April 25, 2023 | Podcast

Episode 17: Sam’s Club: From Traditional Retailer to Digital Leader

Tim Simmons, SVP and Chief Product Officer at Sam’s Club

About the episode

Sam’s Club began as an experiment 40 years ago and has constantly evolved since–finding success through digital transformation and innovation in a traditional retail space. Join us as Tim Simmons, Senior Vice President and Chief Product Officer at Sam’s Club, explains how the company adopted the product mindset to revolutionize their customer experience and continue winning in the marketplace.


Tim Simmons

As the Senior Vice President and Chief Product Officer at Sam's Club, Tim oversees product management, operations transformation, and the user experience across various areas of the business.


Sam’s Club started as an experiment 40 years ago and is now considered a leader in innovation. How did that come to be?

Our innovation is due to a couple of things. First thing is our collaborative culture. One of the things that is top of mind for us is our member and member experience, we call it being “member-obsessed.” Our strategy is truly focused on our members, and I think that ignites innovation. We are constantly thinking about finding new ways we can make the member experience even better. 
The second thing is our stellar leadership. Over the years, we have had many great leaders who make decisions like hiring dedicated engineers and software developers just for Sam’s Club. Such decisions basically created a product mindset for us. So, our collaborative, member-obsessed culture along with product mindset is how we try to innovate new ways of solving problems, rather than jumping to solutions we are already seeing in the industry. 

You talked about product mindset being a key part of innovation. Was this mindset already a resident part of the culture or was it more of a shift?

It was definitely a shift. We’re actually owned by Walmart so initially we used to share our team with them, but it was after we got our product team in place, we had the resources we needed to shift our mindset and pursue our top priorities. 

Another aspect is the way we approach problems and pain points. 

We believe in falling in love with a problem rather than just coming up with solutions instantly. When we do see a pain point, we usually ask ourselves why it’s there. Then we look at the data and get our UX team to look at the data, get into the field, and gather insights around the experience. 


So essentially, when we shift from just coming up with a solution to falling in love with a problem, we also go into design mode and know the problem we’re solving is the right problem to solve. 

Falling in love with a problem and coming up with solutions certainly requires patience. How do you lead your team through that? 

To begin with, the executives at Sam’s Club are great and they understand the product mindset and what we are trying to do. It’s tempting sometimes to just jump into a problem and come up with a solution, but at the end of the day, we must look at the bigger picture. Sometimes I remind everyone of the benefits of falling in love with a problem and the risks of not. I also share examples of the past times when we may not have fallen in love with the problem, and therefore didn’t reach our full potential and may have wasted efforts and resources. At the end of the day though, we still have to be diligent and work fast. That’s just the nature of the job.

As you think about Sam's Club as a disruptor in the warehouse space, who do you look to for inspiration?

I get together with my team, direct reports, and the leadership as often as I can, and sometimes we travel together and go to different retailers. We’re constantly looking for good ideas that others have that we might be able to leverage or improve upon. It’s about getting in the field to get a feel for what’s going on and build on that.
We also value member feedback. We track net promoter scores and ask members questions about their experience, both digital and physical, about different stores. We believe our members are our best source for where to disrupt because they tell us what to work on and improve. 

One question that we like to ask all our guests is what does digital mean to you?

I think the lines between digital and physical have blurred. Initially I used to think of digital as anything on a screen, but that’s just not true anymore. Now, digital is just one aspect of the experience for both members and associates. But I'll add, digital almost always means simplification, improving experiences, and creating efficiencies. 

This is Digital

West Monroe's team of experts and guests pull back the curtain on how to build digital throughout an organization. Through real-world examples, you will learn how to spot digital transformation in real life, and how to make small decisions every day that make a big impact on growth.

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