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In recent years, many bargain shoppers have made the switch to a more exclusive grocery store experience. Companies like Sam’s Club and Costco offer customers lower prices, better inventory, and a more comfortable shopping process in return for an annual membership fee. Costco vs Aldi and Sam’s Club vs Costco are a big debate among shoppers looking to get the biggest bang for their buck.
If you’re looking to join this movement of high-quality grocery shopping, but you’re not sure which company is more deserving of your money—read on for everything you need to know about Sam’s Club vs. Costco!
Costco vs. Sam’s Club Membership Fees
Those looking to join one of these two warehouse stores are probably aware that both Sam’s Club and Costco require customers to pay an annual membership fee. When determining which warehouse store to choose for your weekly or bi-weekly groceries, it’s important to understand the details of each membership and which is going to provide a more affordable experience.
Costco is well known for the Kirkland brand and has two tiers within its membership system, of varying prices. Customers looking to join the Costco member program must choose one of these options to begin shopping at any Costco store:
- Basic Membership – The cheapest option for Costco shoppers is the $60 a year basic membership. This plan only provides access to the store and no other rewards or benefits beyond that.
- Gold Star Executive Membership – For a higher price of $120 a year, Costco Gold Star Executive members get access to an exclusive rewards program. At the end of each year, Gold Star customers will receive a 2% cashback reward on the total amount of money they’ve spent at Costco over the last 12 months. This reward can definitely pile up and result in savings that are worth the membership fee—however, it’s important to note that this reward is capped at a maximum of $1,000.
Whether you decide to go with the basic option or the Gold Star Executive plan, paying for a Costco membership will likely save you money compared to shopping at a regular grocery store—but the unanswered question still remains: Will a Costco card save you money compared to a Sam’s Club membership?
Sam’s Club Membership
Like Costco, Sam’s Club offers customers a selection of membership plans to choose from.
- Standard Membership – A standard Sam’s Club membership is the cheapest option at $45 per year. This membership allows customers access to Sam’s Club stores, just as the basic Costco membership does. With a $15 dollar price decrease in comparison to Costco, the winner for the most affordable membership fee goes to Sam’s Club.
- Sam’s Plus Membership – Sam’s Club also has its own version of an executive membership with their Sam’s Plus plan. Continuing with the similarities, a Sam’s Plus Membership gives customers access to a 2% cashback rewards program. The difference between these two memberships is that a Sam’s Plus Membership costs only $100 a year, which is $20 less than a Gold Star Costco membership. On the other hand, Sam’s Club’s 2% cashback reward has a much lower maximum than Costco, capping out at only $500.
The Winner of This Category: The difference in pricing seems to give Sam’s Club an advantage—however, if you’re looking to make the most of your 2% rewards that come along with the higher tier memberships, Costco’s Gold Star Executive Membership leaves more room for savings and might be the better deal.
Sam’s Club vs. Costco Pricing
The membership cost isn’t everything. If you’re really looking to save money on a regular basis, it’s important to go with a store that consistently provides the lowest prices on products you buy frequently.
To get an idea of the difference in savings between the two stores, let’s compare some popular items and their respective prices.
Probably the biggest department within both stores, the grocery sections of Sam’s Club and Costco, are ripe with deals compared to the average supermarket. Here are a few examples of food items that differ in price between the two warehouse retailers:
- Popcorn – Both stores offer large quantities of individually packaged, crunchy snacks. Taking a look at one particular product, a 28-count box of SkinnyPop popcorn bags, there seems to be a clear difference in pricing between the two stores. On Costco’s website, this product is sold for $14.49, or $0.52 per bag. Sam’s Club, on the other hand, lists this product for only $12.98, which is approximately $0.46 per bag. In terms of salty snacks, Sam’s Club takes the lead for most affordable.
- Seltzer water – A 24-count variety pack of the popular seltzer brand La Croix is another example of the pricing variance between the two retailers. At Costco, customers can purchase this product for $9.49, which retails at $0.40 a can. Is this an affordable price? Absolutely. Is it more affordable than Sam’s Club? Nope! Sam’s Club shoppers will find the same variety pack of seltzers for a low price of $7.88, which is roughly $0.32 per can. With this example, Sam’s Club steals another win.
- Rice – Rice is both a pantry item people often buy in bulk and another great product that exemplifies both store’s pricing strategy. While each retailer has its own store-brand of rice, the amount of product is the same. A 25-lb bag of Jasmine rice from Costco is going to run customers a total of $21.99 or $0.88 a pound. Once again, Costco’s seemingly low price is blown out of the water by Sam’s Club—who offers a 25-lb bag of Jasmine rice for only $17.98, or about $0.72 per pound.
The Winner of This Category: Sam’s Club passes the grocery test with flying colors, due to their lower prices across the board. If you are a shopper who’s looking for a consistently good deal on your bulk groceries, a Sam’s Club membership is the way to go!
Utilitarian essentials are another popular product customers look for from their retailers. From stocking up on cleaning supplies to buying paper goods in bulk—here’s the rundown for which store has the cheapest household goods.
- Paper towels – It doesn’t take long for the average person to use up a roll of paper towels. Thankfully, both Costco and Sam’s Club offer this vital paper good in large quantities, so customers won’t run out anytime soon. A 12-count of Bounty Paper Towels costs $19.98 at Sam’s Club, averaging out to about $1.66 per roll.
- Toilet paper – A 36-roll pack of Cottonelle toilet paper costs Sam’s Club customers a reasonable price of $21.94. At Costco, however, the same exact product is listed at a whopping $27.99! Once again, Sam’s Club hits the member’s mark by being the cheaper option.
- Trash bags – Both retailers offer trash bags through their store brand. At Sam’s Club, a 50-count box of 18-gallon trash bags is priced at $7.98, or approximately $0.16 per bag. Costco offers a slightly different deal of a 70-count box of 18-gallon trash bags at almost double the price of $13.49, or $0.19 for each bag. While Costco’s product does offer 20 more bags than the Sam’s Club listing, the price per bag once again crowns Sam’s Club with being the better deal.
- Laundry detergent – A large pack of tide pods sounds like it would cost a pretty penny, but warehouse stores like Sam’s Club or Costco provide customers with much lower prices for their laundry needs. A 168-count box of tide pods costs $35.49 at Costco or $0.21 per load. Sam’s Club customers are able to purchase this same product for the biggest price drop of $29.95, which calculates to $0.17 per load.
The Winner of This Category: Similar to the grocery category, Sam’s Club beats Costco in terms of price for household items as well.
Both Sam’s Club and Costo offer excellent returns policies. Both offer full refunds on the membership at any time if you’re unhappy with the service.
Further, you can return any product at any time with a few exceptions. Costco offers a 90-days returns policy for electronics, while consumables such as cigarettes and alcohol, tires, and batteries cannot be returned.
Sam’s Club extends this list slightly. Most notably, the retail chain has a 14-day returns policy for cell phones. Customers will also have to check with their branch about returning hearing aids and eyeglasses.
The other important difference is that though Sam’s Club requires the original receipt for returns, Costco lets individual stores take the call of whether it is required. This gives Costco a slight edge in offering a better returns experience for its customers.
The Winner of This Category: Costco for its shorter exemption list and case-by-case approach to having the original receipt and packaging.
Number of Locations and Services
Sam’s Club operates 598 stores across 487 cities in the US as of September 2021, while Costco operates 564 stores across 477 cities.
While Sam’s Club may have more stores in more cities, Costco has a higher store density in certain states, so it’s worth checking out which chain has a greater presence in your area. For example, there are 131 Costcos in California, as opposed to just 29 Sam’s Club stores.
The top three states with the most number of Sam’s Club stores are Texas (82 stores), Florida (46 stores), and California (29 locations). In the case of Costco, it is California (131 stores), Texas (33 stores), and Washington (32 stores).
The Winner of This Category: Tie. Though Sam’s Club technically has more stores, your experience trying to find a store near you can vary greatly depending on where you live.
Both companies offer a range of services bundled with the membership. Here’s what you can expect to find in each of these stores:
Sam’s Club services: Hotel and rental car booking; tickets; insurance; auto services; home services; business services; pharmacy; optical center; photo gifts and printing services
Costco services: Insurance; travel services; water delivery; home improvement; auto services; business services; product installation; optical center; photo gifts and printing services
Both companies offer a range of fairly similar service products. However, Costco offers a slightly larger range of insurance products while Sam’s Club offers more in terms in travel, shows, and attractions.
The Winner of This Category: Tie. Both stores offer a wide range of services that should cover the needs of most shoppers. If you’re looking for more entertainment options, however, Sam’s Club might be the better bet. If you’re looking for group insurance or pet insurance, Costo is the place to go.
Which is Better, Sam’s Club or Costco?
While each warehouse club may differ slightly, it seems that a Sam’s Club member is generally offered lower prices in all categories. From a more affordable annual fee to cheaper products and gas station prices, Sam’s Club is the clear winner—only losing to Costco in terms of the 2% rewards program and credit card offer.
Both Costco and Sam’s Club are affordable alternatives to the average supermarket, but those who are looking for the ultimate money-saving experience may have better luck investing in a Sam’s Club membership.
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