Costco vs Sam’s Club… Which Is Best? My Review + Tips From Consumer Reports

As you may have read, we chose not to renew our Sam’s Club membership this year.

Not for any particular reason — other than the fact that we were driving a bit out of the way to take advantage of what I used to call “madhouse shopping”.

It really wasn’t that bad… it just got old. And after being dues-paying members of the legendary Sam’s Club for well over a decade, we began to lose sight of the real benefits.


Fast-forward 5 months later, and we find ourselves dues-paying members of Costco now!

Here’s why…


Great Prices On Electronics

A friend of ours (thanks, David!) told us about a good deal that Costco had on Viewsonic 22-inch computer monitors. It’s a 22″ HD wide multimedia LCD monitor.

He got one. And since I’ve been scoping out monitors for the past few months, I thought I’d check it out.

My big, clunky 21-inch monitor has served me well for many, many years, but I was hoping to save some desk space and widen the screen a bit — with all the multitasking I do on computers 24/7.

viewsonic-vx2235wm.gifPictured at right is my *new* Viewsonic flat screen monitor. Love it!

UPDATE: We’ve since purchased 2 large screen HDTV’s (a 42-inch and a 55-inch), a leather sofa (I know… it’s not electronics, but it was such a large purchase I wanted to mention it), and dozens of other electronics — from digital cameras (yes, more than one) to a computer printer, router, and scanner.

And I can’t even begin to quantify all of the fun food items, dog supplies, and household items we’ve gotten at Costco.

Anyhoo, back to the review…


My Top 8 Reasons That Costco Is Better Than Sam’s Club

Granted, we’ve only been members at Costco for a few days… but first impressions go a long way, right?

#1 – The people there (from the card checker at the door… to the receipt checker at the other door… the membership signer-upper… and the checkout cashier) were very pleasant and seemed genuinely happy to be working there. That is something you don’t see at most retail businesses these days!

#2 – We went on a Thursday evening — and there were no lines, no crowds, no “madhouse shopping” in this retail warehouse.

#3 – Things were laid out pretty much the same as at Sam’s Club, but something felt cleaner/newer about Costco — even though I was at an older store. It also seems they have mostly the same products — just under different “member” labels (Kirkland Signature at Costco and Members Mark at Sam’s Club). So, if there’s an item at Sam’s Club that someone mentioned they like, chances are you’ll also find it at Costco.

#4 – Of the food items we glanced at, things seemed a few cents cheaper than at Sam’s Club. Oh, and the computer monitor I bought cost $70 more at Office Depot — and at most other places, including online retailers.

#5 – The store seemed very clean and orderly. The clothes were all perfectly and neatly folded on the tables. Food items rarely seemed out of place. It made a good first impression.

#6 – They box your stuff for you! That’s right…there’s a cashier and a boxer checking you out each time. One runs your stuff through the scanner & handles your payment. The other puts each item into a perfectly-sized box, all nice & neat. At Sam’s, we always had to go on a mad hunt for “the perfect” box while we were waiting in long lines. Then Sam’s Club eventually instituted a policy stating they were not responsible for putting your items into the box for you. (I guess they didn’t have the time.) They would only put it in the crate, leaving you to box it up when you transferred the items from the crate to your car. Ugh!

#7 – At Costco, they take American Express. At Sam’s Club, they only accepted Discover Card and debit cards. Recently, I think Sam’s has started to accept MasterCard, but still no American Express that I’m aware of — and that happens to be our credit card of choice, due to no annual fees, cash back rewards, and low interest rates. We use American Express exclusively for both, our personal and business purchases. (So, if you’re a business owner and you prefer American Express, choose Costco!) UPDATE: Costco is changing their credit card of choice to Visa (instead of American Express) on April 1, 2016.

#8 – Here’s evidence that Costco “looks out” for their customers... We grabbed a bag of fresh-baked bagels from the deli area inside Costco. At the checkout register, the cashier told us that the bagels are two (2) bags for $3.49. (We thought it was one bag of oversized ‘everything’ bagels for that price.) Since so many people only grab one bag (like us), they have a big ‘ol stack of bagels in bags up near the front registers. I figured they wouldn’t be as “fresh”, but they were marked with the same freshness date as the ones we picked out ourselves.


Sam’s Club vs Costco Membership Prices

While I’d rather the Costco membership be the more affordable one, we still feel that we will get well over $55 worth of savings each year from our Costco membership.

UPDATE: We definitely do! Here’s proof: The lady who tries to get Costco shoppers who regularly spend a lot in their store to sign up for Costco’s own credit card has approached me at least a half-dozen times this year!


Not A ‘Pro’ Or A ‘Con’… Just A Fact

It seems people are always talking about Costco — rather than Sam’s — when discussing membership clubs these days.

Even big-wigs and celebrities. I can’t tell you how many times this week I heard a couple of “Hollywood stars” mention Costco when they were talking about something they recently purchased.

Which just tells me that there are probably more Costco store locations than Sam’s Clubs — who knows?


I Found This Interesting…

the-costco-experience-unofficial-survivors-guide-book.jpg On my way out of Costco today, I asked the cashier what she thought was the biggest difference between a Costco membership and a Sam’s Club membership.

She said:
“#1 our customer service.”

“#2 our enhanced business membership privileges.”
[Ehhhh… we couldn’t care less about these. They’re just ‘fluff’ in our opinion. But they’re obviously proud of ’em.]

Then, I asked her about any differences in the food….

She said:
“The meat! I’m kind of a meat snob, and I used to only buy ‘prime’ cuts of meat. But now I buy all my meat here. It’s not prime, but it’s ‘choice’.”

The funniest part… You’d have thought someone set this up. The guy in line behind us said: “I’m a butcher. I used to have my own shop, but now I don’t. I only buy my meat from here now. She’s right. Their meat is really a lot better here — especially if you know what to look for. I buy the larger cuts at a lower price, then cut them myself.”

I thought that was some very valuable information! Worth the price of admission, if you ask me.


Understanding Costco’s Price Codes

Here’s how to make sense of Costco’s price codes, so you can save even more money…

Costco price tags explained:

.99 = item is full price
.97 = a deal decided by the manager
.49 and .79 = a manufacturer’s special
.00 = the goods are about to go
* = the item is being discontinued


More About Costco And Sam’s Club


UPDATE: 8 Years Later

Here it is 8 years later now, and we’re still shopping at Costco — quite often.

I’ve got my all-time favorite things that I buy just about every time I go there. But I also enjoy scoping out all the “newest” items at Costco each time. Combine that with the savings over what I’d spend on the same items at other stores, and I’m more than satisfied with my Costco membership.

I also put a lot of trust in Consumer Reports and Shopsmart Magazine (published by Consumer Reports), so I find these articles of theirs interesting (and helpful):


Did you know that you can buy Costco products through Amazon? Yep, there are hundreds of Costco’s Kirkland Signature products available online!

Lynnette Walczak

Lynnette Walczak

I like to help people find unique ways to do things in order to save time & money -- so I frequently write about "outside the box" ideas that most wouldn't think of. As a lifelong dog owner, I often share my best tips for living with and training dogs. I worked in Higher Ed several years until switching gears to pursue things I was more passionate about. I've worked at a vet, in a photo lab, and at a zoo -- to name a few. I enjoy the outdoors via bicycle, motorcycle, Jeep, or RV. You can always find me at the corner of Good News & Fun Times as publisher of The Fun Times Guide (32 fun websites).

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Fun From Around the Web

  • Jessica

    You could also consider that they pay their employees very well for a retail store. I worked there about a year. They start you out at $11/hr and they really reward loyalty. Many of the cashiers I worked with were making $20/hr because they had been there so long. A guy who worked in the tire shop had been there about 4.5 years and was up to $16/hr. The fact that they have assistants for the cashiers shows that they are willing to spend more money to hire more help to get lines moving faster and ultimately to make the customers happier. I could rave on and on about Costco. It is a really great business.

  • Maria NJ

    I love Costco pharmacy and you don’t have to be a member to use it. I use to pay
    Alittle over a 100.00 for my script at rite aid Shoprite Walgreens do to no health coverages
    Someone online said to me bring it to Costco I only paid 25.00 For the exact samething I was paying 140. Before I became a Costco member just to support them not because I needed it to get this deal. It just showed me that they care about people I wanna be a part of that .

  • Cassyandra

    We just non-rewed our Sam’s membership in favor of Costco too. Costco tends to be a small percentage more expensive. However the national pay average for Costco is 20.89 per hour where Sam’s is 12.67 per hour.
    On our first official visit as a member we saw a Costco employee with a pallet. A customer came up to him and asked him if the best way to transport a bunch of a product would be on one of those pallet carts and where could he find one. The employee told him the carts were up front with the regular shopping carts, but the customer should take his cart and he would be happy to just grab another one. We were really shocked at this level of good customer service delivered in such a matter of fact manner.