Walmart owned Sam's Club tops Costco in the land of apps

BJ's Wholesale Club trails as pandemic sends shoppers to their phones

Big box retailers have thrived during the coronavirus pandemic as has mobile ordering and pick-up. But the digital fight has seen a shift in warehouse leadership between Costco, Walmart-owned Sam's Club and BJ's Wholesale Club.

According to app intelligence firm, Apptopia Sam's Club is winning against Costco and BJ's on the digital landscape. The Sam's app was downloaded 9.6 million times, nearly double the amount that Costco's app was downloaded.

Traditionally Costco is the leader with Sam's Club in the runner-up spot -- when it comes to sales. Number three player BJ's -- which just last week announced a historic fourth-quarter earnings report --  saw its app downloaded about three million times last year, according to Apptopia.

The research outlet attributed Sam's Club's digital victory to the app's recent updates that have created a "more pandemic-friendly shopping experience" with features like "Scan & Go," which allows shoppers to scan items on their own in the store.

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As a result, Sam's Club boasts a 4.9 average rating on Apple's App Store, compared to just a 2.4 rating for Costco.

Ticker Security Last Change Change %
COST COSTCO WHOLESALE CORP. 371.26 -2.83 -0.76%
WMT WALMART, INC. 139.73 -1.43 -1.01%
BJ BJS WHSL CLUB HLDGS INC 43.29 -0.66 -1.50%

BJ's has roughly a third of the stores as Sam's Club and Costco, but it has leaned into the digital trend with a 4.8 rating on the App Store.

BJ's recently revamped the home page of its app to make it easier for users to "easily reorder their favorite items, quickly clip digital coupons and conveniently shop using digital services, such as same-day delivery, buy online, pick up in-club and curbside pickup."

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The coronavirus pandemic accelerated retail's pivot to digital. Online and other non-store sales went up 21.9% to $969.4 billion last year, according to the National Retail Federation.

This trend could continue even as more people get vaccinated and the economy opens up further, with the National Retail Federation projecting that online sales will grow between 18% and 23% in 2021.