Comparing Warehouse Stores

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I live four hours from a large town that has discount stores. So when I go, I really shop. Does Costco or Sam's have better buys?

Sam's is Best for Gas

Of the three with which I have had experience (Costco, Sam's, and BJ's), I can tell you that none of them is the better buy.

When choosing a warehouse store for regular use, you need to determine these factors: cost of membership, distance from home or work to store, and product selection. Also look at fringe benefits if you're inclined to use any of them.

Whichever store has the best of all (or nearly all) the determining factors, use it. Otherwise, be prepared to keep your price book in the car and pay for membership to all of them, because some things have better prices in some stores, and others have better selection. It all depends on what bargain was able to be struck between product seller and warehouse chain buyer.

Personally, I quit Costco because I thought their selection was getting smaller and smaller with each passing month, and I refused to use their gas pumps with a credit card. I also quit BJ's because they seemed to be on a never-ending store rearrangement cycle, and I could never find anything. It had the cheapest membership cost, but having to lap the store three or four times to find stuff got really tiring. Their gas pumps also had the pesky credit card thing going. For me, Sam's is the winner. I can use a reloadable shopping gift card at their gas pumps, and it happens to be smack in the middle of some other places I go to shop. It's not the cheapest membership fee, and it's not the closest to my home. The pump payment alternatives won me over.

If you are a small business owner, product price and selection may matter to you most. Remember that these stores were originally built to cater to small business owner/operators, not residential customers. Since the gates got opened to residential users, their revenue increased dramatically, generously allowing us to supersize our groceries. If you decide to go with one or more of these warehouse stores, do make judicious use of your price book. It may help tell the price/selection tale a little better.

What's On Your List?

In my experience, I think it really depends on the actual items you buy. Since I don't have any children yet, it doesn't matter to me which place has cheaper diapers. But, it may make a huge difference to someone with infant twins.

The warehouse clubs in my area allow you to go in for a "trial visit" if you go to the Customer Service counter first. There is no cost, but if you buy anything, they add 10% to the price.

Bring a notebook and write down the unit price of everything you would typically buy. Once you've done this at both warehouses, visit your supermarket and do the same. At home, you can compare all the prices and see what is the best deal for you.

Personally, after belonging to Costco for two years, I have found that you will find bargains on name brand items only. For example, my husband will only use Bausch and Lomb contact lens solution. It's much cheaper at Costco than at a supermarket. But, if you are willing to use the generic supermarket brand, the supermarket is almost always cheaper than a warehouse store when you factor in the price of membership.

Kudos for Costco

Costco definitely has better bargains, variety, customer service and environment.

Try Both

Good question! I once faced that same dilemma and bought a Costco membership and had a "free membership for the first year" at Sam's Club. So I tried both for one year. At the end of that year, I determined that Costco had more things we need than Sam's Club does. Even though Sam's Club has some great deals too. It really is subjective. Try both and see which one offers more of the items you use a lot.

Frozen Food at Sam's and Clothes at Costco

We have had memberships to both clubs, and it's hard to tell which is actually better. I think Sam's has a better frozen food selection and Costco has a better selection of clothing.

Membership Fee Made the Difference

I am a Sam's shopper. My friend (not living with me) and I split the $35 per year membership. Costco's membership (I believe) is $50 per year, and you aren't allowed to split it with a neighbor or friend. So my membership at Sam's costs me $17.50 per year.

Costco for Clothing

If you're not interested in high-end name brands in clothing, then Sam's is your best choice. Costco carries top of the line clothing, but I don't shop at either for clothing. Sam's is my first choice for food and other staples, as well as things I need for my business.

Sam's is the Better Choice

I believe Sam's is the better choice. My membership to Sam's is $45 a year. This is for a business membership, as I am self-employed. I also have a Costco membership. I got it free when a new store opened in our area. To renew this membership, it would be $55, which is considerably more than Sam's.

I have found that both Sam's and Costco carry many of the same items, at pretty much the same price. Costco does have some "higher end" items, but I do not need nor do I buy these items. Our Sam's is a full-size store (with bakery, meat counter, etc.) and it has everything that I need. I find that for the decreased membership cost and the amount of amenities it offers, Sam's is a good deal.
Theresa, Indianapolis

Shop for Meat at Costco

I shop at Costco, as well as several grocery stores. You need to know the prices of goods before going into Costco. I find that their meats are of a higher quality than most grocery stores. My best advice is know your prices before you shop, and weigh quality verse price. Although there are only two of us at home now, I still purchase in large quantity, and when I get home, I repack into freezer bags the portions that we will use. I do this with hamburger, sausage, chicken, and roast beef. When you repack the meat, put the name of the item on the bag, along with the date. Then place into the freezer.

Make Your Own Pricebook

The key to this question is making your own pricebook, which is a small notebook in which you have jotted down the prices of foods you buy every month, at different stores. By computing to the pound or ounce, it's easier to compare the prices at the various warehouse stores. Warehouse stores mostly carry bulk packages of name brands and convenience foods. We do use a warehouse club, but only for bulk purchased baking soda (we need it in bulk for washing diapers), laundry soap, dish soap, and sometimes staples like dried beans, flour, rice, etc. Lately, I've found that on all food items, my local superstore is lower in price. Once you establish your pricebook, you will have the power of knowledge. And you will know for sure when a bargain really is a bargain.
LSN in Baton Rouge, LA

Costco Geared to High-End Market

Well, for general grocery purchases, Sam's has better prices and better selection. For more of the "household" type purchases, like non-food items,

Costco has a bigger selection, but is geared to a higher-end market. Basically, Costco is more expensive, but has higher quality brand names. Personally, I am a Sam's fan. Long live the Wal-Mart mentality!

Updated September 2013

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