How Sam’s Club Prioritizes Innovation During Uncertain Times

Chief product officer details club retailer’s 'member-obsessed' strategy during Groceryshop
Emily Crowe
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Tim Simmons Sam's Club Groceryshop
Tim Simmons addressed the Groceryshop audience to discuss Sam's Club's innovation strategy.

If you ask any one of the home office support staff members at Sam’s Club what their top priority is, the answer will be to be member obsessed. That’s according to Tim Simmons, SVP and chief product officer, who addressed the audience at the Groceryshop event in Las Vegas to discuss how the club retailer embraces innovation during uncertain times.

Over the past several years, Sam’s Club has revamped its business and operations in terms of lowering prices, lowering SKU counts, raising associate pay, introducing new digital technology and redesigning job functions. Simmons shared that the company focused on making the right choices for both its members and associates when prioritizing those projects.

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“Everything that we do, we look from a lens of being member obsessed,” Simmons explained. “Where’s the friction in our member experience? Same thing with associates, because if you’re not creating a great associate experience then you’re likely leading to a bad member experience.”

What comes after being member and associate obsessed is a focus on financial viability, digital enablement and human design, Simmons shared. Human design is something Simmons calls the company’s silver bullet, especially in terms of being empathetic and seeing things from the perspective of either a customer or employee.

“That lens is where we start with our prioritization and then from there, of course, we look at outcomes,” Simmons said. “We are, of course, a company that prides ourselves on our product mindset and solving problems. Not just throwing solutions around, but coming up with ideas to achieve the highest outcomes.”

Inventory intelligence emerged as one of the company’s priorities over the past year, and that focus has changed the way associates do business. Instead of getting on a PC terminal and printing inventory exception reports, the company built capabilities through computer vision, RFID, machine learning, and AI to be able to automate those mundane tasks.

Sam’s Club is on track to automate 70% of inventory exception tasks this year, including item location, counting and much more. All of this is being done “with the intent that our associates aren’t stuck in that minutiae and now they can go create a great, positive member experience,” Simmons said.

In addition to adding automation where it can, Sam’s Club is also focusing on growing its Scan & Go program capabilities, growing its media business and increasing productivity through generative AI.

Groceryshop is taking place Sept. 19-21 at the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas. 

Sam’s Club, a division of Bentonville, Ark.-based Walmart Inc., operates nearly 600 clubs in the United States and Puerto Rico. Walmart operates more than 10,500 stores and numerous e-commerce websites in 20 countries. Walmart U.S. is No. 1 on Progressive Grocer’s 2023 list of the top food and consumables retailers in North America, while Sam’s Club is No. 8. PG also named Walmart one of its Retailers of the Century.

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