Costco vs. Sam’s Club: I hear people ask all the time what the differences are between the 2 large club stores Costco and Sam’s Club, and which is better. We happen to have memberships to BOTH clubs because we like both stores for different reasons. I will try to outline the differences that I have noticed between both stores to help you decide which is a better fit for your needs. Please note that many of the details lists below are based on my local stores in Concord, CA so some of what is noted may differ store to store depending on location. Also, we have the Sam’s Business and Costco Executive membership levels:
Sam’s Club has 3 levels of membership: Sam’s Savings $45, Sam’s Business $45, and Sam’s Plus $100. With the Plus membership, you can get $10 back for every $500 spent up to $500 annually. You can read about the differences in levels here.
Costco also has 3 levels: $55 Gold Star, $55 Business, and $110 Executive. With the Executive membership, you can get 2% back on your yearly purchases, up to $750 for the year. See here for membership levels.
WINNER: TIE – Sam’s Club’s membership pricing is lower and it seems there are more perks offered once members are at the Business level of membership. HOWEVER, if you spend a lot and have the top-tiered memberships (Sam’s Plus or Costco Executive), Costco seems to be a better value with the money back rewards system they offer.
Sam’s Club – If you have the Business or Plus memberships, you can access the store earlier at 7am, Monday – Saturday. Savings members enter at regular store opening of 10am M-F, Sun and 9:00am on Sat.
Costco – Store hours are the same for all levels of membership – for my local store, they open at 10am M-F, Sun and 9:30am on Sat.
WINNER: Sam’s Club – We enjoy the earlier opening hours so we can get our shopping done early, beat the rush, and enjoy the rest of the day!
Organic items – WINNER: Costco. They have a much larger selection, however we were pleasantly surprised that Sam’s Club started offering organic items as well when we visited last weekend and we are hoping it is a start to a trend of them offering more in the future.
Product Size – WINNER: Sam’s Club. We have noticed that several of the same items offered by both stores are offered in a smaller sized package at Sam’s club. Their pricing is about the same, if not slightly cheaper (per oz, etc) to what Costco offers. For example, instead of having to buy 24 eggs minimum at Costco, Sam’s Club has 18 packs. You can also buy milk at Costco, but 2 at a time. At Sam’s Club, you are only obligated to have to buy 1. We noticed this with the canned tuna also – Costco sold in 12 packs, Sam’s Club in 8 packs. For people with limited storage, it is helpful to not have to buy a lot of 1 item all at once.
Variety – WINNER: Costco. I do feel that our Costco has a wider selection of products than Sam’s Club. Our Costco has a larger floor plan than Sam’s Club to allow for this. I especially notice this in the seasonal areas like the holiday and summer items that come out. The selection at Costco is greater.
Meat – WINNER: Costco. Although both clubs offer a decent meat selection, we prefer Costco’s meat over Sam’s Club’s. We like that Costco offers Prime meat, which is a better quality than the choice cuts. We purchase all of our meat from Costco.
Food Service Items – WINNER: Sam’s Club. Although Costco has a few food service items from what I’ve seen, I have noticed that Sam’s Club has a larger selection of items such as baking sheets, pans, serving utensils, etc.
Pharmacy – WINNER: Tie. Both stores have a pharmacy. I have never utilized either so couldn’t say what the differences are.
Optical/Hearing Centers – WINNER: Costco. My local Costco has both an Optical and Hearing Center, but my local Sam’s Club does not. I do see that Sam’s Club does have stores that offer these services, but apparently not all.
Photo Center – WINNER: Tie. Both of my local stores offer. I don’t know what price/quality differences there are in this area.
Gas Station – WINNER: Costco. My local Sam’s Club doesn’t offer a gas station, but my local Costco does. I do know there are other Sam’s Club stores that have gas stations.
Garden Center – WINNER: Costco. My local Costco has a garden center with a wide variety, depending on the time of the year, of flowers, plants and shrubs – even Christmas trees during the holidays. My local Sam’s Club doesn’t have a Garden Center – they have a small section within the store that offers mixed floral arrangements which my local Costco has as well.
Home Improvement Services – WINNER: Costco. Costco offers home improvement services such as window hangings, carpet, garage doors, and more. I have never utilized these services so couldn’t say how good they are – but it is nice knowing that these services are available.
Gift Cards – WINNER: Costco. Both stores offer gift cards, however, Costco seems to have a much larger selection of gift cards for local entertainment and restaurants.
Auto Center – WINNER: Sam’s Club. Both stores have an auto center where you can purchase and have your tires installed. We have always used Sam’s Club for this since the wait has always been much shorter at that store.
Jewelry – WINNER: Undecided. Both stores have a jewelry department. I have only purchase jewelry from Sam’s Club and I was happy with the quality. It seems to be more affordably priced than Costco’s jewelry. I do not know the differences in the quality or the reason for the price difference though.
Prices – WINNER: Tie. The prices between both stores seem to be comparable. On a few occasions, we have noticed slightly lower prices at Sam’s Club on items such as spices, but it usually isn’t significant. As mentioned earlier, the sizes on products sold at Sam’s Club are often smaller than the same sold at Costco so you have to watch for this when comparing prices.
Samples – WINNER: Costco. For those of you who enjoy going to your club store for samples, you will probably make out better at Costco. Although we have noticed both stores offering samples, it seems that it is more predictable that Costco almost always has something out to try. We can’t say the same for Sam’s Club.
Both stores have a food court. Below are the menu options and prices noted where we saw differences:
Sam’s Club – ICEEs, Sodas, Hot Dogs, Crispy Chicken Sandwich, Pizza (Whole $8.99 or by the slice), Deli Sandwich, Yogurt Parfait, Chicken Caesar Salad, Chips, Churro, Pretzels, Frozen Yogurt (Vanilla/ Chocolate $.99, Berry Cup $1.59)
Costco – BBQ Beef Brisket Sandwich, Chicken Bake, Pizza (Whole $9.99 or by the slice), Hot Dog Or Polish Dog, Hot Turkey/Cheese/Pesto Sandwich, Frozen Yogurt (Vanilla/Chocolate $1.35, Berry Cup $1.65), Chicken Caesar Salad, Churro, Berry Smoothie, Mocha Freeze
WINNER: Sam’s Club – We generally enjoy the menu selections at Sam’s Club better than Costco. We also like that the food court has it’s own seating area separate from the store which makes it much quieter than our local Costco’s where it is often difficult to find an open table.
Both stores offer a similar return policy in that a full refund is offered on all products. However, there is a 90 day rule on most electronics at both stores. See the full details here:
Sam’s Club Return Policy. It is worth noting that offers a generous 200% guarantee on fresh items like product, meat, bakery items, etc. They will give double the Member’s money back or refund of the original purchase price and offer a replacement item.
Costco Return Policy
WINNER: Sam’s Club – Although we have never had a problem returning items at either store, we do like the fact that Sam’s Club makes a point to show that they really stand behind their fresh items by offering a 200% guarantee. I actually didn’t know about this until writing this article and researching the differences between the two stores.
WINNER: Sam’s Club – hands down, Sam’s Club wins this. I rarely have to play bumper cars in the store and the wait, if any, at checkout is always short. They also have self-checkout cash registers for those with 10 items or less to make your escape from the store even quicker.
Here is a picture of the checkout lines on a typical Saturday morning in Sam’s Club: