BJ's Wholesale Club CEO has a vision for the wholesale club: offer members a truly "hassle-free" experience when shopping in the real world or online. It's not an uncommon vision, of course. There is no one in retail hoping to build a hassle for customers, and building the right seamless retail experience has become something akin to the holy grail in the digital era of short consumer attention spans.
It is, however, a surprisingly difficult goal to deliver on, as many of the things retailers do to enhance the experience have the unfortunate side-effect of acting as lead weight due to flaw in execution. Take, for example, digital coupons. BJ’s noted in an email exchange that, though many merchants offer digital coupons to remove friction, they tend to “add [that friction] right back in” by insisting their consumers physically print a coupon to hand to a cashier at checkout.
The consumer, presumably, didn't dislike clipping coupons because using scissors is difficult or because they are inherently put off by the site of print periodicals. They simply didn't want the time drain that clipping entails or the headache of carting around a handful of paper coupons. By requiring the consumer to convert from digital back to analog, they've essentially found a new way to present an old problem instead of a means for solving it.
Upgrading The System
Hence why, when BJ's was rolling out its latest line of digital enhancement, coupons got an upgrade: The mobile app’s coupon gallery has both “Big” and “Little” books of savings — coupons released by the brand and various manufacturers each month — and they are actually digital, no printing required. In addition, via the new "Add to Cart" feature, online shoppers can now use coupons that have only been available to customers paying at the point of sale (POS) in store.
It wasn't the flashiest upgrade to BJ's digital lineup. Far more headline space was given to the expansion of its "buy online, pick up in store" play, and for good reason — it is the biggest change to the customer's shopping experience. Though BJ's has offered some variation on "buy online, pick up in store" since 2016, the newly launched the Pick Up in-Club service, allows members to purchase from about 1,000 items on BJs.com and pick up their orders in as soon as two hours from the retailer’s 215 stores in 16 states.
All of these upgrades, plus the changes that will continue to appear on BJ's online throughout 2018, come as part of a parcel of mobile improvement that BJ's began undertaking last fall in hopes of bringing to the business a more hassle-free digital experience.
Rafeh Masood, senior vice president and chief digital officer at BJ’s, stated at the time, “The new mobile site is an important step in our omnichannel transformation. More and more members use their mobile devices every day, and enhancing the BJ’s mobile experience makes shopping more convenient for our members.”
The goal, BJ's told PYMNTS in an email exchange, is real personalization across it's digital offerings. Consumers don't all come shopping on the site for the same reasons, which means curation needs to be granular and personal. An offer for a consumer is only as useful as it is relevant and, according to BJ's, the stated goal of 2018 is to take the troves of customer data and leverage it into offering consumers specific BJ's experiences on digital. They will, in a sense, enter the version of the store they need to see and get the offers tailored to what they are there to buy.
Making that happen will require tying their data, taking the insights and turning them into “specific offers to specific members,” according to Masood.
Will It Work?
BJ's, in many regards, is an unusual firm — the smallest of the big-three, club-based warehouse stores. It lacks the size and reach of Costco and Walmart-backed Sam's Club. However, according to BJ's, being small is an asset because it has always had to be inventive to compete — and, in some ways, faster to the digital gate than its large competition, and more committed to it.
Sam's notably pulled the plug on it's pilot of scan-and-go, line-busting tech earlier this year. BJ's, on the other hand, announced that its own version, Express Scan, will be getting a test drive in a handful of stores this year (BJ's first showed off the technology publicly last fall.)
BJ's will also be making its continued push to digital in the midst of preparing for a genuine rarity in retail these days — an IPO. The company has not said how much stock it plans to sell, or its expected price as of yet. In April, The Wall Street Journal reported the company could be valued between $2 billion and $3 billion, with its private-equity backers raising at least $400 million.
How that story unfolds will make for an interesting watch in the back end of 2018.