam’s Club experiences — such as browsing shelves, smelling samples, or enjoying a meal — that members enjoy.

“We want that for them,” she explained. “But we also want them shopping these other channels, right? Because we know that if they do, they shop all of the channels, Scan & Go and curbside, same-day delivery shipping and in-club, that they spend three times more, that they renew at a higher rate, and that they upgrade at a higher rate.

Grocery and consumables make up the largest product category by sales at Sam’s Club stores in the U.S. In 2023, it accounted for 63% of Sam’s Club’s sales, according to data published by Statista. The category’s dominance is reflected in Sam’s Club’s online sales as well, though Callahan noted that seasonal changes can impact purchases, as can promotional offers through the chain’s digital coupons and online events. In those cases, Sam’s may push smaller categories such as electronics, apparel or furniture.


What Sam’s Club members are using

As for what’s working best in Sam’s Club’s digital conversions, Callahan pointed to frequently ordered item recommendations, which propose items to add to orders.

“It’s that convenience that we’re seeing is really sticky,” she said.

A customer may be selecting items from a product carousel online or from a product page. But then, after a selection they could be shown items from past orders that are available for curbside pickup. Improving these recommendation models and removing friction from the entire process is what she wants to accomplish.

“I want them to shop, and I want them to have a good experience,” she explained. “Because they came for the convenience.”


What’s next for Sam’s Club

Better recommendations and improved convenience are two areas where Callahan wants to have an impact. She also wants to see Sam’s gain new insights from its four decades of member data, improving along the way. Looking ahead, she sees mobile and buy online, pick up in store (BOPIS) both playing important roles. But she is also paying attention to what customers adopt.

“I think we’re figuring out how far we can take the tech and continuing to use the data to make smarter decisions for our members, and then we’ll do a ton of A/B testing,” she said. “Do they like it? Did they not like it? And then if they’re liking it and it’s adding value to them, then we’ll roll it out.”

What she knows is that convenience will have value.

“Members have specifically told us they will pay more for convenience, but we don’t want them to pay extra,” she said. “We’re also saying if that’s that important to them, we have to lean in. They want it, and we’ve got to get it to them quickly.”


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