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Walmart raises price of Sam's Club membership for first time in 9 years

·3 min read

Walmart's (WMT) Sam's Club memberships are about to get more expensive.

On Wednesday, the company said it would the annual fees for both tiers of its Sam's Club memberships, with these higher annual fees set to take effect October 17. Annual membership fees will move to $50 from $45 for Club members, and to $110 from $100 for Plus members.

This move marks the first time in nine years Walmart has shifted the price of less expensive Club memberships, and is the first time Plus memberships have gone up in price since first being introduced in 1999.

The company said that the price hikes come as new brands enter the club, in addition to increased technology investments and improvements inside all 600 facilities. Earlier this year, the company added a new rewards program, as well.

In a letter to Sam's Club members, President and CEO of Sam's Club, Kath McLay, noted the inflation pressures facing shoppers, saying: "We are mindful of the financial pressure on wallets right now."

As a result, the company will be picking up the tab on this year’s renewal, giving $5 in Sam’s Cash to Club members and $10 in Sam’s Cash to Plus members.

Competitor Coscto (COST) charges $60 a year for its basic membership and $120 for its upgraded "Gold" membership.

Wall Street analysts have noted Costco tends to raise its membership fee every 5 years, with the last price increase coming in 2017.

A member's services sign hangs in Sam's Club in Bentonville, Arkansas June 5, 2014.  The Walmart Stores Inc. annual shareholder meeting takes place June 6, 2014. REUTERS/Rick Wilking (UNITED STATES - Tags: BUSINESS)
A member's services sign hangs in Sam's Club in Bentonville, Arkansas June 5, 2014. The Walmart Stores Inc. annual shareholder meeting takes place June 6, 2014. REUTERS/Rick Wilking (UNITED STATES - Tags: BUSINESS)

In its most recent quarter, Walmart executives noted the company has seen some customers trading down in quality and trying to find more value as inflation pressures weigh on consumers, particularly in the grocery aisle.

"I'd say that what we're seeing is [consumers] are still relatively healthy," Walmart CFO John David Rainey told Yahoo Finance following the company's latest earnings report this month.

"We've seen some changes in consumer behavior that I put in three categories. One is there's a trade down in both quality and quantity. So instead of buying deli meats, we're seeing things like canned tuna and chicken and even beans, as units were up over 25% in the quarter. They're buying smaller pack sizes to save money. We've seen an increase in the private brands growth effect, it's 2x for food what it was in the first quarter."

Still, despite the uncertainty, Walmart delivered several positives in its most recent earnings report. Same-store sales rose higher-than-expected in both its U.S. division and Sam's Club stores.

The company also revised up its full-year guidance for profits and now expects a decline of 9% to 11%, less than the 11% to 13% drop the company had expected.

Walmart shares, which have lost about 8% this year against a 16% drop for the S&P 500, were little-changed on Wednesday following this news.

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