Can Jet Elevate the Shopping Club Experience?

Jet launched this week, and it could be part of a growing trend. Many people love the club retail shopping idea of Costco, BJ’s and Sam’s Club. Jet is a new e-commerce player offering a similar shopping experience. Will the online model be successful?

The retail shopping club is one of America’s success stories. Customers pay an annual fee to become members. The theory is they can shop and pay less than at traditional retail stores. The model has proved very successful, but it’s not always a smooth ride.

The Exclusive Members-Only Experience

My wife and I are members of all three, and I have mixed feelings about the experience. First, only sometimes do these clubs offer discounts from the prices at the retail stores we otherwise shop at.

Then, when you buy anything, the product sizes are always larger. In fact, they’re often so large you have to push a giant shopping cart, you have trouble squeezing the stuff in your car, and you need a warehouse in the basement to store it all.

The worst part is these stores treat customers like a criminal. After you pay, you must pass through an inspector at the exit door who checks your receipt against your purchases before you can leave.

It simply feels bad — like they assume customers are thieves and treat everyone like cattle. Why is there no similar inspection at other retail stores in the U.S.? I like to joke with the inspectors and throw myself up against the wall, inviting them to frisk me. Think that makes my point?

There are no bags. You have to pile lots of stuff in the backseat and floor of your car, and then watch it fly around when you make a right on Maple Street.

Apart from these problems, everything is very pleasant and we continue to shop at these clubs like loyal customers. Translation: My wife loves them.

Can Jet Do Better?

That’s the nutty world Jet is jumping into. That said, shopping clubs are a growing business segment. If Jet can provide customers with a better shopping experience, it may indeed be successful. Jet says customers who pay its membership fee will get 10- 15 percent discounts when they shop. Sounds familiar.

If you already go to warehouse clubs for low-priced deals, then Jet could be appealing. However, if you like walking through these stores to shop, you will miss that part of the experience. If you don’t like having to pass through security on the way out or having to schlep tons of giant boxes home in your tiny trunk, then Jet may be a good solution.

It will be interesting to follow Jet. The big-name warehouse clubs already have a strong relationship with their customers. Plus, they already have an online store for customers to shop at — so there is plenty of competition in the space.

How will Jet elevate itself above the competition? Will Jet win customers from the other club stores, or will it carve out its own niche in the growing warehouse marketplace?

Of course, if you are like me, this may just wind up being one more membership fee to pay in a growing list. Choose? Huh. We don’t choose — we join every stinking one of these clubs.

Paying a store to shop there? It’s crazy, anyway you slice it. Maybe I’m wrong, though. It works for Costco, BJ’s, Sam’s Club — and even Amazon, with its Prime membership.

Remember when stores used to try and win your business by treating you with respect and thanks, and offering low prices too? Remember when they tried to get you to come into their store versus their competitor’s store? Ah, the good old days of American retail.

Jeff Kagan

E-Commerce Times columnist Jeff Kagan is a wireless analyst, telecom analyst, industry analyst, consultant and speaker who has been sharing his colorful perspectives on the changing industry for 25 years. Email him at [email protected].

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