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Costco vs. Sam’s Club: Which is Best for Shoppers?

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Costco vs. Sam’s Club is a tough decision when deciding which club to join. Our comparison looks at pricing, selection, and more to see which is best.

Who doesn’t like to save money when shopping at the store? You might steer clear of a warehouse club like Sam’s Club or Costco because you think they make you overspend. While that’s always possible, both stores provide opportunities to save money on groceries, necessities for your home, and many other items.

Both retailers are good, but you may wonder which is better. Our Costco vs. Sam’s Club comparison guide will help you determine the best fit for your needs.

Membership Plans

 

Both Sam’s Club and Costco have membership programs. You may be able to join a friend who is a member to do your shopping, but you need a membership to enjoy any benefits on your own.

Each warehouse shopping club has two membership plans – standard and premium. While pricing varies between the two clubs, the premium plans provide additional benefits.

Costco

 

Costco’s basic membership is more expensive than Sam’s Club. The club has two main memberships: Gold Star ($60 per year) and Gold Star Executive ($120 per year).

They also offer business memberships with the same tiers and pricing. Regardless of which membership you select, you receive an additional card for one other person in your home.

All membership types are valid at any Costco and include the following:

Gold Star:

  • Membership discounts and savings
  • Lowered fuel costs

Gold Star Executive membership can also be used at all Costco’s and includes:

  • Everything in the Gold Star plan
  • An annual two percent reward on eligible Costco purchases and Costco travel purchases
  • Extra Costco service benefits (like discounts for your car and eyewear)

Business:

  • Everything in the Gold Star plan
  • The ability to add additional memberships
  • The option to purchase items for resale

Business Executive:

  • Everything in the Business Plan
  • An annual two percent reward on eligible Costco purchases and Costco travel purchases
  • Extra Costco service benefits (like discounts for your car and eyewear)

The Executive level plans may seem expensive but are a nice perk if you shop at the store frequently. You can earn up to $1,000 in rewards annually in the form of a check to use at the store.

Frugal Rules founder John Schmoll and his family do most of their shopping at Costco. They earn several hundred dollars each year with their membership.

You must spend at least $3,000 each year at Costco to recover the additional $60 in costs. If you’re a college student, you’ll receive a $20 cash card when you join. Military personnel receive coupons worth $60 in discounts.

Sam’s Club

 

Sam’s Club has two membership options: Club and Plus. The memberships are $45 and $100 per year, respectively. This is slightly less than you’ll pay at Costco.

The Club option includes:

  • Member-only discounts and pricing
  • A Mastercard option to get you five percent back on gas, three percent on dining, and one percent on everything else, up to $5,000
  • Member-only fuel pricing
  • Free flat tire repair, battery testing, and wiper blade installation
  • Add-on membership options for $40 each

The Plus option has everything the Club option has, as well as:

  • Free shipping if you buy their products online
  • $10 in cash rewards for every $500 you spend, up to $500 annually.
  • Early shopping (as early as 8:00 a.m.)
  • Free prescriptions on select items
  • A 20 percent discount on glasses

Like Costco, Sam’s Club offers membership options for college students and people serving in the military. In both cases, you receive a $10 cash card.

Winner: Sam’s Club. It’s cheaper to join and easier to earn rewards.

Locations

 

Most people have a Sam’s Club or Costco near their home. Some of us, like myself, have both within a few miles.

Costco has 543 locations in the U.S. and Puerto Rico. Sam’s Club has 599 stores across the U.S. and Puerto Rico. Both warehouse shopping clubs have international locations, though their primary focus is on domestic stores.

If you don’t know the location of a nearby Costco or Sam’s Club, you can locate either using their respective website.

Both clubs have similar hours and are open seven days a week. You can shop on their websites whenever you want. While you can’t see in-store pricing for Costco on their website, you can see Costco’s online prices without a membership.

Sam’s Club locations tend to open an hour or two earlier and offer early shopping hours for Plus members at certain locations. Typically, there isn’t a difference between in-store or online pricing.

Winner: Tie. Both stores have plenty of locations and regularly add new clubs.

Return Policies

 

Both Sam’s Club and Costco have generous return policies. Even during the current pandemic, it’s relatively simple to return an item to either warehouse club.

Costco

 

You can return almost anything for a full refund at Costco. Electronics must be returned within 90 days and any jewelry purchases with a specific carat must have all original paperwork.

Beyond that, you can return anything if you’re unsatisfied with it and receive a full refund. This includes your membership.

If you bought an item on the Costco website, you can initiate the return process there. Alternatively, you can return it to the store.

Sam’s Club

 

You can return almost all purchases at Sam’s Club except alcohol, tobacco products, and contact lenses. While they prefer you have a receipt, it’s not always required.

Most purchases made on their website can be returned to any Sam’s Club location in the U.S. If the item can’t be returned directly to the store, you can ship it back for free. Be aware the original shipping fees may not be refunded.

Winner: Tie. Both warehouses offer generous and simple return policies.

Forms Of Payment

 

Depending on how you like to pay for your groceries and household items, you may find that it’s better to shop at one warehouse over the other. Both stores accept cash, check, debit cards, and credit cards. However, the latter differentiates the two clubs.

Costco

 

Costco is notorious for monitoring their expenses because it helps them offer lower prices. This impacts the forms of payment they accept. Beyond the standard forms of payment, they only accept Visa credit cards since that helps them mitigate expenses.

The club also offers its own affinity card, the Costco Anywhere Visa. You receive four percent cash back on Costco gas purchases and two percent on all other purchases at the store.

Sam’s Club

 

Sam’s Club sets itself apart with the forms of payment it accepts. In addition to the standard options, they accept American Express, Discover, Mastercard, and Visa.

Sam’s also has its own affinity credit card, the Sam’s Club Mastercard. Like the Costco card, it has no annual fee. It offers five percent cash back on Sam’s Club gas, three percent back on dining and travel, and one percent on all other purchases.

Winner: If you only use Visa it’s a tie. However, Sam’s Club has the edge because they accept multiple credit cards.

Product Selection

 

When you shop, product selection is a key factor in choosing what store to frequent. It’s no different when looking at Sam’s Club vs. Costco.

You can go to either club and buy groceries, items for your home, affordable clothing, and more. You may find similar pricing at both stores, but determining which store has better prices or products often depends on current promotions and what you need to buy.

For example, Costco is known to have a more expansive organic food and produce department in addition to meat and seafood. On the other hand, Sam’s Club is known for having excellent meat selections.

Both stores boast their own private label products.

To increase savings, you can use an app like Ibotta at either club by scanning your receipt after you shop.

Additionally, both clubs work with grocery delivery services so you can have items delivered straight to your home.

Instacart is the preferred delivery platform for both warehouse clubs.

Costco

 

Costco claims to carry about 4,000 SKUs on its website. This pales in comparison to what you might find in your local grocery store. But, as any Costco member will tell you, there’s no lack of selection when you shop.

Kirkland Signature is the private label brand from Costco. The quality is quite similar to name brand products. Many brand items have a Kirkland Signature alternative that is several dollars cheaper.

Costco also tends to sell items in large quantities which is great for larger families. However, it may hold back smaller ones from taking advantage of the lower per-unit pricing.

Sam’s Club

 

Sam’s Club doesn’t share how many SKUs they carry, but various reports indicate it’s around 8,000 per store. This provides more selection than Costco, but the latter likes to focus on quality over quantity.

Member’s Mark is the private label brand for Sam’s Club. However,they don’t focus on it as much as Costco focuses on Kirkland Signature. Sam’s Club also offers smaller packaging for products, making them a better choice for smaller families or singles.

Winner: It depends on what you buy. Sam’s Club wins on selection, but Costco focuses on quality and offers better pricing per unit. If you want organic products and high-quality items, the winner is Costco.

Other Services

 

Both Costco and Sam’s Club are terrific when it comes to shopping for groceries and other needs for your home. However, that’s a drop in the bucket when compared with other services and discounts they offer.

Costco

 

Costco offers the following benefits:

  • Business delivery
  • Discounted eyeglasses, contacts, and optometry services
  • Mail order and product pick up for prescriptions (including pet medications)
  • Immunizations
  • Auto buying services
  • Home services (including HVAC, flooring, and garage doors)
  • Photo taking and printing (including printing passport photos)
  • Vacation packages and discount travel
  • Identity protection
  • Insurance options (including life, auto, and home)

Where Costco truly shines is travel discounts. These are exclusively for members and you can book anything from a vacation package to a car rental. Our founder has used this service to save thousands on travel over the years.

Sam’s Club

 

Sam’s Club offers similar benefits, but excels in:

  • Home improvement services
  • Travel discounts and packages
  • Same-day grocery delivery
  • Discount movie tickets
  • Five free prescriptions

Winner: Costco is the clear winner. Sam’s Club offers a lot of extra services, but the breadth and discounts from Costco are unmatched.

Pros & Cons

 

Both stores are good, but there are some things to keep in mind when choosing between the two.

Costco

 

Costco has a plethora of pros with minimal cons.

Pros

  • Discounted prices for many items. You’ll typically pay the wholesale price, which could mean huge savings.
  • Access to many services, including vision care, banking services, a pharmacy, and more.
  • Great deals on travel, prescriptions, dining out, and more.
  • It’s excellent for big families. The more people you have, the more food you need.
  • They offer delivery.
  • You can access coupons to save extra money.
  • Gas is much cheaper when you purchase it through Costco.
  • An awesome food selection, including organic, non-GMO, and frozen foods.

Cons

  • The layout isn’t great. For such a big space, it’s hard to go down certain aisles and not be around a bunch of people.
  • They only accept Visa cards.
  • The membership options are more expensive.

Sam’s Club

 

Sam’s Club doesn’t have many cons either, but here’s what to know if you are considering joining.

Pros

  • Staples like household goods and frozen foods are easy to find and inexpensive.
  • Super cheap fuel options that can save you money, especially if you drive a lot.
  • Discount options on items including movie tickets, theme park tickets, travel, and pharmacy items.
  • A great return policy.
  • Added flexibility in payment options because they accept more credit cards.
  • They have a Scan & Go app so you can shop, scan your items, and pay via the app. This means no waiting in line!
  • A cheaper membership fee.

Cons

  • The quality of items is hit or miss.
  • Their prices are slightly higher.
  • They don’t accept coupons.
  • Fewer organic options compared to Costco.

It’s best to analyze your individual needs when comparing the two stores prior to making a membership decision.

Costco vs. Sam’s Club is a tough decision when deciding which club to join. Our comparison looks at pricing, selection, and more to see which is best.Summary

 

Both Sam’s Club and Costco are terrific warehouse clubs that save you money when you shop. They also offer additional services that make the cost of membership more valuable.

If you have a large family and enjoy organic or private label products, Costco is the winner. If you’re shopping for fewer people, you may find Sam’s Club preferable. Regardless of if you choose Costco vs. Sam’s Club, understanding your purchase needs will ensure these warehouse clubs help you save money.

 

Which do you prefer, Costco or Sam’s Club? What do you look for when choosing a store?

 

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Kim Suazo

Kim is an online business manager and freelance writer that focuses on personal finance, productivity, and running an online business as a mom and entrepreneur. She shares tips and tricks to help women work less on their business while scaling their income on her blog, TheEntrepremomer.com

4 Comments

  • Maureen E Merrow says:

    I actually belong to BJ’S since moving to Florida 5 years ago. BJ’s is less than a mile from my house. Their dairy products are less than other stores. Their brand is Wellsley Farms. Their frozen veggies are mostly organic, affordable and delicious.

  • colleen schwartz says:

    i am a senior citizen and need a riding cart to shop. Costco provides only 3 carts, I have requested additional carts, The Company informed me that they can get more carts if the warehouse mgr. asks. However when i asked him, he refused.

    • John Schmoll says:

      Sorry to hear that. Have you tried contacting their corporate offices? That might be another option to get someone.

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