In retail, it’s not uncommon for two similar chains to emerge as frontrunners of the market and end up pitted head-to-head. When it comes to warehouse bulk shopping, the two most obvious names that come to mind include Costco and Sam’s Club.
However, how do these stores compare? What’s the difference between Costco and Sam’s Club, and what defines each retailer? I’ve got the answer you need!
Costco Vs Sam’s Club In 2023
Costco and Sam’s Club are two competing chains in the warehouse bulk shopping market in 2023. While Costco is the fifth-largest retailer in the world, Sam’s Club is a Walmart subsidiary, making it part of the second-largest retailer in the world. Additionally, Costco currently operates more stores internationally, while Sam’s Club has a bigger footprint in the U.S.
Let’s go deeper into how the two clubs are alike and how they’re different, which one has better prices, which has better products, how much membership costs at each, and if both stores are deemed “worth it.” Keep reading below!
Are Costco and Sam’s Club The Same?
Costco and Sam’s Club share some similarities and quite a few more differences. Let’s take a look.
- Comparable business models, including wholesale/bulk shopping, membership-based club, warehouse-sized buildings, additional services and perks for members
- Less expensive store brands to compete with name brands; Kirkland Signature for Costco and Member’s Mark for Sam’s Club
- Two tiers of membership, the more expensive of which comes with more perks and benefits
- Services like optical care, prescription drug fills, vehicle maintenance and tires, fueling stations, and even travel accommodations and discounts
- Both have food courts
- Both chains can be shopped at without memberships using Instacart
But the two clubs are also quite different in many ways, see below!
- Costco memberships are slightly more expensive ($15 or $20 more, depending on which tier you’re looking at)
- Costco warehouses are slightly bigger than Sam’s Club’s; the former averages about 13,000 square feet larger
- Costco seems to be expanding more aggressively, whereas Sam’s Club’s store numbers remain relatively steady
- As mentioned in the earlier section, Costco has more stores internationally, while Sam’s Club maintains the advantage at home in the U.S.
- Costco has a bigger revenue than Sam’s Club (though Sam’s Club is affiliated with the second-largest retailer in the world, Walmart)
- Sam’s Club tends to have more brand names than Costco; though both chain’s generic store brands are well-regarded
- Sam’s Club also tends to have more items overall than Costco
- Costco has a slightly more generous return policy than Sam’s Club
- Costco generally treats its workers better as a rule, with higher starting wages
- Costco’s food court is better regarded than Sam’s Club, with its $1.50 hot dog and a soda the subject of numerous web articles
As you can see, there is much the two retailers have in common, but there is also plenty to differentiate the two – making it easier for consumers to pick between them.
Does Costco Or Sam’s Club Have Better Prices?
If cost comparisons between Costco and Sam’s Club are your top priority, you are not alone.
Part of the benefit of shopping warehouse clubs like these two is paying less per pound or ounce than you would in a traditional grocery store.
So let’s examine which store seems to have the better prices – or if there is any difference at all.
Investopedia finds that overall, you’ll pay less at Costco for the products you want, but they do point out that membership fees are lower at Sam’s Club.
20SomethingFinance.com concurs, giving the slight edge on prices to Costco, but pointing out how tough it is to make a definitive statement.
The writer at this site did a quick “apples-to-apples” comparison with three different items and found Costco had the better price twice.
They also remarked that the prescription prices at Costco were lower – with the author mentioning that their dog’s medication was the cheapest there.
However, Brittany Anas for SFgate.com remains unconvinced one chain is consistently cheaper than the other.
“There’s no clear winner on who has the best overall prices,” she writes.
Furthermore, she does point out that of the private label items, which tend to be less expensive, Costco has the greater number.
Does Costco Or Sam’s Club Have Better Products?
From my research, it’s clear that Costco and Sam’s Club have products that are comparable in quality.
Furthermore, the name brands are going to be identical, but are the store brands really that similar in quality, too? As it turns out, yes.
And here’s why: those “generic” brands you see in Costco (Kirkland Signature) and Sam’s Club (Member’s Mark) are oftentimes produced by name-brand manufacturers.
Some Kirkland Signature coffee, for example, is actually Starbucks and Member’s Mark batteries are actually Energizer.
However, there are some areas where it has been noted that Costco’s quality has the edge.
That includes meat and produce, organics, and even some of its store-brand items.
Should You Go To Costco Or Sam’s Club For Meat?
When grocery prices rise, you can always expect meat prices to lead the way.
So between Costco and Sam’s Club, where should you go to get the best deals on bulk meat?
According to The Grocery Store Guy, Sam’s Club has the lower prices…but Costco has the fresher cuts.
From there, you can decide which is more important to you.
It’s worth noting that Costco, despite being a warehouse club, actually has meat that is considered better than what you find in most regular grocery stores.
But it can cost as much as 40 percent more than prices at Sam’s Club on the same types and cuts of meat.
Therefore, If you can swing it, Costco is the way to go for your beef, pork, and chicken.
If you have to stick to a strict budget, Sam’s Club meat isn’t bad, it’s just not as fresh as what you’d find at Costco.
Does Costco Or Sam’s Club Have More Products?
Sam’s Club has a better selection of products on its shelves, especially when it comes to name brands.
Furthermore, Costco carries about 4,000 different products, while Sam’s Club is closer to 6-7,000.
In fact, in 2019 Sam’s Club exec Clint Gill gave an interview where he remarked that the company was actually downsizing the number of items they sold.
“We still have too many items in our clubs,” he told Talk Business & Politics.
Therefore, it seems that more products aren’t always the better strategy when it comes to warehouse clubs, whose bulk inventory comes with its own set of challenges.
How Much Do Memberships To Costco And Sam’s Club Cost?
Both Costco and Sam’s Club have two different membership types.
Costco’s Gold Star membership costs $60 a year, while its Gold Star Executive membership is double that, at $120.
Sam’s Club’s basic Club membership costs $45 per year, while their Plus membership is just a little over twice that, at $100 per year.
For both retailers, you can purchase your membership online prior to visiting the stores, and you can also shop online.
Further, you can circumvent the membership requirement for both retailers, too.
However, using Instacart, you can shop both Costco and Sam’s Club without a membership.
Although, the prices are going to be higher than what you’d find in stores.
Those higher prices, along with Instacart’s usual fees, serve to offset the loss of membership fees to either club for customers who opt to use Instacart instead.
Is Costco Or Sam’s Club Worth It?
Although, before deciding if the individual retailers are worth it, let’s examine if shopping in bulk is worth it.
Bulk shopping can be challenging for households in ways that regular grocery shopping isn’t, starting with how much product you get.
If you’re a small family of two or three, bulk shopping might be a waste of money for you, as some items can go stale or bad before you use them.
Additionally, apartment dwellers or people who live in small houses might not have the storage space for bulk purchases, as well.
However, before you spend money on either membership, consider if it makes sense for your family to have one in the first place.
Individually, if a warehouse club membership makes sense for your family, then both Costco and Sam’s Club are worth the membership prices.
To learn more, you can also see our posts on Amazon vs Costco, Walmart vs Costco, and Costco headquarters.
Costco and Sam’s Club operate in very similar ways, yet most customers would say that the two retailers are not interchangeable.
While Costco’s membership fees are more expensive than Sam’s Clubs, the former has a slightly better reputation for quality. Additionally, both are good stores if you have a large family or like to buy in bulk.