Robots Will Play a Part in BJ’s Expansion Strategy
BJ’s Wholesale Club members will soon find something new when shopping at any of the chain’s nearly 240 locations — robots.
The retailer, earlier this week, said it is deploying robots several times a day to roam the aisles of its clubs autonomously. The robots will use computer vision to collect shelf data to ensure products are in-stock, shelved correctly, and accurately priced. The data collected by robots in real-time will give club team members the information they need to react more quickly to out-of-stocks, leading to better customer experiences and more sales.
Jeff Desroches, chief operations officer, said BJ’s would “continually improve” results by acting on data provided by the robots.
Robots are not the only thing on a roll at BJ’s.
The warehouse club chain last week reported that fourth-quarter net sales increased 13 percent. Comps, excluding gas, improved 8.7 percent. Club traffic and average transaction size were up.
“Our value prop continues to resonate, driving our market shares up and driving our members into our clubs,” said Bob Eddy, BJ’s president and CEO, on the company’s earnings call. “Membership fee income grew by eight percent year-over-year, topping $100 million for the first time in any quarter. And we hit our all-time high renewal rate of 90 percent for the year.”
BJ’s has benefited from its strength in the grocery category. Same-store grocery sales were up 12 percent in the last quarter.
“We offer 25 percent better pricing than our grocery competitors. And in exchange for that value, our members reward us with spend consolidation, loyalty, and retention,” Mr. Eddy told analysts. “In other words, they give us lifetime value. As a result of the tremendous advantages that our model provides and the value that it gives consumers, we continue to take share from less efficient forms of retail.”
BJ’s CEO says the chain has reaped benefits from providing added convenience for members through its digital investments.
“Convenience drives spend as digitally engaged members spend about 70 percent more with us than those members that only shop with us through traditional means,” said Mr. Eddy. “Our digitally enabled sales have grown from just two percent in fiscal 2018 to nine percent today. Our BOPIC and curbside pickup offerings have led this growth, now making up about half of our digital sales. And we are not done at nine percent.”
BJ’s plans to open about ten new clubs this year, including its first-ever locations in Alabama and Tennessee. The chain will have clubs operating in 20 states by the end of 2023.
BJ’s Wholesale Club Partners with Simbe to Transform Club Operations through Cutting-Edge Technology - BJ’s Wholesale Club
BJ’s Wholesale Club Holdings, Inc. Announces Fourth Quarter and Full Fiscal 2022 Results - BJ’s Wholesale Club
BJ’s Wholesale Club (BJ) Q4 2022 Earnings Call Transcript - The Motley Fool
BJ’s Wholesale Club Announces the Addition of Five New Club Openings for 2023, Expansion into its 20th State - BJ’s Wholesale Club
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Do you see warehouse club growth outpacing grocery stores and mass merchandisers over the next five years? What is your assessment of BJ’s strengths and weaknesses?
Join the Discussion!
17 Comments on "Robots Will Play a Part in BJ’s Expansion Strategy"
You must be logged in to post a comment.
You must be logged in to post a comment.
Managing Director, GlobalData
Warehouse clubs have been growing fast as buying in bulk is a great way to save money and hedge against inflation. For as long as inflation remains an issue, I think this outperformance will continue — although perhaps at a more modest pace as the years progress. As for the robots, they are an interesting addition but Walmart abandoned this after it found it to be a very expensive and complex solution for a relatively simple problem.
Yes, exactly. I believe they will try them out and realize the same thing.
Founder, CEO & Author, HeadCount Corporation
Warehouse club customers are very loyal and their low-pricing is perfect for the times. Yes, I do expect to see continued strong performance and growth in the warehouse club category. BJ’s does a lot of things right, but I especially like the way they are thinking about and deploying technology to improve operational efficiency. Using robots to scan product and monitor inventory is an ideal use-case for this technology and the store environment is well suited for it.
Principal, Retail Technology Group
Whether or not warehouse club growth can outpace grocery and mass market chains is dependent on being able to meet the needs of the right demographics which, I suspect, are different for warehouse clubs. Being able to stick strictly to the formula will determine success–or eventual closures.
Director, Retail Strategy, CI&T
Grocery store decisions are often about proximity-based convenience, so I do think location strategy will play a key role in future growth. I greatly appreciate BJ’s multi-prong tech approach in finding efficiencies, though. They’re thinking about all the right variables, while also recognizing the importance of low prices.
Vice President, Research at IDC
President and CEO, Mpro5 Inc.
Growth as a % of sales? Sure — the “pay for membership” big box “buy a lot of stuff because of the price” format probably has some room for growth, more so than a “traditional” supermarket chain.
As for BJ’s, the format is not nearly as interesting a shopping experience as Costco, so I do not care how many robots they put in their store, they need to find a “something” that makes going in there more “exciting.” Costco has the treasure hunt atmosphere plus the “we will never charge more than $1.50 for hot dogs” thing …what does BJ’s have? A lot of stuff, just like Costco but with less “panache” from a merchandising standpoint.
Cost take out and efficiencies will ALWAYS be important, however, you need to find some “magic” that brings shoppers into the store. In my view BJ’s has not found that yet.
Principal, KIZER & BENDER Speaking
There are warehouse customers and there are grocery store customers. Some of us enjoy visits to warehouse clubs but do not have a need for the giant packs of what they sell. As a consumer, I see warehouse clubs as supplement shopping resources, but even when my children were kids, grocery store visits always came first.
Robots on the sales floor are a good idea, and not just for the novelty: “Will you look at that!” The fact that they provide real-time information frees up store associates to do other tasks, and spend more time with shoppers.
President, Global Collaborations, Inc.
Great idea. However, the robots that are monitoring merchandise can not straighten merchandise on the shelves or restock shelves. Unless people are paying attention to what the robots “see” better than they have paid attention to data being collected, the results may not be significantly different.
Director, Retail Market Insights, Aptos
In-stock and at the shelf is absolutely critical in BJ’s category, so I understand the investment in robotics. I am just not sure I think robots are the long-term answer. They can expensive, clumsy, and intrusive. I assume BJ’s has tested them and is satisfied with the ROI/experience impacts, so we will have to watch this space closely to see if they stick – and expand to other retailers.
Managing Partner, Advanced Simulations
Unlike grocery and mass, warehouse clubs are not geographically saturated – that alone should give them room for growth. But gee, robots? That’s a ton of money per store to spend to identify out-of-stocks and correct pricing mistakes on shelf.
Founder, CEO, Black Monk Consulting
While the appeal of warehouse clubs in inflationary times is obvious, times change. The economy is more or less cyclical so building an infrastructure for today doesn’t necessarily guarantee success tomorrow. In fact, the opposite is often true. The question also assumes all three channels have equal opportunities and that’s clearly not true, especially in the case of mass merchants. Finally, warehouse clubs aren’t like grocery stores. It’s harder to find “A” sites and much easier to saturate an individual market. Right now BJ’s is on a roll. The challenge will be to correctly perceive when it’s time to slow down the expansion.
Partner, Candezent & Retail Cities Consultant
Club Stores serve shoppers who can afford to inventory large supplies of product and pay the annual fee. So when the economy improves, it doesn’t mean the price sensitive club shopper goes away. The format will continue be relevant for big trips.
Marketing Strategy Lead - Retail, Travel & Distribution, Verizon
Warehouse club retail format have peformed very well even before inflation gave conusmers another reason to focus on value even more. Off-price and warehouse format stores seem to do well in all economic conditions and are currently the hot retail segments. Regarding the robots, it seems like the value proposition is best for the robots that combine multiple tasks, like floor cleaning and shelf inventory montoring.
This is a risky idea. Humans and robots don’t mix well. I went to a restaurant recently where the food was served by a robot. It was uncomfortable and made dining feel stilted and inhuman.
That said, some gadget geeks will love this. But not the mass market.
President, Second To None
This BJ’s news is a great example of the necessity for retailers wanting to build an enduring brand to constantly be smartly investing in technology and digital customer experience enhancements that not only best fit their strategy, but have a meaningful impact on customer/member spend, loyalty and advocacy.
VP Product Management & Advisory, ComTask
Yes, the warehouse club will continue growing. The robot presence is fizzling in grocery, but still has a viable use case in warehouse formats for the time being.