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

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Costco or Sam’s Club? Often, the choice between the two warehouses comes down to location. But if you’re fortunate enough to have a Costco and a Sam’s Club within driving distance, you’ll probably choose your favorite based on price and brand selection.

Costco vs. Sam’s Club

Locations

Generally, Costco tends to put locations in wealthier suburbs, where customers have the luxury of choosing to budget shop. On the other hand, you’ll usually find Sam’s Club in areas where customers have to budget shop. Where I live in rural Missouri, Sam’s Club is king of the hill. We have to drive an hour into St. Louis County suburbs to get to the nearest Costco.

Nationwide, Costco has 546 locations, with clubs in nearly every state. Sadly, there are no Costcos in either Wyoming or Maine.

Sam’s Club has 599 stores around the country, across 43 states. There are no Sam’s Clubs in:

  • Alaska
  • Massachusetts
  • Worcester
  • Oregon
  • Rhode Island
  • Vermont
  • Washington
  • District of Columbia

Selection

Costco typically has a smaller selection of goods but puts more emphasis on quality. The store’s Kirkland Signature brand, for example, is often a high-quality product matched up with a budget price. Sam’s Club tends to offer a larger selection with slightly lower quality.

Clothes

From a budget fashion perspective, Costco is a better choice for anyone looking for brand names. Costco sells about $7 billion worth of clothes annually — which gives the chain some serious buying power to snatch up reputable brands at good prices. You’ll often find Calvin Klein, Jessica Simpson, Tommy Hilfiger, Puma, Birkenstock, UGG, and Columbia garments and accessories on the Costco shelves. And the Kirkland label has men’s dress shirts that are comparable in quality to the private label brands of major department stores like Nordstrom but cost 50% less.

Costco also caps its markup on clothes, which helps keeps the prices low, too. On Kirkland Signature pieces, the price is never more than 15% over cost. And on brand-name clothes, the markup is capped at 14%. Some items are even sold below cost. You can spot these, too — they’ll carry a price tag that ends in 97 cents.

That’s not to say the clothing selection at Sam’s Club is awful. It’s not. I’ve purchased some amazing pieces at Sam’s Club. The store is very strong with seasonal items, like rain boots, UGG boots, puffer coats, and vests. You can also occasionally find cute denim wear. Brands regularly featured at Sam’s Club include Free Country, Eddie Bauer, Philosophy, Ellen Tracy, and London Fog.

Jewelry and accessories

Jewelry case
Costco and Sam’s Club both have nice jewelry selections.

Both Costco and Sam’s Club have nice selections of jewelry, watches, and sunglasses. I have a lovely sapphire tennis bracelet from Sam’s Club that I absolutely adore. You’d never know by looking at it that it came from a discount. Either store would be a good place to look for affordable wedding rings, diamond stud earrings, and designer watches.

Wine

Costco is one of the country’s largest wine retailers and the wine selection is quite good. Sam’s Club has good deals on wine, but the collection can be static. There is a lot of variation by location, however. If you feel bored with the wine at your Sam’s Club, take a drive to another club location and you’ll find some new picks. Or, even better, get to the nearest Total Wines and buy from there.

Basics like toilet paper

Sam’s Club wins out on basics like toilet paper, bottled water, paper towels — things where brand name doesn’t matter much.

Costco vs. Sam’s Club membership options

Costco has four membership options, two of which are for business owners. The consumer-oriented membership plans are:

  • Gold star executive membership for $120 annually. As a gold star executive member, you can shop in the store, buy Costco gas, and also earn rewards on eligible purchases.
  • Gold star membership for $60 annually. Gold star members can shop in the store and buy Costco gas.

Sam’s has two membership options:

  • Plus membership for $100 annually. You get cash rewards, free shipping on orders from SamsClub.com, plus extra discounts at pharmacy and optical department. You can also fill up at the Sam’s Club gas station and shop the club store.
  • Club membership for $45 annually. You can shop in the club and fill up at the Sam’s Club gas station.

Costco vs. Sam’s Club return policies

Costco and Sam’s Club have similar return policies on paper, though Costco is better known for taking almost anything back at any time without explanation. Exceptions are electronics which have to be returned within 90 days, diamonds which have to be returned with their original paperwork, tires, batteries, cigarettes, alcohol, and custom items. Similarly, you can’t return alcohol, cigarettes, tires, batteries, custom products, eyeglasses, contact lenses, gift cards, hearing aids, prescriptions, and event tickets to Sam’s Club.

The verdict

Sam’s Club is a great for staples like toilet paper, while Costco has a more consistent clothing selection and is better for premium extras like smoked salmon and red wine.

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    Catherine Brock

    As a Southern California transplant now living in the Midwest, Catherine has turned layering into an art form and accepted that UGGs actually do have a place in the stylish lady's wardrobe. She's been featured in Woman's World Magazine, DrLaura.com, Refinery29, Wellness.com and has made appearances on ABC7 Chicago, FOX2News St. Louis, KCAL9 Los Angeles, Fox19 Cincinnati, WGN TV Chicago and WCPO TV Cincinnati.

    Blog Comments

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    Until 6 years ago, I didn’t have the choice of warehouses to shop from. A native Texan, I grew up with Sams. Amazing how competition can motivate a company to change. Before Costco arrived in Texas, I found all Sams Wholesale clubs that I shopped at to be dirty, and the customer service lacking. And this is the first year I decided not to renew my Sams membership. I find that overall, the price difference between the memberships means little to me when I look at the big picture. “Sometimes, you get what you pay for.”

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    I worked at Costco for over 4 years and I decided to finally quit because the management was lacking common sense and promoted people who had looks not brains.  I applied for a job at Sams Club and I am glad I did.  I have been working for the Club for over a year now and I haven’t been happier. My co-workers are so much more plesent.  It is a team enviroment at Sams and I am glad to say I work for Sams.

    There is no way you would have quit Costco to go to Sam’s and been happy.  The pay difference is such a big difference.  I work at Costco and make 21.50, whereas my wife works at Sam’s b/c she hasn’t been able to get hired at Costco.  She makes 9.15 an hour and works much later hours as well.

    I currently work at Sam’s. I hit my two year mark in November and lets just say I have my application in at the Costco that opens up in a couple months. Let’s just say there is no team work, respect for the individual at all at my club. I am hoping I get a call from Costco. The pay and hours at Sam’s is ridiculous. I work my butt off every day to only bring home 460.00 paycheck every two weeks. I can not support my 7 month old son on that.

    which sams do you work at? I just started working there.

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    actually where I live, most of the women who shop costcoare below size 10, so it kind of works for them to have sizes to choose from. My family enjoys the fact that organic food is so inexpensive, and that we get insanely good prices on calvin klein, kenneth cole both reaction and unlisted, and miss sixty. My friend got dior sunglasses for the ungodly price of 90 dollars as compared to i dunno 300 dollars. That more than paid for her family’s membership. With the coupons that come in the mail, luxury products are even more affordable. Contact lenses are inexpensive. I got a pair of glasses a couple years ago that had all the bells and whstles, including scratch resistant lenses, transitions and whole bunch of hoopla and they were givenchy. All told 400… Compared to the place we usually shop, they sold just the glasses – forget the lenses and transitions and scratch resistance for 500 bucks. We got a much better deal. I also am proud to know that I support a corporation that actually seems to give about its employees in terms of wage. Kelly, it could also be that specific costco.

    We get great deals on everything there, and I couldn’t ask for more.

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    I have a Costco membership,and although we are a family of 6, I usually don’t buy many groceries there because we can’t posibly eat them before they expire.So I found that I waste more than I save.I used to have my freezer full of stuff. But in the end I save more money budget shopping at my local Food Mart. I hate wasting food. I feel guilty.
    And clothe shopping there, forget it! They had Calvin Klein shirts that were extremely thin and plain for $20. You basically are paying for the name. Most of their clothes are just ugly. IMO.

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    Here in CA Sam’s are few and far between, but Costco is worth the membership for the savings on gasoline alone if the one near you happens to have a gas station!

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    I grew up on Costco. I remember when I was 6yrs. old, thats all my aunt and uncle would ever shop at for bulk items because coming from a tongan family (Polynesian Islands) we have a very large family so a warehouse store like Costco fit our needs. Plus, we never had to worry about breaking our budget and whatnot we always have enough food to go around. My husband now works at Costco in Torrance, CA and he enjoys being part of the Costco Family! We love it, the Management Team has great hospitality and everyone gets along really well.

    Kelly, I’m sorry to hear what happened to you at Costco. But it could be your Costco that you worked at. So please dont dislike Costco for that reason, maybe you could’ve tried a different Costco, I dont know. But best wishes to you!

    That’s a good point Monica. It’s easy to get caught up in the deal but if the food is going to go to waste, it’s not really worth it.

    So, I just discovered some amazing shopping finds at my local Sam’s club yesterday and I wanted to do some googling to find out if this was normal… let me share with you all what I found – and eventually bought =)
    – a London Fog, black, thigh length rain coat for $9.81
    – two IZOD button downs for $16 each (one chambray, one coral)
    – an IZOD argyle sweater for $4.81 (no, thats not a typo)
    – a coral Anne Klein 3/4 sleeves v-neck sweater for $14
    – two crew neck Anne Klein sweaters with gold button accents on the left shoulder for $4.81 each (one black, the other tiny black and white striped)
    – one Ellen Tracy mustard cardigan for $19 (the kind that doesn’t have any closure and hangs long and flowy on each side)
    – a simple black cardigan for $14 – the brand name is escaping me, but it was someone of note (came in a slew of other colors and prints, but I needed a new black one)
    – and a caribbean blue colored summer dress/swimsuit over-up, deep v neck, (technically sleeveless but the top is wide enough that the overhang acts like sleeves) for $13, also a brand name designer that I cant remember at the moment.

    Now, you’re telling me that Costco has BETTER finds than Sam’s club?!?! I’m on my way!!! can’t wait to see what I discover! (I also heard I have to check out BJ’s!!)
    anyone else have any great finds to report?!

    This is sort of random, but I should mention that while Sam’s toilet paper costs less, the product is super cheap… One roll, swear to god, lasts me less than a week. Costco TP lasts much longer.

    they both have there good and bad quality’s but yes I do agree that buying in bulk is a little to much before the expiration date. But then again even with the membership fees of both stores Cosco or Sams I believe in service. I am disabled and I feel discriminated in both stores just based on architectural barriers they are to occupied comparing who’s better that they forget there costumers ability to even the simplest things like to reach for a jar of peanuts and a long line for the so called normal people remember in time we will all be disabled.

    I actually work for BJ’s , Mattie… Yum Yum Yum!!! best place ever!!! seriously

    I am on here looking to see which place is better for grocery shopping prices and deals, Cosco or Sam’s? I don’t really care about the clothes

    There are pros and cons both ways, The best you can can do is checkout both and see whats right for you.

    I’ve saved a ton of money by switching from paper towels and toilet paper to newspaper.

    I didn’t realize Costco was full of fatties.

    Costco has a corporate policy forbidding law abiding citizens from carrying their personal handguns for protection. For that reason alone I spend my money at Sam’s club, where they don’t restrict your civil rights.

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