Comparing Costco and Sam's Club memberships

Olivia Emisar By Olivia Emisar, 19th Aug 2010 | Follow this author | RSS Feed | Short URL
Posted in Wikinut>Money>Shopping

Getting a Costco or Sam's Club membership is easier now than ever. Most people don't need both and would benefit from using the free trial methods to make a decision on which one would work best for them. This is a review of our family's experience with both clubs over a period of years.


Costco and Sam’s club compete with each other for consumer dollars by offering items in bulk at lower-per-unit prices most of the time. Consumers not only have options but have developed loyalties to one or the other based on their experiences at both warehouses and favorite brands carried by one or the other.

Let’s examine the commonalities first and examine personal preferences later.


Both warehouses charge membership fees and the costs are relatively similar. Both warehouses offer cash back on their preferred credit card and both offer gasoline at lower prices that most gas stations in the communities they service.


Costco accepts cash, personal checks, their own credit card or a combination card with American express on the front and Costco’s membership on the back. Rebates begin accumulating with all purchases including a 3% rebate on gas.

Sam’s Club accepts Discover, cash, Wal-Mart’s branded credit card and debit cards.


Both offer variety and lower prices on electronics than their competitors, neither one of them offers the latest items on televisions or computers. Both offer electronics assistance for free. There is no charge for talking to a technician. Costco's warranty on electronics is an additional two year's to the manufacturer's typical one year warranty.


Both offer an extensive on-line catalogue and most items require a shipping fee. Sam’s Club offers ‘pick and pull’ service to its members. The service consists of placing the order online and having it ready for the customer to pick-up at his convenience.

- FOOD -

Both warehouses have ample supply of products to choose from with Sam’s club warehouses offering greater selection and more items that are individually sized. Costco offers individual size bottles of ketchup or mayonnaise packed in sets of two or three, while Sam’s Club has massive tubs of condiments suitable for restaurant use.
When it comes to restaurant-size condiments and cleaning supplies, Sam’s Club carries more variety and greater quantities.

Both have cold cuts in various package sizes as well as cheese varieties. Costco has more high-end brands in that department while Sam’s Club carries the typical brands one would find at any supermarket. The variety of dairy products is greater at Sam’s Club than Costco’s.


Beef quality at Sam’s Club seems average and their prices higher than Costco’s. Costco’s beef seems to be made of better cuts and their prices are lower based on the quality and price per pound. Generally speaking, both the meat, fish, chicken and baked goods are of better quality at Costco. While their selection is not nearly as large as Sam’s Club, Costco seems to strive for quality over quantity.


Both warehouses carry home furnishings while couches seem to be at Sam’s Club longer, Costco’s inventory moves quickly and is seasonal or specific to a space, such as living room, office or bedroom. Both warehouses carry mattresses year-round with Costco having the better brands, quality and prices.


Both warehouses carry and install tires and both carry, but do not install, batteries. Costco’s batteries and tires are better quality and have a better warranty as well as return policy.


Both warehouses have a pharmacy on the premises as well as an ophthalmologist and a dispensary for glasses and contact lenses. Both have reasonable prices but are not necessarily the lowest based on brand. Knowing prices beforehand will make it easy to compare apples to apples. Both pharmacies will quote prescription prices over the phone.

*** Note: A membership is NOT required to fill a prescription at either warehouse since Federal law requires that pharmacies be available to the general public regardless of location; likewise to have a consult with the independent resident ophthalmologist.


While there will be a matter of explanations and delays at Sam’s Club, Costco’s returns are fast and easy with the occasional request to know what was wrong with the item so they can fill out the paperwork for the vendor. Sam’s Club can make the customer feel that he must jump through hoops in order to return a defective or unwanted item.


At this point is where both warehouses truly part company; Costco’s policy to refund the full membership price even after 11 months of service is a breeze. Sam’s Club claims to have a similar policy; however, Sam’s Club membership desk makes the transaction unpleasant requiring more explanation than is necessary and a meeting with a higher up that must approve the transaction.

The employees at Costco are a pleasure to work with while Sam’s Club employees are rarely available or knowledgeable. A possible reason for this difference is that Costco is an employee-owned company and the employee’s level of satisfaction with their employer is relatively high based on pay, benefits and how well they are treated.

Sam’s Club employees do not seem to be vested in the company, perhaps because Sam’s Club is a subsidiary of the well known conglomerate Wal-Mart and they typically don’t offer much to their employees by way of pay or benefits.

Personal preferences over one warehouse or the other is subjective to favorite brands available at one over the other. Most people will choose one membership over the other based on customer service, differences in prices and quality of the food items.


Sam’s Club allows anyone to try the warehouse for a day and to purchase anything they wish as long as they accept a 10% surcharge if they don’t choose to pay for a membership. This is not a bad deal if the customer only needs one particular item and has no intention of coming back, or if the surcharge is substantially lower than the membership.

Costco has specials to entice new members. They will offer a free rotisserie chicken, a salad and some other items just for joining. They will also allow someone to tour the warehouse but not to purchase without a membership. However, since cancellation for a full refund is easy, trying it out temporarily will actually cost less than trying Sam’s Club with the 10% surcharge.

In conclusion, Sam’s Club grocery prices may be higher than their next door Wal-Mart store and Costco’s prices on some items may be higher than a similar item found at Lowe’s (washers, dryers and refrigerators for instance). Knowing the prices of items based on unit price and quality can help a savvy shopper save money and stick to the budget.


Bulk Shopping, Costco, Membership, Sams Club, Shopping, Warehouse Clubs, Warehouses

Meet the author

author avatar Olivia Emisar
Writer (obviously), currently working and publishing articles online. My passion is creative writing and novels are always on the works.

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author avatar LOVERME
20th Aug 2010 (#)

i like costco

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author avatar Olivia Emisar
20th Aug 2010 (#)

thanks for the comment loverme, I do too, but Sam's has some things Costco does not carry, I just can't justify the membership

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author avatar Rose*
25th Nov 2013 (#)

Costco wins on customer service!

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author avatar Olivia Emisar
26th Nov 2013 (#)

I recently explained to a single friend that Costco is making it easier for single people to just purchase items to suit just one person. Instead of double bottles of organic virgin oil are now now single. I love how they pay attention to what customers want and now we can shop for organic items there, at lower prices, than at Whole Foods.

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