Retail

Behind BJ’s Digital Double Down

Headquartered in Westborough, Massachusetts, BJ’s Wholesale Club doesn’t always attract the same level of interest as its larger counterparts at Costco or Sam’s Club — mostly because those competitors are much larger. With around 210 locations nationwide, BJ’s is less than half their size.

But the wholesale chain has a long commitment to punching above its weight class and has viewed an expansion into digital channels as something of a field leveler. The option to buy online and pick up in-store has been at BJ’s since early 2016, near a full year before Costco or Sam’s Club acquired similar coverage.

Moreover, BJ’s digital journey has been ongoing over the last five years — if only in the background.

 

New App, New Mobile Direction 

Last fall, the wholesale chain rolled out its redesigned mobile app built nearly entirely around that enhanced experience.

“The new mobile site is an important step in our omnichannel transformation,” Rafeh Masood, SVP and chief digital officer at BJ’s stated at the time. “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 upgrade included an “Add-to-Card” feature designed to allow customers to digitally select and save coupons directly to their membership cards, so discounts can automatically be applied at checkout. BJ’s noted in an email exchange that while many merchants offer digital coupons to remove friction, they tend to “add it right back in” by insisting that consumers physically print the coupon to hand to a cashier at checkout. Plus, the app’s digital gallery has both store-based savings (from the “Big” and “Little” book of savings the brand puts out each month) as well as various manufacturer coupons.

Layered on top of that, the app also tells users the location of their local club and the price of gas there. Additionally, it allows users to track their savings throughout the year.

“Having had it in the market now for a few months, we’ve absolutely seen that Add-to-Card coupons are a massive hit with our customers. They are getting great value and, more importantly, they are getting it without having to do an inefficient pile of work,” Masood said.. “At BJ’s, we’re committed to offering our members the most convenient ways to shop and save, and we’re excited to launch these new features.”

And continue to launch them — now under new leadership.

 

A Unified Omnicommerce Focus

BJ’s is the smallest warehouse retail player in the business. But it has high hopes its digital upgrades will balance out what it lacks in size.

However, getting to that poll position digitally won’t be easy, because they’re not the only wholesale club pursuing that strategy. As of yesterday, Sam’s Club announced it would be leveraging its most expensive subscription level to act as a Prime Competitor by offering those members free shipping on any item. The 60+ stores Sam’s Club announced were closing earlier this year have bright futures as eCommerce fulfillment centers, with more such warehouses on the way. Sam’s has also been piloting technology that would make physical checkout a thing of the past — by allowing customers to scan items as they go with their smartphones and then tap and pay as they exit.

Even Costco — which has developed something of a reputation for sluggishness when it comes to expanding into digital commerce over the last few years — has upped its efforts by offering perks in some locations like grocery delivery. Plus, rumor has it Costco is looking to jump ahead in the race through an acquisition — specifically the acquisition of Boxed, an online warehouse club often called the Costco for millennials.

Of course, lots of retailers have been speculated on as a buy for Boxed; Amazon and Kroger have also been mentioned.

But BJ’s is forging ahead — quietly as always. Last week, the retailer recruited Naveen Seshadri to its omnichannel team in the newly created position of VP of Digital Commerce and Experience. Seshadri comes to BJ’s Wholesale Club via Lonely Planet.

“BJ’s has made significant advancements in our omnichannel capabilities, and I’m pleased to have Naveen join our team,” Masood noted on the hire. “Naveen has extensive experience in driving omnichannel transformations, and his leadership will help as we work to deliver more to our members.”

What will that value look like? As of yet, BJ’s has not provided an answer.

But stay tuned, because BJ’s bet big on digital. What happens next, as its competition is rushing to catch up, could make for an interesting next chapter in the story of online grocery.

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