Costco vs. Sam’s Club- Which is Better?

Comparing Sam’s Club to Wal-Mart to Target. Often, the choice between the two warehouse clubs comes down to price vs. brand selection (and also location). We examine which one is best.

Costco vs. Sam’s Club

Sam’s clubs tend to be  located in areas where customers have to budget shop, while Costcos tend to be located in wealthier suburbs, where customers have the luxury of choosing to budget shop. One (Costco) offers less selection and better quality, while the other (Sam’s club) offers more selection and a little less quality. One (Costco) is the biggest seller of fine wines and the other (Sam’s Club) is part of the company that is the biggest seller of well, everything.

From a budget fashion perspective, Costco is obviously the better choice for those looking for brand names like Calvin Klein Jeans for $22.99 and the store has a great “no-questions-asked-return-policy“. It’s private label brand, Kirkland,  has men’s dress shirts that are comparable in quality to the private label brands of  major department store like Nordstrom and cost 50% less.  However, what attracts budget shoppers like myself to the store is that Costco caps their markups at 14% over the price they paid for an item—significantly less than department stores (up to 50%) and yep, even less than Sam’s Club/Wal-Mart. Plus, there’s evidence that Costco employees are better compensated than their Sam’s Club counterparts– but as one person pointed out Costco employees often make more money because they live and work in wealthy suburbs where it costs more money to live.

Another “plus” for Costco is the amazing deals on necessities like Gas for your car and eyewear- both of which can be purchased at Costco (and at some Sam’s Clubs, albeit with limited selection on the eyeglasses) at a significant discount from other retail outlets. For example, you can often save up to $.10 per gallon (and more) on gas at Costco stations. You can also purchase wedding rings and designer handbags at both stores (although recent lawsuits suggest that the designer handbags may not be, well, designer).

Now, don’t go and cut up your Sam’s club card. Sam’s club has more locations and I think better deals on bulk items like toilet paper, bottle water, where brand name really doesn’t matter. Plus, Sam’s Club shares exclusive deals, like a limited edition Garth Brooks cd box set, with it’s sister store, Wal-Mart and the membership is about $15 cheaper than Costco.

Despite their great deals and bulk groceries (do you really need a 7 pound chocolate cake?), I still think something is missing from these stores. Fashionistas will not want to head to the local Sam’s club en mass. With the exception of mass market  Calvin Klein jeans and nice dress shirts, the rest of the clothing selection leaves much to be desired. One area that they could improve would be the sizing (or lack of) their clothing. I would estimate over 75% of the women I’ve seen shopping at my local Costco would be considered plus size, yet a majority of the clothing are in size 16/XL or below.

The physical design of the stores can be quite confusing. There are little to no signage on the aisles, so you often spend 30 minutes looking for peanut butter. Once you find the peanut butter, there’s a limited selection in terms of brands (buyers for the warehouse buy whatever brand they can get the cheapest for the week). Once you decide on a brand, then you have to wait 30 minutes in a check out line. However, I can see the appeal of the store, especially for families, with large grocery needs. For them, I say score a card, it’s worth it.

The Verdict: Sam’s Club is a great for staples like toilet paper, while Costco is better for the “extras” like eye glasses, smoked salmon etc.