It’s the battle of the warehouse giants.
The editors at Cheapism.com wanted to know: Which wholesale club — Costco or Sam’s Club — has the lowest prices? Which has the best selection? The best deals overall?
The questions sparked the website to study prices at both stores for 37 different grocery items — including bread, milk and other staples — based on the needs of a family of four. The net cost for each item was also broken down by unit price to account for any quantity differences. You can read the full study here.
On groceries, Costco won by a slim 3.6 percent ($12) margin. Both chains were found to be about 40 percent cheaper than local supermarkets.
The website also compared eight non-grocery products, including luggage, gas and TVs. It cited Sam’s smaller quantities, in-store benefits and better selection on products throughout the store as enough to deem it the best deal overall.
(Cheapism — dubbed the “Consumer Reports for the cheap” by The New York Times — did not include BJ’s, which has about 180 stores, all in Eastern states. By comparison, the website notes, Costco has more than 400 stores nationally, while Sam’s Club has more than 600.)
Consumer advocate Clark Howard, who shops at both national warehouse giants, says he’s not surprised Sam’s Club received higher praise for some aspects.
“Sam’s is on a huge mission to upgrade quality,” Howard says. “They have some momentum right now.”
He says Sam’s Club does a much better job with office supplies, and he’s also bought cars through Sam’s. But he says Costco has the potential for lower prices across the board.
“Sam’s doesn’t disclose its markup. So it’s much, much higher on every item,” he says. Costco’s 14 percent maximum markup (or 15 percent on private label merchandise), however, has been publicly discussed by its CEO.
Norcross resident Ken Hoekstra says there other factors not addressed in the Cheapism.com study that influence his shopping decisions.
“I’m a Costco fan, and the reason why is because of presentation and quality,” Hoekstra says. “There are, of course, exceptions to every rule, but I’ve found that the Costco stores are cleaner and better maintained. They’re both warehouses, but at Costco the boxes are lined up straight on the pallets. Sam’s Club seems to have a little bit more trash in parking lot and carts askew.”
While Cheapism lauded Sam’s Club in the electronics division, Hoekstra says he has bought electronics at Costco because of its easy return policy and helpful concierge service.
But he also knows the “cheapest” store will simply depend on what you buy.
“There’s no one store that has the cheapest prices on everything, because then everyone would go to that store.”
“I thought [Cheapism] did a very nice job in comparing everything,” said Sam’s Club spokeswoman Kristy Reed. But Reed was “a little bit surprised Costco came out lower” on grocery prices.
Phone calls and emails seeking comment from Costco were not returned.
Which warehouse club holds the best value for your household?
– By Lauren Davidson, Atlanta Bargain Hunter