Costco vs. Sam’s Club: Who’s cheapest?

Which warehouse club has the best value?

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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

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31 comments Add your comment

Stacy

August 16th, 2011
6:09 am

I am sorry I cannot make a fair comparison, as there is not a Costco near enough to make the price comparison worthwhile.(Due to the cost of gas.) There are far fewer Costco’s than Sam’s. I do consider myself lucky to have a Sam’s nearby in downtown Snellville, as most stores like Sam’s and Costco seem to build right on the expressway/freeway. I do have a Costco membershio, but am considering cancelling because of the distance. Come on Costco, come to Snellville, and take on Sam’s !!

William

August 16th, 2011
6:23 am

Doesn’t matter if you can’t get there from where you are. Love Costco, but it is like a supermodel. Beautiful, but too far away from you to matter.

Debby

August 16th, 2011
6:43 am

I’ve been in both stores, but never bought a membership, nor will I.
The concept of paying someone to shop at their store bugs me, and I don’t find the prices cheaper than I can get elsewhere either. Maybe if you compare their prices to Publix, or another higher-cost grocery store, they would be cheaper, but I can find much better deals when I shop around.

bobby c

August 16th, 2011
6:46 am

finally a forum to relieve my frustration and fury at sam’s club vs costco. from the parking lot (employees parking in the slots closest to the store when i bring out a cart full and falling all over the place) to the meat dept no saving the weekly order for me, because someone else came in last night an bought it i have gone thru enough with this store in alpharetta, and as i suspect everywhere else as well. no one listens, i can’t find a contact on the web site, i get no service, no answers no nuttin from the store folk.
at costo i get all i don’t get at sam’s shack. i can park close, i get customer service when i ask for it, i get good pricing, i get all i expect and no crap. sam’s is too big for it’s britches. and if you had time and space i’d vent for another hour.
thanks
bobby c.

Steve

August 16th, 2011
7:01 am

Costco is the winner for me. Sam’s Club is nasty. We have a new Costco in Brookhaven and the employee’s are so much nicer than the Sam’s Club that we dealt with. I do my everyday shopping at Publix but go to Costco for staples such as laundry detergent, paper products and a few other things.

Debbie

August 16th, 2011
7:10 am

As Stacy mentioned, we need a Costco in Snellville!! I much prefer Costco over Sam’s but the distance to a store makes it difficult to make that decision to go to Costco.

Brian

August 16th, 2011
7:37 am

Sam’s is for business, Costco is for consumers. Sam’s has a pricing structure that identifies closeout sales. Costco has an exceedingly liberal return policy. Spending hundreds of dollars at both stores weekly, I’d simply call them different in target audience.

Nick

August 16th, 2011
7:38 am

I live closer to costco and sam’s club. I rather choosed costco over sam’s club. Costco employees treat members better than sam’s club does.

JesusFreak

August 16th, 2011
7:54 am

Costco wins, hands down. Upscale quality with plebeian pricing. Customer service is outstanding, employees are always helpful. Only downside is that we have travel a bit to get to it but then again, good things are worth the effort. As a bonus, we get to visit our daughter who lives right near one so it’s all good. :-)

flowerdbrancher

August 16th, 2011
8:08 am

can’t drive 10 more miles each way for costco. come to Flowery Branch

paulding shopper

August 16th, 2011
8:18 am

We have had a membership to Sam’s Club for about 8 years and I shop there about once every 10 days.

The good: meat prices are decent and I like to buy the early morning markdowns for dinners that night or the next; milk is less expensive then all grocery stores; the refrigerated chicken breasts are a great deal because they are huge but stay tender; salmon runs about 7.88 per pound (usually pay about $17 for one large filet); good selection of laundry detergent at a reasonable price; the cafe has great prices on combo meals but the selection has become dull (pizza/coke or hot dog/coke); a plastic bin of mixed salad greens is much less expensive than any grocery store; and sometimes there are good deals on clothing for men.

The bad: Sam’s rarely has the lowest price on gas (they’ll compete with the RaceTrac across the street but not with the stations I pass along the way to get there); their computer and camera selection is usually outdated (much better deals can be had online); the store feels old; the parking lot is run down; and the cafe tables aren’t cleaned often enough.

I don’t buy cigarettes, wine, or beer so can’t address their prices on those items. I like to shop for markdowns and occasionally find some good deals (have to look for prices ending in a “1″.

I’d like to give Costco a try, particularly because they send out coupons, but the closest one to me is in Kennesaw on Barrett Parkway. The drive and traffic makes it too much trouble.

S

August 16th, 2011
8:31 am

Sam’s Club is just the warehouse club version of Wal-Mart! I DESPISE Wal-Mart!

Someone mentioned the membership fee – I like the service I get from AMEX so I carry the Costco version which has a fee but then my Costco membership is free! On top of that, I earn enough using the card for most everything (paying it off monthly – no interest) I buy everywhere that AMEX is accepted that I pay for my membership 2 or 3 fold!

DW

August 16th, 2011
9:35 am

I know Costco is cleaner, but I’m sorry they don’t carry the brand of products I like. Nor do they have a good meat selection when compared to Sam’s.

scooby-doo

August 16th, 2011
10:30 am

I don’t care for BJ’s. I’ve been in a Costco once and liked it, but Sam’s is our choice for meats, produce, dairy and dry goods. We also save money by purchasing the Member’s Mark brand of paper products and vitamins. We buy our meat in bulk once a month because we can store it in our big deep freezer. For some items we support our local stores because Sam’s doesn’t carry certain brands. Overall I feel Sam’s has always been clean and organized. There are two Sam’s near us and one of them is sometimes way too crowded. I agree the gas prices are a crap shoot. Some folks here have complained about distance being an issue. To me a warehouse store should only be a once a month bulk purchase so it shouldn’t be a big deal. Do your small weekly shopping at the local stores.

Dacula

August 16th, 2011
11:32 am

Sam’s wins; you just have a bunch of rich feel good liberals on here who dislike anything Wal Mart.

/

August 16th, 2011
11:34 am

the quality of shoppers at costco is much higher than sams. sams = southside trash

GaPatriot

August 16th, 2011
11:51 am

I love, love Costco. Their eyeglasses, hearing aids (3 year warranty and they replaced my husband’s 3 months before the warranty expired), their meats, especially lamb chops, and cash back and Costco credits to my American Express account.

I had shopped at Sam’s and was the only one who spoke English.

Harold

August 16th, 2011
12:04 pm

Sam Club has TSA rejects working there for minimum wage if they are lucky. No thanks. I shop at the Costco where people are people.

The concept of paying someone to shop at their store bugs someone? You pay every store you shop at. Framed as a $50 annual payment, it keeps the low-life shoplifters out the door (even at Cumberland). Priced per item, the shoplifters steal half of everything the store sell and you pay double for it. If you love paying taxes for WelFare, just shop at the WalMarts..Same thing!

Cobb Mom of 4

August 16th, 2011
12:16 pm

I have Costco and BJs memberships and have walked through Sam’s several times. Costco is by far cleaner and of higher quality than the other 2. I have the Executive membership at $100 but usually get back at least $300 annually in rewards cashback. I do my regular grocery shopping at Costco and then use Publix/Krogers for as needed small quantity items. BJs has a better selection of consumer products and family goods, but the quality of their meats is lacking. I purchase some brand names there that I can’t get at Costco…and they take coupons. Sam’s has a similar selection as BJs but since I despise all things Walmart, I won’t get a membership.

I don’t consider myself a a liberal or rich, just don’t like Walmart’s practices, employees or the lack of cleanliness in the stores.

Techmom

August 16th, 2011
12:20 pm

I like the shopping experience at Costco better but since Sam’s is literally a mile from my house and the closest Costco is 30 minutes away, I shop at Sam’s. I like Costco’s return policy better and their other non-food stuff (clothes, furniture, decor, etc.) seems to be of higher quality. We usually buy paper products, meat, beer/wine, water & coffee from Sam’s along with gas simply b/c it’s the closest gas station. We used to have a BJ’s but it’s now closed. I liked BJ’s b/c it was never crowded (which of course was their downfall) and they allowed coupons. The prices at BJ’s tended to be slightly higher than Sam’s but I could always save more money with coupons.

eagleeye

August 16th, 2011
12:26 pm

I know one thing about these places is big quanity does not always mean big savings.

Cost T

August 16th, 2011
12:39 pm

Costco—clear winner. I gave up on Sams—dirty stores, stuff out of place, clueless employees and higher prices on the stuff I bought. Plus there is a lot more rif raf shopping in sams compared to Costco. Sams needs to revisit their model and clean up the stores.

Costco Joe

August 16th, 2011
12:59 pm

I’m a member of both Costco and Sams, but prefer Costco by a wide margin. Like Cost T said, Sam’s stores are dirty and seem to attract consumers that don’t see anything wrong with leaving an unwanted $35 package of pork chops in the electronics aisle because they were too lazy to return them to the right location. All the way around, it’s just a superior shopping experience at Costco…Plus they have really wide parking spaces and treat their employees well.

Brian30101

August 16th, 2011
1:34 pm

I used to go to the Sam’s on Hwy 41 in Marietta. But the got tired of dealing with the ghetto trash

Gregg A.

August 16th, 2011
4:02 pm

Great prices, great return policy, great staff, loss leader gas and cafeteria. I can’t speak for Sam’s but Costco is renowned for its enlightened and progressive employee policies. I may be a price-chasing, crusty, old, fiscal conservative but if someone can compete AND do right by their employees, I’m going to support them.

Finda Penny

August 16th, 2011
10:24 pm

What about B.J.’s? Does anybody here like B.J.’s? I for one prefer B.J.’s.

Loretto Bennett

August 16th, 2011
10:36 pm

I have shopped at Costco quite a bit. Their prices are comparable to other stores. As always, you have to know your prices to make sure it is a good deal.

Robert

August 17th, 2011
1:17 pm

Sam’s Member’s Mark toilet paper is 2-ply, Costco’s Kirkland is flimsy 1-ply; enough reason to go to Sam’s for my family.

Soupy

August 19th, 2011
1:01 pm

All of you are losers!!! Putting down a store because of the people who shop or work there??? If you’re shopping there, what does that make you? Vain much? I could care less if the parking lot needs to be repainted. What is the quality of the product inside?, Is the food fresh? Are the enough open registers? Parking lot, really?

Support your LOCAL grocery markets and lose your snobby, too good to walk more than 2 parking lanes away from the front door attitudes.

PM

August 19th, 2011
5:47 pm

All of my comments echo the others on here: Costco is always cleaner, staffed by friendler people who actually seem to care, and the merchandise is neat and orderly. Sams is dirtier, staffed by people more indifferent than the workers at Walmart, and the parking lot is a joke with trash everywhere and carts piled up amid the occasional used diaper. Inside, it’s exactly as noted: shoppers leaving unwanted meats and other things all over the store and there’s nobody to pick it up. However Sams does have some grocery items Costco does not carry. Both stores could refesh their cafe menus but a cheap hot dog and a drink seems to plenty popular anyway. It’s not supposed to be a Zagat-rated eatery. Just a snack. BJs… Well, I have a membership there too but there’s only one or two items they have that I can’t get elsewhere and I find plenty of excuses to avoid the place.

Dixie Cybill Presley

August 20th, 2011
9:42 pm

Costco has much lower prescription prices than Sam’s Club. I priced prescriptions at both and the difference was HUGE. The prices are even less if you buy a 90 day supply rather than 30 day. I found that many prescription were less than insurance co-pay of $10.

Another big plus I find with Costco over Sam’s Club is that they tend to stock higher quality products. I have never been disappointed in their Kirkland Signature private label products including in the liquor and wine.