Sam’s Club today announced it will launch free Wi-Fi access, provided by AT&T (s T), in all U.S. locations by November. The company plans to offer the wireless service so customers can test integrated Internet services such as Pandora, Facebook and Vudu on television sets and other web-connected appliances. In conjunction with the Wi-Fi announcement, the warehouse chain also announced a Sam’s Club application for iPhone (s aapl), BlackBerry (s rimm) and Android (s goog) handsets coming this September.
Adding in-store wireless access prior to the traditional holiday shopping season is a win all around and a clever move by the warehouse shopping club. Unlike big-box electronics retailers, Sam’s Club is typically a self-serve experience. Even with the limited customer service personnel available, it’s one thing to try and explain what a web-connected TV or radio can do; actually experiencing such features as an end-user is a far more compelling method to sell products. With Wi-Fi, Sam’s Club will potentially increase sales of products that can leverage the connectivity, and consumers will better understand product features at the point of purchase. In addition, AT&T gains another recurring revenue stream as the Internet provider at all of the roughly 600 Sam’s Club locations — a move that continues to show how the carrier is wisely leveraging its Wi-Fi and Internet assets for additional profits.
The in-store Wi-Fi isn’t limited to product demos though. CNET says that Sam’s Club will offer online product reviews and allow shoppers to check item prices at competing stores. Today’s press release from Sam’s Club is a little ambiguous on that point, saying, “[H]undreds of product reviews will now be accessible in-club as well to help members research potential purchases and access samsclub.com.” I expect that the Wi-Fi won’t be too limited, but maybe it should be — I often hit the Wi-Fi in bookstores to check for Kindle editions of interesting titles, and something tells me that I’m not the only one.
Details on the Sam’s Club software application are limited, as the company plans to communicate full functionality information in the near future. For now, Sam’s Club says the app will be capable of using eValues, an in-house program that loads extra discount on Plus Membership cards. The software will also provide production information, reviews and other features.
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