Sam's Club, which is operated by Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (NYSE: WMT), and Costco Wholesale Corp. (NASDAQ: COST) both offer deep discounts on electronics, groceries, and a broad range of household items. Shoppers may wonder which wholesale warehouse membership is the better deal. The research suggests that the answer is mostly a matter of personal preference and convenience.
- A 2016 survey from Consumer Reports concluded that the clubs offer comparable prices for comparable products in all departments. Ultimately, the decision came down to matters of personal taste.
- A review by Business Insider in late 2018 found no substantial differences in price or quality between the two chains and suggests that the best store for you is the one closest to your home.
- Our own review of some online offerings by both chains came up with no clear winner in the low-price wars. Both have a wide range of prices in most departments, with rock-bottom prices at the heavily-advertised low end.
Although they carry many of the same brands, side-by-side comparisons of Sam's Club and Costco are difficult because of their constantly changing inventory. Both also have a steady stream of special offers, instant savings, daily deals, and member-only deals. Sam's Club even has an Auctions department for closeout deals on everything from packages of batteries to diamond watches.
There is a small difference in annual membership costs.
Costco charges $60 for a regular annual membership and $120 for an Executive membership. Sam's Club regular memberships cost $45, and Sam's Club Plus memberships cost $100. Sam's Club sometimes offers special savings or gift cards to members of the military and students who sign up.
Costco sends coupons to members through the mail, and you can also access them on the Warehouse Coupon Offers section of the website or the Costco app.
Sam's Club Instant Savings deals are available online or for local pickup. You can also check out the Instant Savings through the Sam's Club mobile app. The company loads Instant Savings directly into your membership account, so you don't need a coupon to get a discount when you check out.
Below are a few specifics on products.
In early 2019, Sam's Club was selling big-screen TV models from several manufacturers for as little as $499 for a small counter-top model and as much as $6,499 for a behemoth 77-inch 4K HDR Smart OLED model from LG.
Costco had many of the same brand names, with the lowest-priced listed at $429.99 but some member-only deals that required sign-in for pricing. The most extravagant offering was the same LG television that Sam's Club had, for the exact same price.
One key characteristic of both sites is that they appear to have a constant rotation of products and prices which could change in a day, or maybe in an hour.
Sam's Club online had laptops from manufacturers including HP, Dell, Lenovo, ASUS, Samsung, and Google at prices from $249 to $1,469. Some of the best deals were online-only, members-only, or both.
Costco had the same brands plus Microsoft, Acer, MSI, and NUVision. Its offerings had the same $249 starting point at the low end, but it appeared to have a greater selection of high-end models priced at over $1,000.
Both warehouses sold a selection of Apple Inc. (NASDAQ: AAPL) iPad and Samsung Galaxy tablets.
Costco's jewelry department offers a wide selection of fine jewelry, with some top-end selections that consumers typically associate with luxury jewelry stores. Some gemstone necklaces top $10,000, and a hefty diamond ring was priced at $419,000, but there were plenty of 14K gold earrings for around $120 and up.
A similarly wide range can be found at Sam's Club, with engagement rings starting at $229 and going up to almost $80,000. But its best sellers were more modest selections like a Tahitian pearl pendant for $59.88.
A club membership to either warehouse can save you money on a variety of other services. Costco partners with lenders that offer home mortgages, mortgage refinance loans, and home equity loans, as well as home, life, and dental insurance.
Both warehouses offer auto loans and travel discounts on cruises, resort vacation packages, hotel rooms, and rental cars.