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Sam's Club Links Order Fulfillment Across Channels

Sam's Club Inc. has pulled ahead of rivals Costco Wholesale Corp. and BJ's Wholesale Club Inc. by linking the order fulfillment systems of its e-commerce and bricks-and-mortar operations down to the local level.

Consumers nationwide now can order online at www.samsclub.com for pickup within 24 hours at a local Sam's Club warehouse. Called Click'n'Pull, the measure initially was tested in July when Sam's Club launched its online membership warehouse.

“It's driving more sales,” said Melissa Berryhill, spokeswoman for Sam's Club, Bentonville, AR. “We may be getting more sales out of this because we're taking the time to give more opportunities for our members to shop with us.”

Part of Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Sam's Club has nearly 40 million cardmembers who pay an annual fee to buy bulk goods at discount at more than 470 warehouses nationwide. Sales last year were $24 billion, making it the No. 1 membership warehouse club in the United States.

The Click'n'Pull service targets business owners and members strapped for time who buy staple items consistently.

Members log in online, choose a location and shop from more than 2,500 merchandise items from a local club's real-time inventory. An e-mail will inform members when the order is ready for pick up. This way, merchandise is guaranteed, according to Sam's Club.

Samsclub.com sells an assortment of name-brand and general merchandise such as computers, office supplies, collectibles, gourmet foods, school and day care products, CDs, DVDs and books.

The Click'n'Pull service requires a minimum purchase of $250 to make it viable for Sam's Club to justify the back-end integration.

“I think this for them is not so much for customer acquisition but more for providing opportunities to their existing customers,” said Barrett Ladd, senior retail analyst at Gomez Advisors, Lincoln, MA.

Though Ladd believes that samsclub.com is not as user-friendly or as easily navigable as it should be, she admits that Click'n'Pull is a plus for Sam's Club.

“To have the system to find inventory at the local store level is very complex and only a handful of click-and-mortars have the capability today, and I think we'll see a lot more of that in the future,” Ladd said.

Circuit City Stores Inc. and Best Buy Co. — both retail chains, not warehouse clubs — are among the few to offer in-store pickup options for online orders.

Sam's Club's Berryhill is not worried that Click'n'Pull may dissuade members from spending more time in the bricks-and-mortar warehouses.

“The one's not limiting the other,” Berryhill said. “It's not designed like that, nor is it happening. We know Sam's Club members. They're aware of everything we're going to be offering them, and we don't at all think they're just going to Click'n'Pull all the time and never see what's in our club.”

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