This guide breaks down everything you need to know about shopping at Costco vs. Sam’s Club.
Both warehouse retailers compete for bulk shoppers, so which one is better?
As a lifelong Costco and Sam’s Club shopper, we recently took a trip to both stores to determine which one is the best option.
Here is what we found out!
Costco vs Sam’s Club
Should I shop at Sam’s Club or Costco? Let’s explore the similarities and differences and see how this two compare? Here’s a look.
Costco Vs Sam’s Club Similarities
- Similar business models. They both sell goods in bulk quantities.
- They offer wholesale prices.
- You will need to have a membership to shop at either store.
- Prices for their goods are almost the same. Costco generally fares better.
- The store layout is pretty much the same.
- Generous return policies and their similar opening hours.
- Both stores have a gas station right out front, near the parking lot.
Costco Vs Sam’s Club Differences
- Costco has more stores than Sam’s Club
- Costco has more product categories, thus more options for customers.
Costco Vs Sam’s Club Membership
Costco’s membership fee for a basic “Gold Star” membership is $60 per year and $120 for a “Gold Star Executive” membership. While Sam’s Club’s is slightly cheaper with a basic membership for $45 per year and a “Plus” membership costing $100 annually.
So, why the difference in pricing?
Does this mean I get more offers and perks for paying a higher membership fee at Costco?
Though for the vast majority of offerings the perks are almost identical. They both offer discounts at the pump, optical services such as exams to glasses, discounts on popular prescriptions, cashback and more.
If we’re looking strictly at price alone, Sam’s Club takes the number one spot for membership cost.
Costco Vs Sam’s Club Prices
If you’re into pinching pennies, you’ll want to know which of these stores offers better pricing for their products.
A study done by Cheapism compared 30 perishable and packaged grocery items, personal care products, and other household essentials. They picked the same brand in the same quantity at each wholesale club to calculate the price different and savings when shopping at these stores.
They found that half the items they shopped for cost essentially the same at both stores (with less than 1-percent differences in unit prices). 7 of the 30 items came out cheaper at Sam’s, by an average of less than 8%. But Costco’s prices were better than Sam’s Club’s prices on 9 products, with average money savings of more than 11%.
We did our own comparison and went online to see how different were the prices for a few essential items:
- Costco: Fat Milk of Kirkland Signature Reduced to 2%=$2.49 per gallon.
- Sam’s Club: Fat Milk of Member’s Mark Reduced to 2%= 2.56 per gallon.
- Costco: Boneless, Skinless, Chicken Breast of Kirkland Signature= $3.69 per pound.
- Sam’s Club: Boneless, Skinless, Chicken Breast of Member’s Mark= $1.72 per pound.
- Costco Kirkland Signature Extra Virgin Olive Oil (2L) = $14.30 per liter
- Sam’s Club Member’s Mark Extra Virgin Olive Oil (2L) = $12.48 per liter
- Costco Kirkland Signature Paper Towels, 12ct = $1.63 per roll
- Sam’s Club Member’s Mark Super Premium Individually Wrapped Paper Towels, 15ct = $1.13 per roll
According to our research and Cheapism, prices tend to score be similar for most items. The prices are so close that it will depend on the quantity items you’ll buy for the week to see a real difference in savings.
Branded Credit Card Benefits
Costco and Sam’s Club have their own credit cards. So how do they stack up?
Costco Anywhere Visa
- Doubles as your membership card
- If you are a Costco member the annual fee is $0.
- 2% cash back on all other purchases from Costco and Costco.com
- Cash back of 4% on eligible gas, for the first $7,000 per year and then 1% thereafter
- Includes 3% cashback on travel purchases and restaurants.
- For the rest of the purchases, 1% cash back is provided.
Sam’s Club Master Card
- Doubles as your membership card
- $0 annual fee (cash back reward check only goes to Sam’s Club members)
- 5% cash back at U.S. and Puerto Rico gas stations and on gas at Sam’s Club (on first $6,000 per year in purchases, then 1% on purchases after).
- 3% cash back rewards are provided for travel and dine in.
- No transactions fees
- 1% of cash back on other purchases
Winner: They offer similar credit card perks but Costco comes on with that 2% cash back at Costco and Costco which in turn into more saving for you, the customer.
There are different methods of payment in both the stores. To have a better understanding let’s discuss below:
- Costco Payment
All Visa Cards, cash, checks from membership holders, debit/ ATM cards, traveler’s check and Costco Shop Cards are accepted at Costco as the method of payment. Cash, EBT, and checks are not accepted at Costco gas station, Costco.com, and Costco Car Wash.
- Sam’s Club Payment
MasterCard, Sam’s Club credit card, Walmart credit card, cash, check, Visa, Debit cards, American Express, Discover, SNAP, etc. all are accepted at Sam’s Club as payment.
Winner: Sam’s Club. Sam’s Club accepts the four major credit card providers: AmEx, Visa, Discover, and MasterCard including SNAP.
Health Care Services
How do health services and pharmacies compare at Sam’s Club and Costco?
Costco: Costco offers a range of health care services. Some of these include pharmacy, flu shots, optical center, hearing center (hearing tests, cleanings, and checkups), periodic osteoporosis checks, heart, and diabetes screenings at select stores.
Costco membership owners can get between 2% and 40% off medications for prescription drugs.
Sam’s Club: They offer similar health care services like Costco. These include pharmacy, optical center, hearing center, free health screenings for cholesterol, glucose, blood pressure, body fat percentage, among others.
Sam’s Club membership owners need to upgrade to Sam’s Plus ($100 a year) to get health care perks such as $4 to $10 generics, up to 30% off name-brand drugs, and free medications.
Consumer Reports found that shoppers would save nearly $50 if they bought five common prescription medications at Costco instead of Sam’s.
More locations mean more convenience for customers as they don’t have to travel long distances to get one of these stores.
- Costco locations: As of early 2019, Costco has 770 US locations plus 200 located abroad.
- Sam’s Club locations: As of the time of publishing, Sam’s Club has 599 US locations.
Winner: Sam’s Club.
After all the analysis, the question arises “who is the winner?”
In my opinion, the winner is Costco.
- Despite the slightly higher prices, Costco has more product variety
- More generic products through their Kirkland brand
- Their foods are more focused on quality and health
- Employees at Costco earn significantly more per hour, which translates into better customer services
However, you may be able to save some money at Sam’s Club and they also offer longer hours of operation and better membership costs.
Costco Vs Sam’s Club: Which is your favorite and why?