Costco and Sam’s Club are two of the most popular wholesale stores in the country. Both companies pride themselves on their low prices and their ability to sell products in bulk.
Beyond groceries, both stores offer gasoline, pharmacy services, optical centers, and more. They also both offer 100% satisfaction guarantee policies on all of their products as well as their memberships.
But given they’re similar in so many ways, is one actually better than the other?
Let’s find out. We’ve put together a head-to-head comparison of Costco vs. Sam’s Club, so you can see which store is the better choice for you.
Costco has four levels of memberships, two personal and two business. Sam’s club only offers two personal memberships.
In both cases, all memberships allow you shop at the warehouse, while the higher level memberships offer extra perks like up to 3% cash back.
The membership prices at Sam’s Club are cheaper ($45 and $100 per year) than at Costco ($60 and $120 per year). However, Costco offers membership options specifically geared at business owners, which Sam’s Club doesn’t.
Costco offers four different membership plans for its customers, each with its own benefits. All memberships allow you to shop both online and in any warehouse.
Costco Gold Star Membership Card
Basic membership costs $60 per year and includes the following benefits:
- Two membership cards (one for you and one for someone else in your household).
- 100% satisfaction guarantee.
Costco Executive Membership Card
The executive-level membership costs $120 per year and includes all the features of the basic level, plus the following additional benefits:
- Up to 2% annual cash back reward (to a maximum of $1,000) on eligible Costco purchases.
- Special discounts on Costco services, including automotive services, bottled water delivery, and auto, home, and pet insurance policies.
- Subscription to the Costco Connection Magazine.
Costco Business Membership
Business membership costs $60 per year and includes the following benefits:
- Add business partners to your membership for $60 a person.
- Purchase for resale (alcohol is prohibited in some states).
Costco Business Executive Membership
The business executive-level membership costs $120 per year and includes all the features of the basic business level, plus the following additional benefits:
- Up to 2% annual cash back reward (up to $1,000) on eligible Costco purchases.
- Discounts on many of the different services Costco offers, such as automotive services and bottled water delivery.
- Monthly subscription to Costco Connection Magazine.
Sam’s Club Memberships
Sam’s Club offers two different membership plans for their customers:
Sam’s Club Membership Card
A regular Sam’s Club membership costs $45 per year and includes the following benefits:
- 1% cash back on qualifying Sam’s Club purchases with the Sam’s Club Mastercard®.
- Curbside pick-up for $4.
- Members-only fuel savings.
Ability to share a free membership with someone in your household and add additional memberships for a discounted annual price of $40.
Sam’s Club Plus Membership Card
A Sam’s Club Plus membership costs $100 per year and includes all the benefits of a regular membership, plus the following perks:
- 3% cash back on qualifying Sam’s Club purchases with the Sam’s Club Mastercard®.
- Free shipping and curbside pick-up.
- Pharmacy savings on over 600 generics.
- Optical savings, such as 20% off a pair of eyeglasses.
Both Costco and Sam’s Club offer items in bulk quantities. Both warehouses sell name brands you’ll recognize, as well as organic options at a lower cost than in most grocery stores.
Costco has its own brand, Kirkland Signature, which is aimed at providing members “with high-quality products at the lowest possible price.” Kirkland Signature also has a sustainability mandate, focused on ethical supply chain management, including environmental impacts and fair labor. The brand is very well-recognized and trusted by many Costco members.
Sam’s Club (which is owned by Walmart) also has its own brand, called Member’s Mark. Like Kirkland, Member’s Mark has a focus on ethical production, with a series of sustainability goals they’ve set to complete by 2025. These include things like ensuring 100% fair trade coffee, cage-free eggs, and sustainably sourced seafood.
Both warehouse stores also offer a broad range of items and merchandise beyond these brands, as well as anything from food to electronics to clothes — which makes for easy shopping when you’re able to make literally all your purchases in one location.
Both Coscto and Sam’s Club pride themselves on the quality of their merchandise. Because of their annual membership fees, they’re able to cover operating costs while still offering the same level of quality you’d find at most grocery stores.
Both have a similar range of products in their warehouses, listed for very similar prices — including organic food options for lower prices than your average supermarket.
Both retailers offer similar items at discounted prices from non-wholesale grocery or department stores. But how do their prices compare against each other?
I went shopping at both stores to check out some common items. For the most part, the differences are a few cents to a couple dollars and it varies as to who has the better deal on a particular item.
Maxwell House 48oz Coffee Grounds
- Costco: $9.39
- Sam’s Club: $9.44
- Costco: $5.69
- Sam’s Club: $5.98
Extra Strength Tylenol (325 count)
- Costco: $18.49
- Sam’s Club: $16.98
Scotch Heavy-Duty Tape
- Costco (8 pack): $14.99
- Sam’s Club (6 pack): $20.64
Both companies have a 100% satisfaction guarantee. If you’re unsatisfied with any item or even with your entire membership with either warehouse, you are able return that item or cancel your membership at any time.
If you are dissatisfied with your experience at either store, the full amount of your membership will be refunded as well.
Costco Return Policy
Under very few exceptions, Costco will refund any merchandise at the purchase price or give you the option to exchange. You are able to return and replace purchases if you no longer want the item, are dissatisfied with the item, or if the item somehow gets lost in the mail (if you bought online).
You can return items at the return counter of any Costco location (doesn’t need to be where you bought it). Your refund will be credited to the credit card that you originally used to place the order.
Items that have been purchased online can either be returned at any Costco warehouse or you can initiate a return through the Costco website.
However, note that some items have special return policies:
- Electronics — Must be returned within 90 days.
- Diamonds — Present all original paperwork.
- Cigarettes and alcohol — Not returnable.
- Products with a limited life expectancy may have a warranty.
- Custom products that fail to meet specifications.
Sam’s Club Return Policy
Most items at Sam’s Club can be returned at any time. When returning an item that you purchased in-store, simply bring the item to the member services desk at any Sam’s Club location. You will have the option of receiving credit or cash in the original form of payment.
Items purchased online must be shipped back to Sam’s Club. You must make sure to return all accessories and packing slips inside the original package. Any items that are returned online through the Sam’s Club website will be refunded to the account that the item was charged at the time of purchase.
As with Costco, there are a few return limitations on certain items with Sam’s Club:
- Electronics — Must be returned within 90 days.
- Major appliances — Must be returned within 90 days.
- Commercial heavy equipment — Must be returned within 30 days.
- Motorsport items — Must be returned within 30 days.
- Cellphones — Must be returned within 14 days.
- Gift cards, tickets, custom items, prescriptions — Not returnable.
- Alcohol, cigarettes, tires, car batteries, tobacco, eyeglasses, and hearing aids — Check with your specific Sam’s Club.
Both Costco and Sam’s Club offer a number of different services beyond just shopping, all designed to make your experience as a warehouse member worthwhile.
Costco’s Kirkland Signature Gas
With a Costco membership, you can fill up your tank using Kirkland Signature gas. They offer both regular and premium gasoline, as well as diesel at some locations.
Sam’s Club Gas
Most Sam’s Club fuel stations are restricted to members only; however, there are a few select locations that also offer gas to the general public. All stations have a five-cent discount for members.
Costco Food Court
Costco has a food court menu that changes frequently throughout the year. They sell a huge variety of food, but of course, one of their most iconic menu items is a hot dog and drink combo for only $1.50.
Sam’s Food Court
The Sam’s Club food court is open to both members and non-members. Some of the food options they offer are hot dogs, pizza, and soft pretzels.
Costco Optical Center
Members and non-members are able to get their eyes checked in most Costco locations. The departments also carry a wide variety of contact lenses, eye drops, frames, and sunglasses. Members are able to purchase contacts for other individuals, indcluding non-members, as long as the prescription is valid.
Sam’s Club Optical Center
Sam’s Club also permits both members and non-members to make eye exam appointments. Sam’s Club offers lenses, reading glasses, sunglasses, and contacts to its members only. They also offer contact solutions, eye drops, and vision supplements (again, to members only).
Costco Pharmacy Center
At the Costco pharmacy, both members and non-members are able to fill prescriptions, check on the status of their prescriptions, and transfer any prescriptions they have set up elsewhere. Costco offers both brand-name and generic options.
Members can get free screenings for diabetes, heart disease, and osteoporosis at certain locations throughout the year.
You can fill your prescription in-person, or online and have it mailed to your home.
Sam’s Club Pharmacy Center
Similarly, both members and non-members are able to purchase prescription medications at the Sam’s Club Pharmacy. They sell mostly generic medication options in order for the price to be lower.
Health screenings for blood glucose and cholesterol are also available.
If you need your medication delivered to your home, Sam’s Club offers that as well.
Tires and Automobiles
Costco Tires and Auto
Members who buy tires through Costco receive free tire rotations, balances, and flat tire repairs for the life of the tire. Costco also has deals on motor oil, batteries, and car electronics.
Under the Costco Auto Program, Costco members can save 15% off parts, service, and accessories (up to $500 per visit) at participating service centers across the U.S., as well as score deals on new or used vehicles with Costco-partnered automotive dealers.
Sam’s Club Tire and Battery Center
Sam’s Club tire purchase and installation comes with lifetime balance, rotation, and flat tire repair. Sam’s also has deals on accessories like batteries, hitches, and motor oil.
The Sam’s Club Auto Buying Program is for those looking to sell their car and buy a new one. The program will show you the value of your car and help you find deals on new and used cars with associated dealers, all online. When you buy a car through the program, you also receive auto repair benefits worth up to $2,000.
Costco Curbside pickup
Costco ran a curbside pick-up pilot during the pandemic, at a handful locations, but it hasn’t been rolled out to all Costcos.
However, you can do warehouse pick-up for electronics and jewellery purchased online. You’ll receive a text when your order is ready. A valid ID is required to pick up any items.
Sam’s Club Curbside pickup
Items labeled “pickup” on Sam’s website are available for curbside pickup. When your order is ready, all you need to do is park at the store in a curbside pickup spot and use the Sam’s Club app to check in. Store employees load your car with the items that you ordered without you even having to get out of your car.
There is a $4 fee per order for regular Sam’s Club members, but Plus members get curbside pickup for free.
If you care about how the businesses you shop at treat their employees, then you’ll be glad to know that both Costco and Sam’s Club offer fair wages and benefits, and have a commitment to diversity in the workplace.
Costco Employee Benefits
Costco has over 288,000 employees across the world. According to their employee page, they’re focused on fostering inclusion and workplace equality, and want employees to view their positions with Costco as long-term careers rather than just a short-term job.
They offer benefits such as health care coverage for all employees, both full-time and part-time. They also offer paid sick leave, vacation time off, and leave policies for their employees.
Costco Employee Benefits
- Paid time off.
- Maternity and paternity leave.
- Sick days.
- Paid breaks.
- Free membership cards.
- Health, dental, and vision insurance.
- Life insurance.
Costco salaries range from $9.38 per hour to $17.31 per hour.
Sam’s Club Employee Benefits
The Sam’s Club/Walmart website states they have a focus on diversity, equity and inclusion in their workplace, with a goal is to help associates become the best versions of themselves that they can be. Sam’s Club says it promotes over 20,000 employees each year to jobs with higher pay and bigger responsibilities.
Associates earn competitive wages and enjoy access to both health and education benefits. They also offer sick time, paid vacation time off, personal time off, and holiday time off for all employees.
Sam’s Club Employee Benefits
- Paid time off – sick leave, holidays, and vacations are included.
- Short- and long-term disability.
- Company-paid life insurance for full-time employees.
- Optional life insurance for both employees and their dependents.
- Medical, dental, and vision insurance.
- Critical accident or illness insurance.
- Business travel accident insurance.
- Accidental death insurance.
Sam’s Club Pay
Sam’s Club salaries average out at around $12.71 per hour. This number might be higher or lower depending on what your position is with the company.
Opinions: Costco vs. Sam’s Club
I spoke with a few members who belong to both Costco and Sam’s Club, to get their opinions on the two.
My first interviewee said she is considering dropping her membership at Costco, simply due to location. Her Sam’s Club membership gets more use because the store is closer. She also says she likes the comfortable shopping experience she gets at Sam’s Club.
My second interviewee said she attends both frequently, but prefers Sam’s Club because she is a dedicated Walmart shopper. (Sam’s is owned by Walmart.) She finds that while both Costco and Sam’s Club are similar, she feels more at home at Sam’s Club. She trusts the Walmart brand and how recognizable it is.
After walking through both stores myself and getting a feel for the atmosphere in each, I personally would see myself shopping more at Sam’s Club, for a few reasons:
- I prefer the location of my Sam’s Club (I’d have to drive over 40 minutes to my nearest Costco).
- I prefer how Sam’s Club is laid out, as it was easy for me to find what I was looking for (which is great as I’m usually in a rush while shopping!).
- The cheaper membership cost is a very appealing factor for me. As a young person, I like that I can get the warehouse membership experience while paying less in comparison to Costco.
Costco and Sam’s Club are both stores that changed the game when it comes to shopping.
Both warehouse retailers offer similar prices and services, like pharmacies, optical centers, automotive support, and even food courts if you want to stop for a snack while shopping. They both also offer upgraded membership perks like cash back rewards and discounts on various services.
While Sam’s has a cheaper membership fee, Costco has memberships tailored to business owners.
Of the people I spoke with (and even in my own experience), a major factor in deciding which they preferred was location — if one is closer to you than the other, that may be enough to pick a favorite.
Either way, if you are someone who loves to save money, then a membership at one of these clubs is probably beneficial for you.
Featured image: a katz/Shutterstock.com