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What’s the Difference Between Costco and Sam’s Club?

What’s the Difference Between Costco and Sam’s Club?

Chances are you’ve seen them along the highway or sitting in a mall or shopping center – those massive, hulking buildings with parking lots full of eager shoppers. We’re talking about the warehouse clubs, Costco and Sam’s Club, which have significantly influenced how we shop. But some may still wonder what the difference between Costco and Sam’s Club is. 

Read on as we explore these two shopper’s paradises and what sets them apart. 

What Is Costco? 

Costco is one of the world’s largest warehouse club retail chains, operating over 800 stores offering everything from fresh meats and produce to electronics and furniture. Costco’s first store opened in Seattle, Wash., in 1983 and has since become one of the most instantly recognizable big-box stores. 

It’s known for its deep discounts on products (often sold in large quantities) and the store’s iconic and budget-friendly food court. It’s home to the famous $1.50 hot dog and soda deal. In recent decades, Costco has also begun offering gas stations offering discounted fuel and liquor stores selling high-quality store-branded alcohol.

What Is Sam’s Club? 

Like Costco, Sam’s Club is a warehouse club discount retail chain that’s been around since the 1980s. It’s part of the Walmart organization and named after founder Sam Walton. 

Approximately 600 stores are throughout the United States. It offers a similarly large selection of products, gas stations, car washes, pharmacies, and optical services. 

Pro Tip: Shoppers beware! You don’t want to commit any of these Seven Deadly Sins of Costco Shopping.

Mom and daughter shopping in Sam's Club
While similar, Costco and Sam’s Club offer unique products and brands.

What’s the Difference Between Costco and Sam’s Club?

While Costco and Sam’s Club may sound similar (and are, in many ways), there are also some important differences between them that would-be members should know. 

Owners

Unlike many major chains these days, Costco doesn’t have another level of corporate ownership above it. The company is publicly traded as the Costco Wholesale Corporation, allowing anyone with cash to buy shares and become an “owner.” 

As noted above, Sam’s Club is owned and operated by Walmart Inc., the parent company of Walmart and various other subsidiaries. Walmart is also publicly traded, with investors large and small as its owners. 

Product Offerings

Those looking for familiar brand names won’t be disappointed. Sam’s Club and Costco have many of the most common and beloved products from regular supermarkets and grocery stores, though often in much larger quantities. 

Both chains also offer extensive selections of electronics like TVs and furniture, including patio sets and more. 

Brands

Some of the biggest savings at warehouse clubs come not from bulk purchases of well-known products but instead from store brand versions that offer comparable quality. Sam’s Club offers its products under the Member’s Mark brand name. That makes up a significant minority of Sam’s Club products. 

Costco also sells its own white-labeled products under the Kirkland or Kirkland Signature branding. Both offer relatively high-quality items, with differences in taste or selection in most cases. 

Woman shopping in Costco
Both Costco and Sam’s Club offer memberships that can help you save big!

Do You Save More at Sam’s or Costco?

It’s hard to say precisely which of these two popular membership-only warehouse clubs will save buyers the most cash. Generally speaking, many shoppers find prices slightly better at Costco than at Sam’s. This may partly be a reflection of the more brand-name products available at Sam’s Club. 

However, the difference is relatively small compared to non-warehouse club prices and may be close to even when factoring in membership costs. 

How Much Is a Sam’s Club Membership Versus a Costco Membership?

Sam’s Club and Costco offer relatively affordable memberships, which can provide excellent value for frequent shoppers. Sam’s Club offers a $50 annual membership. It provides access to stores and the tire and battery center, fuel savings, and a complimentary membership for someone in your household. There are other perks like cashback and exclusive savings. 

Sam’s also has a $110 per year “Plus” membership which includes all of these benefits plus free shipping and curbside pickup, pharmacy and optical savings, and improved cashback rewards. 

Costco shoppers can take advantage of three different types of membership – Gold Star, Business, and Executive. Gold Star provides one of the cheapest options at $60 annually. It includes one free household card. 

Business members also pay $60 per year and can add additional affiliate users for the same price. They can also purchase products with permission for resale.

Executive members pay twice this amount but receive 2% cashback, additional savings on Costco Travel products, and other additional benefits. These discounts can include home water delivery, auto insurance, and home additions or upgrades. 

Can I Use My Costco Card at Sam’s Club? 

This might be the dream for savings-minded shoppers, but unfortunately, it’ll remain just that – a dream. Unfortunately, you can’t use your Costco card at a Sam’s Club and vice versa. Membership at each chain only grants access to that specific chain, and those looking to shop at both will need to purchase a membership from both. 

Some may be fine with this, prizing the convenience and selection above all else. Others focused on saving the most money will likely find double memberships eat up a good chunk of the discounts that most buyers will experience. 

Pro Tip: Put your Sam’s Club membership to good use and find out Can You Park Overnight at Sam’s Club?

Which Is Better – Costco or Sam’s Club?

At the end of the day, the difference between Costco and Sam’s Club may be relatively small. Those who purchase a lot of food or other items may see an advantage from Costco’s marginally lower prices. On the other hand, infrequent shoppers might prefer lower membership costs at Sam’s. 

For most shoppers who land somewhere in the middle, there won’t be much daylight between them from a financial perspective. Therefore, your membership decision may largely come down to the convenience of location and your preferred selection. 

So, do you love that Sam’s Club just around the corner or can’t wait for another budget-friendly meal from the Costco food court? Your trip to the big box store will generally be an excellent decision for your wallet and lifestyle.

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