Sam's Club reduces membership categories, offers more free shipping

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The company is also consolidating Sam's business and Sam's savings membership programs into one track, still priced at $45 a year, and extending the "add-on" ability so members can give memberships to family, friends or employees for $40.

Sam's touted those charges as the lowest membership fees in the warehouse club channel.

In order to better position itself against competitors like Costco Wholesale (NASDAQ: COST) and Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN), Sam's Club, the bulk retailer owned by Walmart (NYSE: WMT), is now offering free shipping for many items as part of a revamping of its membership programs. The Plus level will come with free shipping on the vast majority, some 95%, of the items that Sam's Club says it sells on its website with no minimum order, officials said. The latter includes fewer perks than Plus membership.

In addition, Plus members will get cash rewards, early shopping opportunities and pharmacy discounts, said Jamie Iannone, executive vice president of membership and technology. Eventually, Sam's Club is hoping to guarantee one or two shipping for most of its products. The company will now have just two types of membership - Plus and Club members. He defined those target customers as homeowners who earn between $75,000 and $125,000 annually and typically live in the suburbs.

"We've taken the previous year to make sure we are making really clear, deliberate choices in a way that adds value for that core consumer", Furner said.

Officials of the chain said that they are trying to boost value and convenience with the moves.

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Additionally, Sam's Club will open its first ecommerce fulfillment center, in Memphis and plans to ship its first package from there in the spring. Some of the closed stores will be converted into e-commerce warehouses.

The company closed 63 stores last month and laid off almost 10,000 workers after what it called a review of profitability.

"With free shipping for Plus [members], we're more aggressive on direct to home e-commerce than we've ever been", Furner said.

While Sam's Club previously had three membership options it will now have two.

The Memphis center will be instructive for Sam's Club as it builds out an e-commerce supply chain to new areas, according to the company.