I was very excited when I first learned that Sam’s Club had opened a new location in Guangzhou in November 2009. Sam’s Club was my favorite store in the States and, for a few moments, I allowed myself to fantasize about how I was going to find all these great Western foods, personal electronics, and other familiar items just minutes from my apartment. Then I remembered all the Wal-Mart stores I have been in throughout China and adjusted my expectations accordingly. That turned out to be a good thing because, although I was still disappointed, I wasn’t nearly as surprised as I would have been otherwise during my recent visit this past weekend.
Unlike any of the enormously large, single-story stores I have been to back home, the Sam’s Club in Guangzhou is located in a three-story building with the first and second floors reserved for shoppers: Electronics, home appliances, clothing, and bedding are located on the first floor, and; meats, fish, grains, vegetables, baked goods, and frozen foods are located on the second floor.
The layout and feel of the store were similar to what I recall from Sam’s Club back home: A large, sprawling warehouse-type of arrangement with personal electronics positioned in front, facing you just as you walk in. However, there was no mistaking that I was still in mainland China the moment I began checking the variety and quality of the merchandise on display. Much to my surprise, this location doesn’t carry dual-layer (8.3GB) writable DVD disks or digital video recorders, as I had hoped they would (I will still have to go to Hong Kong for those after all), and—although the store catalog shows that it is available—they don’t sell the one bread maker they should normally stock either.
I was very unimpressed with the limited supply of available merchandise and was quite surprised by the fact that many of their prices were actually in excess of what the same items sell for at stores like Park ‘n’ Shop and even the exorbitantly-priced Corner Deli in several instances. For example, a spindle of 25 SONY writable DVD disks (DVD-R) was selling for 78 yuan: approximately 36 percent more than I can buy them for at the local computer store. Apparently, the concept of selling large quantities in exchange for the ability to purchase both common and hard-to-find items at wholesale prices was lost in translation. Aside from the store's layout and signage, this is basically a Sam's Club in name only.
With the exception of Hagan Daz ice cream in the frozen food section and the loaves of freshly-baked, sliced date and nut bread I spotted in the bakery, you won’t find any Western foods here that you can’t find at any common supermarket or grocery store in mainland China: Looks like I will have to continue buying my Campbell’s Soups at the Corner Deli and Friendship Store. They were selling small (360g) containers of Folgers ground coffee but at prices that were actually more expensive than what they charge in Oliver’s, for example.
Although the wholesale pricing scheme was dropped in China, they did decide to maintain the practice of charging an annual membership fee: A household membership will run you 150 yuan and, for that, you and your spouse will each receive a lovely membership card with your name and photo.
Perhaps the only thing in the entire store that did catch my eye was the large variety of exercise equipment on display. They carry items such as brand name tread mills and stationary bicycles manufactured by BH Fitness and seemed to offer both a nice variety as well as very competitive prices. We learned that delivery and installation on large items is free.
In summary, and with few exceptions, you won’t find merchandise or prices at the Sam’s Club in Guangzhou that you can’t find elsewhere but the one-stop-shopping warehouse milieu will appeal to many and walking around Sam’s Club, even in mainland China, is a nice way to spend a Sunday afternoon. If you get hungry, there is a McDonald’s attached to the front of the store and parking is ample.
The Sam’s Club in Guangzhou is located in Panyu District about 10 minutes by taxi from the third to last station (Huaxin Changlong, Exit D) on the Tianhe Square-Panyu Square subway line, Line 3. The contact information in both Pinyin and Chinese is:
Name: Wo er ma shan mu hui yuan dian
Address: Pan yu qu ying bin lu dong ce hua nan bi gui yuan zheng men pang