An in-depth analysis of prices, customer service, and more of these two big box stores — the ultimate Costco versus Sam’s Club Comparison
Costco Versus Sam’s Club
This post was not endorsed in any way by either Costco or Sam’s Club. They don’t even know I exist!
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Costco versus Sam’s Club . . . all the greatest battles in life, right?
For a single person, or even two people, shopping at a warehouse store like Costco and Sam’s Club might not save you money.
In fact, you’ll probably spend more than you would have at a regular grocery store. I think that it’s definitely worth getting a membership there if you buy a lot of things in bulk.
I’ve found it to be a lot more cost-effective to shop at Costco for items we buy all the time (like meat, paper towels, snacks, etc.), and the quality is usually great.
It does take a little bit of effort to try and determine if you’re getting the best price, but it’s worth it to do.
I’ve been a life-time Costco-er. My parents always went there, and when Forrest and I got married, we started shopping there as well.
I had been in Sam’s Club once or twice in my life, but I never really had a chance to explore and see the difference between the two stores.
When I originally wrote this post in 2014, I had randomly gotten a Sam’s Club membership in the mail where we tried it out. Since then, we actually have had memberships to both warehouses.
There are things that I love about both places, and I think there are benefits to each club.
I decided to update this post with our experience at both, as well as current prices.
Keep in mind that these prices are specific to my area (Colorado). I have also broken it down as much as I can per pound/item. They aren’t always sold in the same quantity at both stores, so I felt this was the fairest way to do the comparison.
Just keep in mind that you likely will have to be more than one pound of something (especially in the produce!).
Most everything below is the generic brand (so Kirkland for Costco or Member’s Mark for Sam’s Club)
Which is Better: Costco or Sam’s Club
|Organic Baby Carrots||$1.10/lb||$1.33/lb|
|Honey Crisp Apples||$2.54/lb||$1.89/lb|
|Mixed Peppers||$5.99 for 6||$6.49 for 6|
|Green seedless grapes||$2.50 per pound||$2.26 per pound|
|2% milk||$2.25/gallon (comes with 2)||$2.33/gallon|
|Organic 2% milk||$3.46/64 ounces||$3.49/64 ounces|
|Almond Milk||$3/64 ounces||$2.66/64 ounces|
|Eggs||15 cents/egg||17 cents/egg|
|Plain Greek Yogurt||.12/oz||.09/oz|
|Shredded Mexican Cheese||$2.36/lb||$3.49/lb|
|Ground Beef||$2.59/lb (88%)||$2.95/lb (90%)|
|Organic Ground Beef||$4.99/lb (85%)||$5.99/lb (85%)|
|Pork Loin Back Ribs||$2.29/lb||$2.18/lb|
|Brisket||$2.99/lb (whole)||$2.79/lb (whole)|
|Lunch Meat – Ham||$4.49/lb||$4.37/lb|
|Tyson Chicken Nuggets||$2.50/lb||$2.04/lb|
|Canned Tomato Sauce||.04/oz||.03/oz|
|Toilet Paper||.56/roll (425 sheets)||.41/roll (235 sheets)|
|Size One Diapers||.16/diaper||.12/diaper|
|Kitchen Trash Bags||.07/bag||.08/bag|
|Vitafusion Women’s Multi-vitamin||.05/vitamin||.05/vitamin|
|Parchment Paper||.02/sq ft||.03/sq ft|
|Quart Freezer Bags||.06/bag||.06/bag|
When I originally did this comparison back in 2013, Sam’s Club came in with better prices…so I was surprised to see that Costco was cheaper for almost everything I looked at.
Of course, if I didn’t mention the items you love, you might want to comparison shop for those specifically. But I tried to choose a wide variety.
Forrest and I feel like Costco has more organic and healthy products and brands – and more fun and unique products. Sam’s Club has more big names and convenience foods, which can be nice, too.
Here are two posts I’ve written about what we buy at each store that I feel make the membership worth getting:
I do really like getting my Sketcher’s shoes and other clothing items the most from Costco. Forrest loves the Adidas socks and jeans that he has gotten from there.
Cost of membership
Costco has a couple of different membership options:
- Gold Star Membership: $60, for mainly personal use
- Business Membership: $60, can be used for personal and business use. You can purchase up to five more memberships at $55 on this plan for employees/family members. Honestly, I don’t see that there’s really any difference between this and the Gold Star Membership — enlighten me if you know!
- Executive Membership: $120, and it includes a 2% money back at the end of the year, and apparently other perks. We actually recently signed up for this, because no matter what, you’ll get $60 cashback at the end of the year. If you earn more than that, you’ll start to see the benefits of this membership.
Sam’s Club has two membership options and you can see a comparison chart of the two here. The prices for Sam’s Savings and Business both increased by about $10
- Sam’s Club Membership: $45
- Sam’s Plus: $100, you get additional discounts on products with this one, free shipping from their website, and early shopping hours, as well as 2% cash back on all purchases.
I have seen both of these companies offer Groupon deals lately that make the memberships super cheap, and you get some cool coupons!
Sam’s Club has a one-day pass (free) that you can use if you don’t have a membership and just want to try it out, but you do have to pay an added fee that members don’t have to pay.
At Costco, if someone gives you a gift card, you don’t need a membership to use it — plus, anyone can use their pharmacy!
Both food courts have the staples — pizza, hot dogs, and soft drinks. However, we felt like Costco offered more variety. I feel like they offer some healthier options as well (at least at our local Costco). When we lived in Utah, they even had Gelato.
At our Costco, you can order food while you are checking out, which is kind of nice because it stinks to have to wait in line to get your groceries, and then go wait in a mile-long line to order food!
I definitely prefer the samples at Costco more, simply because they typically have more and a larger variety.
There is almost always some kind of sample available when we go to Costco, though I think the best time is between 1:30 and 4 PM.
However, we often go to Sam’s Club, and there isn’t a sample insight. Before a big holiday, they usually have them. But if it’s just a random day in the middle of the week, more often than not, our Sam’s Club doesn’t have anything out.
I LOVE that Sam’s Club added their Scan ‘n Go option a few years ago. I absolutely love it.
Basically, you just scan your items on their app as you go, pay through the app when you are done, and you can completely bypass the checkout line. Here is a video I did about it:
I also like that our Sam’s Club has self-checkout. The Costco that was by our house at our first home in Colorado had these for awhile, and then they took them out.
At our current Costco, they just have regular checkouts, but they are pretty efficient and get you through the line very quickly.
I will say that our Costco is always SO busy, and Sam’s Club never is. So sometimes if we know both stores have what we need, we will go to Sam’s just because it’s generally a less chaotic experience.
When I originally wrote this post, I complained about the Costco employees not being very friendly.
This was at the store we went to in Orem, Utah. And they were SO grumpy.
However, since moving to Colorado, I have yet to encounter a grumpy Costco worker. Most everyone that works at the one we go to seems to genuinely enjoy working there
I don’t have any complaints against any of the Sam’s Club employees either. They don’t seem quite as friendly as the ones at our current Costco, but they aren’t rude or unpleasant to be around, either.
Both companies send out monthly mailers with coupons, some of which you have to have in order to use in-store, and others just to inform you of a deal going on.
One thing that’s neat about Sam’s Club is that you can load coupons onto your card, and sometimes, you get free items just because — for instance, we recently got a free rotisserie chicken, just because they wanted to give us one.
With Costco’s coupon, don’t worry about cutting out the coupons you want to use. You can simply hand the book to the cashier after you are ready to pay, and when they scan it, any eligible coupons will be applied.
If you want to use manufacturers or outside coupons, you’re out of luck. Neither Sam’s Club or Costco accept these types of coupons.
One thing I learned recently about Costco, though, is when a price ends in 7, you should stock up — it’s been marked down by corporate, and it’s about as low as it will ever be.
Grocery Pickup or Delivery
Sam’s Club offers club pickup at no additional cost, which is nice if you are in a hurry.
Costco doesn’t offer this, but they are an Instacart partner, so if you want to have your groceries delivered, this is a good option to look into.
Costco has the best return policy of pretty much any store I’ve gone to.
There has been several times that we’ve had to go and return something, and they’ve done it with no question.
For instance, a few weeks ago, after we had used two packages of butter, we discovered that the contents of the third package was completely messed up, and when we took it back, they gave us two packages with no further question.
With the exception of some electronics (which must be returned within 90 for a full refund), they stand behind their products 100%, and offer a full refund on their products if you aren’t 100% satisfied.
I just read about someone who took back a BBQ that was clearly over a year or two old that had started to rust, and they happily gave him a refund.
While I certainly don’t advocate taking back every product back to Costco once you’re done with it, you can buy products at Costco knowing that if you aren’t satisfied, you will get your money back, no questions asked.
Plus, if you don’t have the receipt, no problem. They can look up information with your ID number, and you can make in store returns with products that were purchased online.
As for Sam’s Club’s return policy, I’ve found numerous complaints about it. While they state that they have a 100% guarantee on their products and memberships, there are more stipulations than you find at Costco.
If you purchase something online, it can be returned for cash if you have the receipt, but only a Sam’s gift card otherwise.
And within that policy, certain things are excluded — such as televisions and other electronics — you have to have the original receipt.
This person tried to return a TV from SamsClub.com that was sent to them with a cracked screen and was pretty much told too bad, they had nothing to do with online orders.
When all is said and done, Costco is my favorite.
After researching both companies, I feel like Costco treats their employees the best, and I agree with their business practices more.
According to this article, Costco runs the cheapest and happiest company in the world.
This resource showed that Costco’s average wage is $17.13 an hour, though that is skewed by the higher wage a warehouse manager gets. Stockers and Cashiers maker closer to $14 per hour on average.
Sam’s Club has an average wage of $12.07, with a cashier making $10.67 per hour on average (source).
If you are looking for the cheapest membership, I would probably go with Sam’s Club. I also feel like they have more convenience factors, such as club pickup and scan and go. I also like that you can see the in-store prices for products from their app.
However, for the best return policies, and for a company that is managed extremely well and treats its employees well, Costco is definitely the way to go.
With that said, I still use both clubs for different reasons!
I would not choose based on price of products alone. And, really, a lot of factors go into choosing which store is best for you.