Wal-Mart's Sam's Club to roll out services aimed at boosting loyalty of small business members

Wal-Mart's Sam's Club division will be launching an online service for its small business members aimed at easing access to capital by connecting them to lenders and credit options.

The so-called "business lending" center, which will be rolled out in two weeks, will help its members gain access to capital from $5,000 to $350,000 through such partners as Lending Club business loans and SmartBiz Small Business Administration loans. The program is one of five services being rolled out to increase the loyalty of its small business members. They range from helping protect members' personal data to offering access to a network of accountants to cut through the confusion of bookkeeping and tax filing.

The services build on Sam's Club's move to add more services in the last year that range from a free travel mobile app to help members save on hotels, rental cars and the like to a cash rewards program. Sam's Club executives say the most recent suite of services could save members up to $2,300 per year. The move comes as the division, which accounts for 12 percent of Wal-Mart Stores Inc.'s total revenue for the year ended Jan. 31, 2015, is trying to bolster its business amid the pressure of stronger rival Costco Wholesale Corp.

Sam's Club's revenue at stores opened at least a year rose just 0.5 percent for the latest fiscal year, though business has been improving. The measure is a key indicator of a retailer's health. In comparison, Costco's revenue at stores opened at least a year rose 6 percent for its fiscal year ended Aug. 31, 2014.

During a call with reporters late Tuesday, Rosalind Brewer, president and CEO of Sam's Club, emphasized that the services are not meant to increase revenue, but rather strengthen its relationship with its small business customers.

"We are redefining the value of membership," Brewer said.

With the identity protection service program, the retailer teamed up with LifeLock, a provider of identity theft protection, and said members could expect to save up to 25 percent on annual support. For its accounting and tax preparation services, it partnered with 1-800Accountant. The service will provide members access to any mobile device.