I'm a die-hard Costco fan who shopped at Sam's Club for the first time — and I know which store I'll continue to visit

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  • Costco and Sam’s Club are two of the most popular wholesale retail chains in the US.
  • I’m a lifelong Costco shopper, but I recently took a trip to a Sam’s Club to see which retailer was better. And by the end, I knew which of the two retailers I would continue to shop at.
  • Here’s how my first-ever visit to Sam’s Club went, from the perspective of a lifelong Costco shopper.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Costco and Sam’s Club are among the two most popular wholesale retail chains in the country.

There are obvious similarities between the two retailers, including their general layouts, their generous return policies, and their similar opening hours. But there are also key differences between the two.

Perhaps the most significant point in Sam’s Club’s favour is its membership pricing.Sam’s Club membership is significantly cheaper than Costco’s, with a basic membership running $US45 per year and a “Plus” membership (offering cash rewards and free shipping) costing $US100 annually.

Meanwhile, Costco’s memberships are $US60 for a basic “Gold Star” membership and $US120 for a “Gold Star Executive” membership.

Having exclusively shopped at Costco (or occasionally at BJ’s Wholesale Club), I wondered whether Sam’s Club’s lower annual fee might make it worth the jump.

I decided to check out the nearest Sam’s Club while visiting family in southern New Jersey to find out. By the end, I knew which store I would continue to shop at.

Here’s what I found.


There were two Sam’s Club locations equidistant from my dad’s house in New Jersey. We opted to travel to the one in Pleasantville, which was about 30 miles south and took about 40 minutes to get to — not exactly convenient.

Caralynn Lippo

The warehouse was all one level, as are many Costco locations (except for my local one in Brooklyn, which has two floors). The first thing I noticed as we drove up is how sprawling it was, which makes sense — each store averages about 136,000 square feet, according to the Sam’s Club website.

Caralynn Lippo

We visited the store on a weekday in the late afternoon, at around 5:30 p.m. I was surprised to see how empty the store was when we pulled into the parking lot — there were tons of available spaces. The Costcos I frequent are typically far more crowded.

Caralynn Lippo

Like Costco, this Sam’s Club had a gas station right out front, near the parking lot.

Caralynn Lippo

The gas prices were definitely on the cheaper end, too, averaging several cents lower per gallon than at other stations we passed on the way down.

Caralynn Lippo

Interestingly, this Sam’s Club location had a 24/7 self-serve propane exchange station (payable by credit card), which isn’t something I’ve seen at any of the Costcos I’ve been to. It was right outside the store exit.

Caralynn Lippo

Also outside the store exit was a twine dispenser.

Caralynn Lippo

This club’s hours were generally pretty comparable with the local Costco’s, except it opens a bit earlier and stays open a bit later on Saturdays.

Caralynn Lippo

One thing that was interesting was the existence of special hours for those who hold a Sam’s Club Plus membership, which is the equivalent of a Costco Gold Star Executive Membership (but $US20 less annually). Apparently, Plus members get an extra three hours in the store each morning.

Caralynn Lippo

After passing the greeter, who didn’t ask to see our nonexistent membership card, the liquor section is the first thing you see just past the entrance.

Caralynn Lippo

It was extremely well-stocked, with a decently wide variety of wine, liquor, and beer. They even had my favourite riesling!

Caralynn Lippo

They also had offerings from a local New Jersey brewery, alongside information about its location, tasting room, and tour hours. It was nice to see the national chain supporting a local business.

Caralynn Lippo

On the other side of the entrance was the member-services department, where you can inquire about membership and initiate returns.

Caralynn Lippo

Much like at Costco, there wasn’t much of a rhyme or reason to how the store was organised. Here are some bikes next to patio furniture and flat-screen TVs.

Caralynn Lippo

Sam’s Club had plenty of specialty services and subdepartments within the warehouse, again much like Costco. There was a section for tires …

Caralynn Lippo

… a self-service photo station allowing you to make prints, enlargements, passport photos, custom greeting cards, and other photo gifts …

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… an optical department to purchase prescription eyewear and contact lenses …

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… and an accompanying eye-exam room. Each of those departments were very close to the entrance.

Caralynn Lippo

Weirdly, the pharmacy wasn’t in that same spot, where I thought it would have been. Instead, it was on the opposite side of the store, oddly next to the bakery department.

Caralynn Lippo

Right past the eye-exam room, there was an assortment of heavily discounted “Extreme Value Gift Cards.” This particular Sam’s Club didn’t seem to have a selection of gift cards as wide as I normally see at Costco.

Caralynn Lippo

The warehouse had a surprisingly wide selection of mattresses and box springs available for purchase.

Caralynn Lippo

There was also furniture for sale, both on shelves and on the floor, interspersed among other departments. It all seemed to be of decent quality and available at very reasonable prices. I was particularly tempted by this classic-looking media console.

Caralynn Lippo

The available clothing was nearly identical to that in Costco — an assortment of dresses, shirts, pants, bathing suits, and activewear folded and arranged in the center of the warehouse.

Caralynn Lippo

There was also some footwear, though it was more functional than fashionable.

Caralynn Lippo

The store also had major appliances, such as high-tech refrigerators and ovens.

Caralynn Lippo

I was interested to see Sam’s Club’s version of Costco’s Kirkland brand. I first encountered a “Member’s Mark” in the toilet-paper section. Like Costco, Sam’s Club also had name-brand bath tissue such as Scott and Charmin, but the Member’s Mark version was significantly cheaper.

Caralynn Lippo

It was the same deal with the paper towels — the brand-name Bounty was stacked alongside Member’s Mark.

Caralynn Lippo

There were Sam’s Club employees giving out samples. We tried Pillsbury crescent rolls and a brand of turkey sausage.

Caralynn Lippo

The produce department was right outside the meat section. As with Costco, it was pretty basic — not anything special and also not anything I would normally buy, since I’m just one person. Buying in bulk doesn’t really work for fresh produce, and the quality didn’t seem particularly high.

Caralynn Lippo

The butcher department had a decent selection of meats and cuts, but it looked a little sad and deserted. The prices were also nothing to write home about.

Caralynn Lippo

The fresh-fish selection was a lot better, but that likely also had to do with the fact that we were in South Jersey, where there are tons of local commercial-fishing companies.

Caralynn Lippo

Costco’s rotisserie chicken is massively popular and a great bargain, perpetually costing only $US4.99. It seems to be a similarly popular purchase at Sam’s Club, as there was only one left by the time I got there (though they were cooking up more right behind the display). It was also a penny less than Costco’s chicken at $US4.98.

Caralynn Lippo

There was a wide selection of brands of water available. I was particularly surprised to see Dasani, which I’ve never seen at any of my local Costcos.

Caralynn Lippo

This is where I first started noticing one of the distinct differences between Sam’s Club and Costco — namely that the former seems to have a wider variety of recognisable name brands available (though not necessarily at the rock-bottom prices Costco is known for).

Caralynn Lippo

Next up were the frozen and refrigerated foods sections.

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The milk selection was a bit bleak, especially compared with Costco’s.

Caralynn Lippo

Sam’s Club’s selection of frozen fish was nearly identical to what you typically find at Costco, including tilapia and flounder.

Caralynn Lippo

One place where Sam’s Club exceeded my expectations was its spice selection. The store had a nice variety of large-size spices under the Member’s Mark label, both regular and organic. And the prices were great.

Caralynn Lippo

It also had some unexpected seasonings, such as this Hidden Valley ranch-dressing mix.

Caralynn Lippo

There was bulk candy available right outside the spices and snacks aisles.

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And gigantic bags of chips as far as the eye could see.

Caralynn Lippo

Right beside that, there was a book section very similar to the ones you’d typically see in Costco.

Caralynn Lippo

For the most part, there were a lot of cookbooks and books about trendy food fads, such as the massively popular keto diet.

Caralynn Lippo

There was also an assortment of Bibles and other religious books.

Caralynn Lippo

We noticed that the assorted mixed nuts available from the Member’s Mark brand were significantly cheaper than the Kirkland version at only $US8.48.

Caralynn Lippo

Upon further inspection, it became clear that this was because it included a cheaper assortment of nuts, like peanuts, unlike Kirkland’s far more expensive “Extra Fancy Mixed Nuts,” which include Brazil nuts and macadamia nuts.

Caralynn Lippo

Continuing my loop around the store, I hit the bakery next.

Caralynn Lippo

There were plenty of unique and interesting offerings, such as strawberry-cream-cheese muffins. Those looked pretty delicious, as did the lemon bars next to them.

Caralynn Lippo

The bakery also had sheet cakes, which Costco’s bakery is known for as well.

Caralynn Lippo

There was a selection of toiletries between the bakery and pharmacy departments. There were plenty of familiar brands, including Head & Shoulders, Pantene, Olay, and Tresemmé.

Caralynn Lippo

As with Costco, Sam’s Club had a great selection of electronics, like this massive Samsung QLED TV. The 75-inch unit was on clearance pricing at just under $US2,000.

Caralynn Lippo

Near the TVs was a jewellery department smack dab in the center, with an assortment of necklaces, bracelets, and engagement rings all kept behind locked glass cases.

Caralynn Lippo

Toward the exit, there was a Sam’s Club food court, which was comparable in price with Costco’s famously cheap food court. It had many of the same offerings, like a hot dog and drink combo, frozen yogurt, and pizza.

Caralynn Lippo

Near the cash registers, there was a selection of perfumes kept behind a glass case. Sam’s Club had a great price on my favourite scent, Dolce & Gabbana’s Light Blue ($US64.98).

Caralynn Lippo

Interestingly, we were able to buy a few items without signing up for a membership or even a guest pass. We paid at the member-services department, and there was a 10% upcharge added for nonmember pricing.

Caralynn Lippo

Overall, there were plenty of great products to be found at Sam’s Club, and I appreciated their variety of name-brand products. However, Costco’s slightly better overall pricing, more convenient locations (for me, personally), and greater selection of organic products make it a no-brainer — I’m sticking with Costco. Sorry, Sam’s Club.

Caralynn Lippo

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