Sam’s Club vs Costco- An Involuntary Warehouse Club Comparison

Do you want to know how to get on a Working Mom’s bad side quickly? Mess with her routine.

It’s not like I plan ahead for these grocery trips to the warehouse club, where everything is sold in quantities sufficient to provision a small army.  I just do it whenever our pantry has been depleted to the point where I kind of made the same thing for dinner three nights in a row, and that 100 quantity of paper towel rolls has been reduced down to a single cardboard tube with one little shred of paper on it. Like many people, I leverage the periodic trip to Sam’s to make the weekly trips to the regular grocery just a tad easier.  I don’t think about it, I just take the short drive over first thing on a Saturday morning, in between my second morning cup of coffee, and the basketball game at the Y, and load up the SUV.

Then Sam’s had to mess with me. How? By abruptly closing 63 stores, including the one that was less than two miles from my home. It was easy to get to, and part of my routine.  If I had an hour on the weekend, I could slip over there and get it done. But without any notice or anything, Sam’s changed all that. Unfortunately, it appears the employees were just as surprised.

Representative photo of what my car looks like after I hit the warehouse club

In all seriousness, warehouse clubs can be a big advantage to the working Mom. Some of the items I buy there include instant oatmeal packets, tator tots, chicken breasts, hamburger patties, and more.  The quantities are huge, but if you go through these items regularly, like we do, and you have the storage or freezer space, it can be super convenient.  Why buy the same items every week at the grocery when you can get one package from Sam’s that lasts you the month.  Now, the regular grocery trips are reduced, and you save some money in the process.

Representative photo of what my car looks like after I hit the Warehouse Club

There’s no other warehouse clubs nearby, and the closest is actually a Costco. I was seriously considering dropping this from my routine, but after a quick review of all of the items that I had regularly purchased at Sam’s, and a rough guess at how much it saved me in money and time, it became apparent that I still needed a warehouse club.

So, this past weekend, I took time to take the longer drive over to Costco, and see how it compares to Sam’s.  I know many people who have memberships to both, but I was never one of them.

Membership Costs

The cost of membership isn’t hugely different.

Costco’s membership pricing is as follows: Gold Star membership is $60.  This is for new members.  Business Membership is $60.  Business Executive and Gold Star Executives are $120.  These memberships include a 2% reward on qualified purchases at the store, online, and travel purchases.

Sam’s Club membership pricing is as follows: Sam’s Savings is $45.  Sam’s Business membership is also $45.  The Sam’s Plus membership is $100.  Additional perks for this membership includes:  Cash Rewards, Extra Value Drug List for Plus Members, Optical Plus Member Benefits.

Right out of the gate, the membership was going to cost 33% more for my family at Costco. But, with the 2% reward that Costco offers, it’s likely I will earn that difference back and more over the course of a year.

Store Layout

The first thing I noticed when I walked in the door at Costco is there’s no signs at the end of each aisle to tell you where things are. In comparison, Sam’s Club has a set up similar to a grocery store, where there’s lots of signage telling you where you can find things such as cereal, soda snacks etc. My son, who was with me, was slightly suspicious, and commented that it was probably a trick to have us walk through the entire Costco store and buy more things.  He might be right, but I knew the Sam’s Club layout pretty well without the signage, so over time, I’d expect to have the same at Costco.

Costs

I’m not going to spend a lot of time comparing the costs between all of the products.  That’s really not my expertise.  But I did look closely at a few of the items I regularly purchase.  Overall, when it came to things like produce and meat, the prices at Costco seem to be higher than the prices at Sam’s Club.

Products (variety)

What I was told, and what I’ve read online, is that Cosco rotates out their products quite a bit. So, what you see your first trip you may not see your next trip. This can be a bummer, especially if you are habitual shopper that buys the same things every week or every month like I tend to do.  On the flipside, this can be great if you welcome the opportunity to try new things.  Kids tastes seem to change from month to month, so this could be a plus.

Speaking of kids, as my son was grabbing samples from every single one of the various product demonstrators we passed (I could’ve sworn he ate breakfast before we went), one of them told me the item he was trying (Peter and Pat’s Pierogies) would only be carried for two weeks. So, we went ahead and got a package to try out.

Both Sam’s and Costco have tons of items they sell under their own private brand.  Sam’s Club has Member’s Mark, and Costco’s is called Kirkland. These items are manufactured specifically for the chain, and are not a generic version of the well-known brands. The value is that they are typically pretty good quality, but at a price less than the brand name items.

In comparison, Costco seems to have a larger variety of their own food items.  For example, there are only so many different ways that you can buy chicken, but Kirkland offers poultry that comes in its own separate sealed packs that you can tear off and only defrost what you need to make dinner that night.

This is very different from how I was handling my poultry from Sam’s Club, which comes in one big bag. I would have to bring it home, separate it out, place into individual Ziploc bags, then put in the freezer. The end result is the same, only pulling out and defrosting what I need at the time, but the way Costco has it packaged makes it lot easier and more convenient.

I don’t usually recommend getting produce from a warehouse club normally, as this is an item that is not going to keep very well over time, but occasionally there are produce items, like blueberries, that I know we can go through fairly quickly. For example, they can be used with our cheerios in the morning, smoothies in the evening, pancakes on the weekend, etc. etc. Did I mention the blueberry lager I found that is great to add a few berries to?  Overall, it seems like Costco has a wider variety of produce.

Checkout Process

When we got to the checkout line I panicked because the lines were long for each register.   As it turns out, at Costco, every cashier is assigned a separate person who transfers all of your groceries to a new empty cart. They’re actually super-fast and super-efficient, and the line moved quickly.  I felt spoiled!

There are many other areas on which we can compare the two warehouses stores, such as the automotive department, return policy, coupon books and food court, but these aren’t things I normally use.  Feel free to comment below if you have anything to share on these items, or on anything else you think about each club.

In short, it’s going to take some getting used to driving the longer distance to Costco, and getting familiar with the store layout. But I still find it advantageous to use a warehouse club, and so as annoyed as I am that my Sam’s Club store closed, I will be making these trips to Costco part of my new routine.

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