Seven Reasons Why I Chose Sam’s Club Over Costco

Sam'sIn the recent past, I mentioned that our new home’s location has a Sam’s Club and a Costco almost the same distance apart, and now that we will finally have storage space, the opportunity to really take advantage of warehouse shopping became clear.

To decide which one we would go with (a significant decision, because both have membership fees in the $40 range), I took a trip to both stores in the last week, mostly to mill around, see what was available, check prices on some specific items I know we’ll buy in bulk, and then use that information to make a decision. Although Costco had some advantages (better electronics selection, somewhat nicer layout, and fresh produce while Sam’s had none), the advantages of Sam’s Club were too much to overcome. Here are seven reasons why I chose Sam’s Club over Costco.

Location, location, location Although the two stores are roughly equidistant from our future home, Sam’s Club is much closer to my daily commute. This is a significant advantage for Sam’s Club, though not a deal maker.

Diapers, diapers, diapers Sam’s Club has better diaper prices than Costco on the brand that we use (Pampers Swaddlers and Cruisers), but both are far better than the local department stores and also better than Amazon. Given that we have a child still in diapers and another one on the way in September, this is a very important factor for us.

Item selection I made a list of fifteen specific food items that we regularly buy that aren’t obvious common ones, ranging from specific fruit juices to our preferred brand of oats in bulk. Sam’s Club had a higher percentage of the specific items, and on the ones that they both had, the prices averaged out to be almost exactly even (Costco was cheaper by one cent on the total of seven items).

Help The help was highly variable in both places (depending on the person). I asked three questions of three separate people at each location. The best person at each one walked me straight to what I needed. The worst person at Sam’s Club got me to the right area quickly, then radioed for help. The worst person at Costco walked around in circles for a while, basically said that she couldn’t help me, then wandered away.

Distractions How many times did the store distract me into considering another item? This is mostly a way of seeing how the store’s layout convinces me to strongly consider items I wasn’t intending to buy or even look at when I came into the store, and the fewer such items, the better. Aside from the entrance area where I was distracted by a big screen television, I basically wasn’t distracted in Sam’s Cub – everything was spread out and open and sorted in an obvious enough fashion for the most part that I quickly found what I was looking for. In Costco, I was distracted several times – not good.

Checking out Since I was only in each store as a “guest,” I watched the checkouts for a bit and timed how long it took a few people to get through the line (I had time to burn when I made the visits, but when we have a house and another child, time will be important). The Sam’s Club checkouts were much busier (many more customers), but more checkouts opened quickly and the overall average time for both stores wound up being about the same.

Cleanliness Surprisingly (because I expected it to be the other way around), the Sam’s Club store seemed much cleaner than the Costco. Neither one was what I would describe as dirty, but the Sam’s Club had more of a “freshly-scrubbed warehouse” feel to it, whereas the Costco did not. Although this seems like an aesthetic choice, it does matter at a place where you may be buying foodstuffs.

While Costco did have a few specific advantages, Sam’s Club was the clear winner for me. Considering the membership fee is $40, the time spent figuring out which was better for me was worth the effort.

Trent Hamm
Trent Hamm
Founder of The Simple Dollar

Trent Hamm founded The Simple Dollar in 2006 after developing innovative financial strategies to get out of debt. Since then, he’s written three books (published by Simon & Schuster and Financial Times Press), contributed to Business Insider, US News & World Report, Yahoo Finance, and Lifehacker, and been featured in The New York Times, TIME, Forbes, The Guardian, and elsewhere.

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