If you like saving money, finding new products your family will love, and buying in bulk, then you’ve probably considered joining a wholesale club such as Costco or Sam’s Club.
There are so many reasons to love wholesale retailers. First, you get exclusive deals to impressively low prices and signature in-house brands. Furthermore, you’ll also have access to other products and services at lower-than-normal prices, such as pharmacies, electronics, optical centers, and even car rentals.
Both Costco and Sam’s Club have great benefits, so it comes down to your priorities and what you’re looking for the most in a wholesale club.
In my situation, there’s no Sam’s Club nearby, so I personally only use Costco since it’s all that’s available.
But if you have the option to choose, how do you pick which is best for your family and your budget? Here are the factors to consider:
What’s the Difference Between Sam’s Club and Costco?
The biggest upfront difference is the cost of membership.
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At the standard basic level, an annual membership at Sam’s Club costs $45 compared to a $60 annual Gold Star Membership at Costco.
At Sam’s Club, your $45 membership includes:
- Access to the warehouse, gas stations, and tire and battery centers
- Free curbside pickup
- Same day delivery costing just $12 per order
Costco’s standard $60 membership looks very similar, but has a few differences:
- Ability to shop the warehouse in-person and online
- Free 2 day shipping on orders over $75
- Access to exclusive savings on gas, prescriptions, glasses and travel
Both wholesale clubs also offer upgraded memberships.
Sam’s Club offers a premium membership for $100 a year. The difference between the premium membership and the standard option is that with premium, you have access to early shopping hours to avoid crowds (this is especially useful during the crowded and busy holiday season). You also enjoy free shipping, 3% cash back on all Sam’s Club purchases with your Sam’s Club MasterCard, and 2% back on all qualifying purchases up to $500.
Costco’s Gold Star membership costs $120 annually, allowing you to earn a 2% annual reward up to $1,000 on every Costco and Costco Travel purchase. You’ll also enjoy additional discounts on Costco services and will receive an at-home delivery of the Costco Connection Magazine.
On the onset, it might appear that Sam’s Club is cheaper because of the cheaper membership costs, but Costco tends to have lower prices overall. Doing a 1:1 comparison isn’t exact, because both stores not only carry different brands, but they also have their own in-house brands. This makes it tricky to compare which wholesale club is cheaper.
The majority of people who have had both tend to agree that the cost-savings are a toss-up.
Sure, Sam’s Club has a lower annual membership, but it gets balanced out by slightly higher prices in the warehouse.
With that being said, one of the biggest factors to consider is the availability of warehouse clubs near you. Like I said, the only option in my area is Costco.
There are slightly more Sam’s Clubs, which has 599 locations compared to Costco’s 564 locations. While these numbers might look similar, Costco has a higher concentration of stores in certain markets. Specifically, 226 of Costco’s 564 are in four states alone: California (131), Texas (35), Washington (32), and Florida (28).
On the other hand, Sam’s Club is the only option in states like Maine, Rhode Island, West VIrginia, and Wyoming.
Do Sam’s Club and Costco Offer the Same Items?
Yes and no.
You’ll find many of the same major brands that you love at both. For example, let’s say you want to buy cereal for the kids in bulk. Both clubs carry bulk selections of the various cereal lines offered by General Mills.
But each warehouse also has its own in-house product lines as well as exclusive distribution deals with national brands.
At Sam’s Club, private label offerings include:
- Simply Right
- Member’s Mark
- Bakers & Chefs
- Daily Chef
- Sam’s Club
- Richelieu Foods
Costco, on the other hand, has an exclusive line of Kirkland products, which include:
- Kirkland wine
- Kirkland vodka
- Kirkland batteries
- Kirkland coffee pods
- Kirkland Italian sparkling water
- Kirkland laundry detergent
Since Sam’s Club is owned by Wal-Mart, you’re likely to find more of the “popular” brands there. If organic food selections or Kirkland’s private label are selling points for you, then you’ll want to opt for Costco.
In regards to services, these offerings are also pretty much in line with each other. For example, you can find a pharmacy, food court, and electronics section at both. They each even have their own version of a $1.50 hot dog meal with a free soda.
What Are the Pros and Cons of Sam’s Club? Costco?
If product quality, organic foods, and a seamless shopping experience (including customer service) are your top priorities, then most people would agree that Costco is the way to go. This is especially true if the food court is part of your grocery shopping routine. While both food courts are delicious, Costco’s is generally perceived as better quality. Finally, Costco generally pays its employees better than Sam’s Club, so if the way an organization treats their employees is important to you, this may be a factor to consider.
Meanwhile, if you want curbside pick-up, the ability to scan and checkout on your phone, and the ability to mix and match rewards points, then Sam’s Club is the clear winner in these categories. Sam’s Club also has more unique services such as a complimentary florist, tech support, and new tire installation.
The biggest “con” for both is that you have to buy in bulk.
Yes, buying in bulk is GREAT if you buy non-perishables such as toilet paper and toothpaste.
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But you have to be careful and intentional when buying groceries. Throwing out food because no one ate it before it goes bad is a “hidden” drain on your budget. So make sure that you have a place to store your groceries and can use the products before they go bad. After all, if you keep throwing out food, are you really helping your budget? And that’s not even addressing the issue of waste!
How to Choose Between Sam’s Club and Costco
Both Costco and Sam’s Club are excellent options for warehouse clubs – and both offer excellent services and prices.
So how do you decide which one to join? Consider:
- Which location is closest to you? While both brands are nationwide, that doesn’t mean both brands are of equal proximity to you. If you’re like me, you might only have one option. But if you have to choose, be sure to factor in gas prices, distance, and whether or not the savings would counterbalance what you’re spending to get to the store.
- Do you prefer curbside pickup, online shopping, or in-store shopping? Again, the Costco in-person shopping is generally considered the better experience, but only Sam’s Club has curbside pick-up and the scan & go option for your smartphone.
- Do you care whether your food is organic or non-GMO? Both clubs have organic options, but the organic and non-GMO section is more robust at Costco.
- Do you want quality or variety? The latest reports indicate that Costco only carries 4,000 SKUs per warehouse. If you consider the size of a warehouse, 4,000 different products isn’t a lot. While Sam’s Club doesn’t publish how many SKU’s they have, it’s clear that Sam’s Club does provide more options. However, Costco limits its options to maintain higher quality products.
Both warehouse clubs are great for purchasing in bulk and enjoying exclusive savings, but you have to be intentional about how you utilize the membership and how you do your grocery shopping.
Because of each store’s different focuses, strategies, and brands carried, a true 1:1 comparison isn’t possible.
Rather, it comes down to considering which of these pros and cons are important to you.
If you’re interested in asking people about their experiences at both Costco and Sam’s Club, I encourage you to join the TBM Family on Facebook. Here, you’ll be able to ask questions from people who share the same mindset and financial priorities as you. Hope to see you there!