Sam’s Club vs. Costco, which is better? That’s a question many people ask. Whether you’re shopping for groceries, furniture, computers, or any of the hundreds of other products offered, it can be a tough decision to decide which is best.
We have both a Costco and a Sam’s Club within driving distance. Although both of these stores are better economically than your average supermarket, it may be that one of the two clubs could save you more money than the other. Finding the best deals on the market, coupled with the best value and quality products, is no easy task.
Warehouse clubs have long been a popular choice for shoppers; they allow you to buy in bulk, browse many different types of products, and save money altogether. However, some people argue that it’s challenging to practice frugal living because of the added cost of purchasing in such large quantities.
While either one is a practical choice, there are a couple of things to be mindful of before choosing one over the other. Both Costco and Sam’s Club charge a yearly fee for membership. One could be closer to you. Or you may not like the selection of products offered there.
Sam's Club vs. Costco: What Will It Set Me Back?
The initial upfront fee for membership may deter some people. Although the yearly membership fee may seem hefty, the value you get in return exceeds the price tag.
Costo and Sam’s Club offer different types of membership plans, from basic to premium. The premium plan gives you access to cash rewards and more substantial discounts, which will benefit you most if you prefer buying in bulk. Are the extra benefits worth it? The short answer is yes, long-term.
Costco standard memberships are offered as Gold Star ($60 per year) and Gold Star Executive ($120 per year). Additionally, upon signing up, students receive a $20 gift card, and military families receive coupons for free products and other savings valued at over $60.
The Gold Star (or basic) membership gives you a free household card and access to all Costco locations, including international stores. The Gold Star Executive membership also gives you an annual 2% cash reward on Costco and Travel Purchases and extra discounts on specific Costco Travel purchases.
Bulk buying makes for an excellent business investment, which is where Costco’s business memberships prove their value. Business ($60 per year) and Business Executive ($120 per year) have the same benefits as their standard counterparts, plus the ability to purchase for resale and add additional people to the membership ($60 each).
Let’s say you own a coffee shop and want to buy your coffee sachets in bulk. You can buy them at better rates and with additional benefits if you are part of the business member scheme. Costco does offer a range of other benefits that include life insurance and identity monitoring, which could be beneficial for business owners.
Sam’s Club Costs
Although Sam’s Club is a few dollars cheaper than its competitor, members receive many of the same benefits. They have similar policies to Costco, students and military families are given a one-time gift card upon membership, and the pricing is, on average, around $20 cheaper.
For a Club membership ($45 per year), you get one free membership card and the capacity for up to eight add-on memberships at an additional cost of $40 each. That comes in handy if you want to attach another family member to the membership. Comparatively, Costco only offers this perk to business members.
A Plus membership ($100 per year) has benefits, including $10 back for every $500 spent per year. It also offers early shopping hours, allowing you to beat crowds and see offers quicker than others, and free shipping on most online orders, making it easy to cash in on deals from the comfort of your home.
Costco has a broader focus on lifestyle and health products. The Plus membership also includes five free prescriptions and discounts on eyeglasses.
Sam’s Club vs. Costco: Who Has the Best Value?
So which is better for the price? Sam’s Club offers comparable benefits while being generally cheaper than Costco. Although Costco offers higher cashback, this is most valuable for those spending thousands, namely business members, rather than a standard club member.
When it comes to payment, you can pay with cards or cash in both stores. Costco only accepts Visa, while Sam’s Club accepts Visa, Mastercard, Discover, and American Express. These can be used both in-store and online depending upon your preference. One additional benefit of shopping at Sam’s Club is that some stores have begun implementing free internet for members, enabling you to use your smartphone to compare prices on the spot to make sure you’re getting the best deal possible.
Who Has Better Locations and Better Access?
Both warehouses have many locations worldwide. However, Costco has 539 warehouses in the US alone, and Sam’s Club has approximately 599 warehouses, taking the lead. There may be a better shot at finding a Sam’s Club warehouse near you.
However, Costco has promised to build more warehouses across the country in the coming months and years.
Depending on your location, you may find that you choose both, but other towns may have one option. You can find the nearest Sam’s Club using their store locator and the closest Costco using their warehouse lookup tool. Online shopping is always available too.
What Are Shopping Benefits for Me?
While both stores offer great products, they provide value in different ways. Costco is renowned for its bulk and organic produce; it has many benefits in buying a lot at once while offering natural, fresh produce. Sam’s Club is renowned for its regular-sized items that can be purchased at better prices than regular supermarkets; you will be saving money without the need to buy in bulk.
Costco claims that they carry around 4000 SKUs. Their focus is to store only good quality produce. They do tend to stock a lot of higher-end brands. In terms of products, you will find both good quality food and drink. Kirkland products are the main feature line, which proves very popular with shoppers.
Sam’s Club Offerings
Sam’s Club’s range of food varies. Although the exact number is unknown, they do pack more into their stores than Costco does. They stock more mainstream brands with a wide selection of meat and produce. They also offer their own Member’s Mark brand of high-quality products at members-only prices.
Overall, Costco is the better choice if you’re looking for organic items or to buy in bulk. Sam’s Club has plenty to offer in the range of medium-quality products at exceptional prices. In terms of which is cheaper, while they stock different brands, Sam’s Club is more well-rounded for families and students alike.
Sam's Club vs. Costco: Will I Benefit From One More Than the Other?
Both memberships come with comprehensive benefits that range from eyewear to flu shots, and they both have slightly different targeting areas. Sam’s Club focuses more on lifestyle while Costco focuses more on insurance, but both offer services that aren’t intensively advertised.
Pharmacy, flu shots, optical/hearing tests, tire/battery, gas and car maintenance, photo, business services (including insurance), travel, auto-buying program, and an in-store restaurant.
Sam’s Club offers:
Pharmacy, flu shots, optical/hearing center, tire/battery, gas, car maintenance, business services (including insurance), travel, auto-buying program, and an in-store restaurant.
Spot the difference? It isn’t possible as the warehouse clubs have incredibly similar perks. However, where they may differentiate themselves is in the quality of these services and customer experience.
If you prefer to shop from home, both Sam’s Club and Costco offer impeccable online services. You can have your products with you in as little as a few hours, usually, the same day if ordered early enough and through Instacart.
You will find that they have relatively similar delivery services. Please note that with both clubs, you will pay more for Instacart than you would pay in-store. That might be a great side gig for those seeking jobs where you work alone most of the time.
Both warehouses have a 90-day return policy, so if something doesn’t fit the bill, you can return it and get your money back if it is kept within that 90-day window.
Sam's Club vs. Costco: Still Undecided?
There Are Benefits To Both, And That’s OK. A lot of the time, it is down to personal preference, budget, and what exactly it is that you’re looking for. The Sam’s vs. Club Costco debate is almost as controversial as the FIRE movement.
Costco has the edge over Sam’s Club in terms of its produce and its value for the number of products, whereas Sam’s Club has a broader range of medium-quality items that foster significant savings.
What Do the Experts Say?
Both of these big box wholesale clubs have annual membership dues, so which warehouse store is better?
When you look further into public reviews, you will find that Costco's wholesale club has a slightly higher ranking than Sam’s Club. Costco’s rating is 3.79 out of 5 stars, and Sam’s Club has 3.53 out of 5 stars.
Focusing only on the positives of both, we can see that the highlighting deciding factors for both are as follows:
- Large selection of organic foods – there are good quality sourced products available.
- Kirkland Signature private labels are of excellent quality at reasonable prices.
- Costco Travel offers good travel discounts – if you are a business person or frequent traveler, this could be a huge benefit.
- Name brands – they have a big choice across the board.
- Free shipping on all items for Plus membership – you can shop online easily.
- Lower membership fees than Costco – yearly subscription is around $20 less.
- Accepts all credit cards for safe and secure payments.
The choice between Sam’s Club vs. Costco comes down to the slight difference in price and services offered and the quality of its products. Whatever your preference is in terms of quality and price, one of these two warehouse clubs will undoubtedly benefit your household or business.
Samantha Hawrylack is the co-owner of How To FIRE, a blog that discusses financial independence and early retirement. She uses her BS in Finance and MBA to help others get control of their finances through budgeting, saving, investing, side hustles, and travel hacking. Due to following the FIRE Movement’s principles, she was able to quit her high-stress job in the financial services industry in July 2019 to pursue her side hustles full-time. When not working, she enjoys spending time with her dog “Simba” and traveling with her husband, John.