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At South Tampa Sam’s Club, a marriage of ecommerce and traditional retail

The shuttered store has been reinvented and debuted to the community.
Sam's Club fulfillment center manager Nick Barbieri explains to a shopper how the new Scan & Go shop works at 5135 S Dale Mabry Highway. [SARA DINATALE | Tampa Bay Times]
Published Oct. 17

TAMPA — The Sam’s Club near the Gandy Bridge has exclusively handled online orders for the last year, but on Thursday customers got their first look at one of chain’s latest retail experiments.

Rather than be exclusively an online warehouse, Sam’s Club’s “eclub” has added on a “Scan & Go” shop. It’s small, packed with top-sellers from Clorox bleach, to paper plates and Campbell’s soup cases. Shoppers can grab what they need and check themselves out with a smartphone app.

Sam's Club's director of fulfillment, Bill Ball, gives a tour of the ecommerce warehouse in South Tampa that was once a regular retail store. [SARA DINATALE | Tampa Bay Times]

The assortment isn’t much, however, compared to the usual sprawling warehouse aisles the store at 5135 S Dale Mabry Highway once offered. The chain’s director of fulfillment, Bill Ball, said the assortment is likely to change based on customer feedback, but the facility’s focus will continue to be online sales.

“We don’t have it all figured out yet,” Ball said. “This is a test and we’re going to continue to get better at it.”

Two years ago, Sam’s Club decided to grow its commitment to online orders by transforming six existing stores into warehouses it calls ecommerce fulfillment centers. By January 2018, the South Tampa store was closed to shoppers after nearly two decades of operation.

Shoppers will soon see a sign go up on the facade of the brick building. There are two sliding glass doors: one that says “members only” and the other “associates only."

“Members” refers to shoppers who pay to join Sam’s Club. That’s the entrance to the small storefront, where rather than checkout counters there are a couple of employees to help shoppers navigate the app. The shop sits in what was once the Sam’s Club liquor store and tire service area.

RELATED: How a closed Tampa Sam’s Club became a strategic weapon to compete with Amazon

The “associates only” side looks like a stripped-down, no frills version of its typical warehouse-style storefront. Unlike a normal Sam’s Club, there’s no cafe, no freezers, no produce or checkout stations. Instead, there are dozens of racks holding 2,000 of Sam’s Clubs most sought-after products.

Employees called “pickers” are assigned orders. They pass their carts full of items over to workers at 32 packaging stations who prep them for FedEx. Ball said orders that used to take five days to get to the customer can now arrive to doorsteps in one or two.

Boxes sit ready to be shipped out from's fulfillment center in South Tampa. The location used to be a regular Sam's Club store. [SARA DINATALE | Tampa Bay Times]

Ball said in a typical 10-hour shift, the fulfillment center will pack up between 16,000 to 18,000 items.

“ is leading the way when we talk about company growth,” Ball said.

But some South Tampa shoppers still miss their old Sam’s. Smoki McDonell just finished up her shift at a local daycare when she stopped at the new “Scan & Go" shop. Shew knew it wouldn’t be large, but expected more than just a couple thousand square feet.

“I’m kind of disappointed,” she said.

Since the South Tampa store closed, she’s had to fight traffic to shop at the St. Petersburg and Brandon locations and put in more orders online.

Still, even with the smaller assortment she was able to find the big box of puppy pee pads she desperately needed.


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