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How Costco, Sam’s Club and BJ’s won the pandemic

Jacob Scott

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Millions of customers signed up for club memberships for the first time and held onto them, pushing the chains’ member rolls to all-time highs.

Warehouse clubs have “gained quite a bit of share during Covid and continue to,” said KK Davey, the president of strategic analytics at market research firm IRI. “Lots of members have signed up. Once you’re in the club, you continue to buy.”

Club stores gained 0.5% of market share in 2020 and 0.5% in 2021, adding up to around $16 billion, according to IRI data. They have also had the fastest sales growth in 2021 from last year of any retail channel.

Their sales and profits have surged during the pandemic, lifting their stock prices.

Shares of Costco (COST) — the largest club and third-biggest retailer in America behind Walmart (WMT) and Amazon (AMZN)— have increased around 90% since March of 2020.
Sam’s Club, the second largest, is a subsidiary of Walmart (WMT), and its sales have increased at a faster clip than Walmart’s.
BJ’s, (BJ) the smallest of the three clubs, has seen its stock explode around 240%.

But 2022 may bring more challenges for these chains, say analysts.

As prices stay high, some shoppers may cut back on the discretionary subscriptions they aren’t using as much. If you have an Amazon subscription, a Netflix (NFLX) subscription, an Apple (AAPL) one, Walmart+ and countless others, do you really need to pay 50 or 60 bucks a year just to step foot in a shopping club?

Buying in bulk

When the Covid outbreak started, many customers cut out their third and fourth favorite stores and focused on visiting only one or two.

They made fewer trips to stores to minimize potential exposure to the virus, but loaded up when they were inside and spent more. This played right into the hands of warehouse clubs, which specialize in selling giant packages of ketchup, toilet paper and cleaning wipes.

This trend has continued into 2021.

Many people are still working remotely or are in a hybrid model. That means they’re still spending more on groceries than they were before the pandemic and sprucing up their living rooms, home offices and backyards.

Warehouse clubs had the highest growth of customer visits to stores of any retail channel in 2021, according to IRI data.

The membership model also leads customers to spend more than they would without one, say analysts. A sunk-cost fallacy often drives people to keep buying to try to get the most bang for their subscription fees.

Clubs are more than happy you take that approach: “The more members buy, the more valuable the membership is to them,” Sam’s Club CEO Kathryn McLay said in an email.

Delivery or curbside pickup?

Covid also pushed more people to buy online.

While warehouse clubs have not traditionally been a top choice for online delivery, the companies took steps before the pandemic to build out their e-commerce businesses and technology options.

Wholesale clubs “haven’t always been convenient,” BJ’s CEO Bob Eddy said in an email. “We have changed that.”

All three chains partnered with Instacart to offer same-day grocery delivery from stores. Sam’s Club launched Scan & Go, which allows members to scan items without waiting in line.

In the early stages of the pandemic, Sam’s Club and BJ’s also added same-day curbside pickup for customers buying online.

These moves have paid off, helping clubs draw members eager to avoid stores and instead order for delivery or curbside pickup.

BJ’s online sales increased 44% during its latest quarter ending October 30 from the same stretch a year ago. Costco’s increased 12.1% during the nine weeks ending October 31 — its latest figures. They boomed 42.6% last year.

Sam’s Club’s e-commerce sales grew 32% during its previous quarter ending October 31.

Sam’s Club is finding that first and second-year members are likelier “to be more digitally engaged” than veteran members, CEO McLay said.

Young families and new homes

The warehouse club model only works if these chains can sign up members every year and convince them to renew.

They make money off membership dues, and the more members who pay them, the lower the clubs can drive prices. Without that fee income, the concept unravels.

The companies have locked in new members during the pandemic, many of them younger families who moved to the suburbs and purchased their first homes.

Sam’s Club does not publicly disclose membership numbers, but they are at a all-time company highs, McClay said.

The majority of new members at Sam’s Club are Millennial families, who buy in bulk for their kids and growing household needs, she said.

BJ’s has added around 600,000 new members since Covid-19 began, bringing its membership base to more than 6 million.

“The pandemic has led to younger families moving out of cities to the suburbs,” said CEO Eddy. “Many of our members join when they start a family.”

Costco has added more than 6 milliolan members during the pandemic and now has close to 62 million members.

Millennials make up the majority of new members at Costco, said finance chief Richard Galanti, adding that his chain has answered some analysts’ doubts that Costco was only a store for young shoppers’ parents.

“One of the concerns people have had over the years is that we’re for old people,” he said. “But where else can you get an 8-pack of organic fresh kale?”

As more Millennials become parents and buy homes in the suburbs, Costco will “see a new wave of members” entering their peak spending years, Chuck Grom, an analyst at Gordon Haskett Research Advisors, said in a November 10 report upgrading Costco’s stock.

The future of clubs

Despite these clubs’ success during the pandemic, their path gets trickier from here.

As more people return to offices, eat out at restaurants, go to movie theaters and resume pre-pandemic patterns, they may decide to cut back on $300 or $400 runs to Costco or Sam’s. That would squeeze sales.

Rising prices may also lead some members to let their memberships lapse, especially ones who recently joined.

As the help of federal stimulus fades and most goods get costlier, shoppers may be forced to make trade-offs. If they’re not using their warehouse club memberships as frequently as Amazon Prime and other ones, clubs may get cut.

“As budgets get tighter, there will be a rationalizing” of memberships, said KK Davey from IRI.

Still, the clubs say people will be looking to save money on groceries and other stuff as prices rise.

Low prices are “why they pay the membership fee,” BJ’s Bob Eddy said. “That becomes even more relevant in today’s inflationary market.”

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‘Moon Knight’ Took Marvel in a Different Orbit, but It Didn’t Rise to the Occasion

Jacob Scott

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Before anyone writes that off as an anomaly, “Eternals” tackled a similar introduction of a dense mythology on the bigger screen, with equally mixed results. It’s a reminder that while film-goers have had more than a decade to get to know characters like Iron Man, Captain America and Thor, introducing some of these lesser-known heroes can pose a more formidable challenge beyond catering to the most ardent fans.
For Marvel, there are warning signs in that, since “Moon Knight” will be followed by several series based on second-tier characters, although the next two on the horizon, “Ms. Marvel” (which is due in June) and “She-Hulk,” at least have the benefit of sharing franchises and name recognition with existing Avengers.
Ultimately, “Moon Knight’s” murky storytelling appeared to squander its principal assets, which included the cool look of the character — a costume that was too seldom used — and the presence of Isaac, who possesses additional genre credentials via the “Star Wars” sequels.

Taking its time in peeling back the layers of the character’s complicated backstory, “Moon Knight” took a weird plunge into the Egyptian mythology behind it, in ways that became increasingly confounding and surreal.

By the time the protagonist’s two halves, Steven Grant and Marc Spector, wound up in a psychiatric hospital talking to an anthropomorphic hippo in the penultimate chapter, the question wasn’t so much being able to keep up with the story as whether bothering to do so was worth the effort.

The sixth and final episode brought the plot to a messy close, seeking to stop the goddess Ammit from proceeding to “purify the souls of Cairo, and then the world.” In the customary credit sequence, the producers capped that off by introducing a third personality, Jake Lockley, also rooted in the comics. While that seemingly spelled the end for the show’s villain (Ethan Hawke), the finish — giving the god Khonshu the protégé he sought — paved the way for further adventures should Marvel so choose.

That last twist might be cause for celebration in narrower confines of the Marvel fan universe, but “Moon Knight” too often felt like it was one long Easter-egg sequence, conspicuously preaching to that choir.

Granted, Marvel has made clear that Disney+ offers the chance to explore different kinds of stories, but “Moon Knight” feels at best like a quirky showcase for Isaac and at worst a failed experiment in terms of execution and tone.

That doesn’t mean this “Moon” won’t somehow rise again, if the closely held streaming data justifies it. But the promise that surrounded this property has faded, providing further evidence that even Marvel isn’t immune from setbacks as it moves into its next phase.

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Start-up Pony.ai says it’s the first self-driving company to get a taxi license in China

Jacob Scott

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Autonomous driving start-up Pony.ai can collect fares for robotaxi rides in parts of two major Chinese cities as of Sunday.

Pony.ai handout

BEIJING — Self-driving start-up Pony.ai announced Sunday it received a taxi license, the first of its kind in China.

The license allows Pony.ai to operate 100 self-driving cars as traditional taxis in the Nansha district of the southern city of Guangzhou, the company said.

The Chinese start-up, which is backed by Toyota, received approval from Beijing city late last year to charge fees to operate a commercial robotaxi business in a suburban district of the city. It is not the same as a taxi licence.

Baidu’s Apollo Go also received approval in the same Beijing district last year.

Pony.ai was valued at $8.5 billion in early March. The company said its Nansha taxi license required 24 months of autonomous driving testing in China and/or other countries, and no involvement in any active liability traffic accidents, among other factors.

The start-up said it plans to launch commercial robotaxi businesses in two other large Chinese cities next year. The company is already testing self-driving cars in those cities and in California. 

Robotaxis in China currently have a human driver present for safety.

— CNBC’s Arjun Kharpal contributed to this report.

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How to watch Timberwolves vs. Grizzlies: TV channel, NBA live stream info, start time

Jacob Scott

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Who’s Playing

Memphis @ Minnesota

Current Records: Memphis 2-1; Minnesota 1-2

What to Know

The Memphis Grizzlies’ road trip will continue as they head to Target Center at 10 p.m. ET this past Saturday to face off against the Minnesota Timberwolves. Memphis will be strutting in after a win while Minnesota will be stumbling in from a loss.

The Grizzlies are hoping for another victory. They beat the Timberwolves 104-95 this past Thursday. The victory came about thanks to a strong surge after the first quarter to overcome a 39-21 deficit. Memphis’ success was spearheaded by the efforts of power forward Brandon Clarke, who had 20 points in addition to eight rebounds, and shooting guard Desmond Bane, who shot 7-for-15 from beyond the arc and finished with 26 points and six boards.

Barring any buzzer beaters, Memphis is expected to win a tight contest. They might be worth taking a chance on against the spread as they are currently on a two-game streak of ATS wins.

Memphis’ win brought them up to 2-1 while the Timberwolves’ defeat pulled them down to a reciprocal 1-2. A couple offensive stats to keep in the back of your head while watching: The Grizzlies come into the game boasting the second most points per game in the league at 115.6. But Minnesota is even better: they rank first in the league when it comes to points per game, with 115.9 on average. Tune in for what’s sure to be a high-scoring contest.

How To Watch

When: Saturday at 10 p.m. ET Where: Target Center — Minneapolis, Minnesota TV: ESPN Online streaming: fuboTV (Try for free. Regional restrictions may apply.) Follow: CBS Sports App Ticket Cost: $76.96

Odds

The Grizzlies are a slight 2.5-point favorite against the Timberwolves, according to the latest NBA odds.

The oddsmakers had a good feel for the line for this one, as the game opened with the Grizzlies as a 3-point favorite.

Over/Under: -110

See NBA picks for every single game, including this one, from SportsLine’s advanced computer model. Get picks now.

Series History

Memphis have won 19 out of their last 28 games against Minnesota.

Apr 21, 2022 – Memphis 104 vs. Minnesota 95 Apr 19, 2022 – Memphis 124 vs. Minnesota 96 Apr 16, 2022 – Minnesota 130 vs. Memphis 117 Feb 24, 2022 – Minnesota 119 vs. Memphis 114 Jan 13, 2022 – Memphis 116 vs. Minnesota 108 Nov 20, 2021 – Minnesota 138 vs. Memphis 95 Nov 08, 2021 – Memphis 125 vs. Minnesota 118 May 05, 2021 – Memphis 139 vs. Minnesota 135 Apr 02, 2021 – Memphis 120 vs. Minnesota 108 Jan 13, 2021 – Memphis 118 vs. Minnesota 107 Jan 07, 2020 – Memphis 119 vs. Minnesota 112 Dec 01, 2019 – Memphis 115 vs. Minnesota 107 Nov 06, 2019 – Memphis 137 vs. Minnesota 121 Mar 23, 2019 – Minnesota 112 vs. Memphis 99 Feb 05, 2019 – Memphis 108 vs. Minnesota 106 Jan 30, 2019 – Minnesota 99 vs. Memphis 97 Nov 18, 2018 – Memphis 100 vs. Minnesota 87 Apr 09, 2018 – Minnesota 113 vs. Memphis 94 Mar 26, 2018 – Memphis 101 vs. Minnesota 93 Dec 04, 2017 – Memphis 95 vs. Minnesota 92 Feb 04, 2017 – Memphis 107 vs. Minnesota 99 Nov 19, 2016 – Memphis 93 vs. Minnesota 71 Nov 01, 2016 – Minnesota 116 vs. Memphis 80 Oct 26, 2016 – Memphis 102 vs. Minnesota 98 Mar 16, 2016 – Minnesota 114 vs. Memphis 108 Feb 19, 2016 – Memphis 109 vs. Minnesota 104 Jan 23, 2016 – Minnesota 106 vs. Memphis 101 Nov 15, 2015 – Memphis 114 vs. Minnesota 106

Injury Report for Minnesota

No Injury Information

Injury Report for Memphis

Dillon Brooks: Game-Time Decision (Foot) Santi Aldama: Out (Knee) Killian Tillie: Out (Knee)

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