Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Why does Sam's Club hate their customers?
Why can't they learn from Costco?

According to an article published in the New York Times in 2005, "Costco stores averaged $121 million in sales annually, far more than the $70 million for Sam's Clubs." The numbers have certainly risen since then, but I'm sure the positions have not reversed.

A few days ago I had the latest in an agonizing never-ending demonstration of why Sam's Club sales-per-store are so much lower than Costco's.

They act like they hate their customers and they assume customers are trying to steal or cheat.

After waiting in line at a cash register, I tried to make a business purchase for resale, and presented a properly-filled-out Connecticut state Resale Certificate to the cashier.

She told me I had to take it to the member service counter, where I waited in line again.

When it was my turn, the person on duty told me that the paper that I presented, that clearly stated that it was a "Resale Certificate," was not a really a "Resale Certificate."

It wasn't a pineapple. It wasn't a picture of Elvis. It wasn't a dog turd.

The State of Connecticut Department of Revenue Services that had designed and published the form, really wanted people to believe it was a "Resale Certificate." But their intent did not impress the woman at Sam's.

I asked for a clarification, and she paged a supervisor who explained that under Sam's rules I had to provide a copy of the certificate sent to me by the state, not the certificate I had downloaded from the State of Connecticut's official website.

My company does business with scores of wholesale distributors and manufacturers (and with Sam's competitors Costco and BJ's). Every single one of them has accepted the same type of downloaded and printed resale certificate that Sam's refused to accept.

I resent the implied accusation that I am a cheater or a liar or a thief.

I should not have to go to my office, remove a certificate from the wall, put it in a copier, and make a copy and return to Sam's because they do not trust their customers!

It is time to stop making war against customers.

Sam's should learn a lesson from Costco, which is probably the best place to buy in the entire world. Both employees and customers love Costco, and Costco sales, stock price and low employee turnover prove it. The unspoken but very obvious guiding principle at Costco is, "how can we help you and make you want to come back and spend more money?" (According to the Times, in 2005 Costco's average pay was $17 an hour, 42 percent higher than at Sam's.)

Sam's, on the other hand, is burdened by absurd rules that turn purchases and returns into time-wasting torture. The unspoken but very obvious guiding principle is, "how can we make your life miserable and make you want to get out of here as fast as possible and never come back?"

I am a member of Costco, BJ's and Sam's, and the only time my business or family makes a purchase at Sam's is if the competitors don't have what we need. Or if I'm running out of gas and Sam's pumps are closest.

Sam's will never beat Costco, but if their polices were more sensible, maybe they could make it into my personal second place. However, I think they'd rather go out of business than be sensible, or be nice.

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