Costco vs. Sam's Club


Cheapism is editorially independent. We may earn a commission if you buy through links on our site.

Which Is Better: Costco or Sam's Club?

A head-to-head comparison between Costco and Sam's Club reveals a host of similarities. When pressed to declare a victor, we settled on Costco — by a hair. Sam's Club started with a very narrow price advantage: While products are around the same price at both stores, the cost of annual membership is $10 cheaper at Sam's Club. However, Costco has a larger in-store selection (particularly for organic and health foods), higher-end and better quality merchandise, discounted prescriptions at the lowest membership level, and greater rewards at the higher membership level. For its part, Sam's Club excels in online shopping, provides more payment options, and has more locations, winning in four out of 15 categories.

(Note: We did not include BJ's Wholesale Club in this comparison, because it lacks a nationwide presence.)

Costco Shoppers browse clothing itemsPhoto credit: Scott Olson/Getty Images

Sam's Club vs. Costco: Product Price Comparison

To compare Sam's Club and Costco prices, we selected 10 everyday staples at two Los Angeles area stores. Item for item, we tried to make our comparison as fair as possible, picking the same in-house brand products at each wholesale club. We also calculated the price per unit to account for differences in package size.

Sam's Club (Member's Mark)
Costco (Kirkland Signature)
Toilet Paper$1.83 per 100 square feet$1.37 per 100 square feet
Paper Towels$1.94 per 100 square feet$1.90 per 100 square feet
Laundry Detergent13 cents per load13 cents per load
Adult Dog Food (Chicken and Rice)$1.10 per pound85 cents per pound
Rotisserie Chicken$4.98 per chicken$4.99 per chicken
2% Reduced Fat Milk$3.28 per gallon$3.40 per gallon
Olive Oil20 cents per ounce21 cents per ounce
Croissants50 cents per croissant50 cents per croissant
Cage-Free Large Eggs$1.96 per dozen$2.40 per dozen
Diapers16 cents per diaper34 cents per diaper

Winner: Tie

Sam's ClubPhoto credit: Cheapism

Sam's Club vs. Costco: Locations

As of 2023, Costco operated 861 clubs, including 270 located abroad. Of the 591 stores in the U.S. and Puerto Rico, nearly a quarter are in California. Costco locations also tend to cluster in urban centers. Sam's parent company, Walmart, announced the closing of 63 clubs in 2018, but it currently lists 599 Sam's Club locations throughout the U.S. and Puerto Rico. 

Winner: Sam's Club

Sam's Club vs. Costco: Membership Costs and Tiers

Both warehouse clubs have two membership levels for consumers who join. Costco offers separate household and business memberships within those tiers, while Sam's Club has streamlined its membership options to only two. While there isn't an obvious winner, Sam's Club just barely beats Costco because of its lower membership fees and premium benefits. 

Sam's Club

Club Membership ($50/year)

  • Two complimentary cards
  • Add up to eight additional Club cardholders for $45 each

Plus Membership ($110/year)

  • Two complimentary cards
  • Add up to 16 additional Club cardholders for $45 each
  • Extra savings, including 2% cashback on qualified purchases up to $500 a year
  • Early-bird shopping hours
  • Free shipping on most items online
  • Free curbside pickup


Gold Star Membership ($60/year)

  • Two complimentary cards
  • No additional cardholders

Executive Membership ($120/year)

  • Two complimentary cards
  • No additional cardholders
  • Extra savings, including 2% cashback on qualified purchases up to $1,000 a year
  • Monthly Costco magazine

Business Memberships ($60-$120/year)

  • Add additional cardholders for $60
  • Can resell Costco products

Winner: Sam's Club

Costco customer in parking lotPhoto credit: Eric Thayer / Getty

Sam's Club vs. Costco: Shopping Experience

Using the Sam's Club app and its Scan and Go feature, members can scan and pay for items themselves, skipping long checkout lines. And with its pickup services, Sam's Club shoppers can place an order online and schedule a pickup time at the store.

Costco does not have in-store pickup or Scan and Go, but it does have a same-day-delivery partnership with Instacart for groceries and household supplies in some metropolitan areas. There is an order minimum of $35 and additional delivery fees apply. There is also a two-day delivery service for non-perishable groceries and household supplies. This one is available nationwide and is free for orders of $75 or more, although prices may be higher than those you'd see if you shopped in store.

Costco edged out Sam's Club in the 2023 American Customer Satisfaction Index, earning second place in the survey's supermarkets category, but both wholesale clubs claim fans and detractors. Although consumer experiences vary from location to location, Sam's Club is dogged by concerns about the employment practices of parent company Walmart, while Costco was lauded as one of America's Best Large Employers in a 2023 survey of 45,000 workers conducted by Forbes and Statista.

Winner: Costco

Closeup of a Costco Shopping Cart in the Foreground and Front Exterior of a Costco Wholesale Store in Indianapolis, Indiana in the Background with Parking LotPhoto credit: jetcityimage/istockphoto

Sam's Club vs. Costco: Product Selection and Brands

Product selection, availability, and quality also affect the shopping experience. Costco fans enthuse about the quality of the in-house Kirkland Signature brand, and indeed Costco has more entries than Sam's on our list of store-brand foods that beat their name-brand competitors. "Costco has more 'high-end' offerings, more organics, and their Kirkland brand seems to be higher quality than Sam’s Members Mark brand (in most cases)," writes one Redditor in a 2023 thread.

Winner: Costco

Sam's Club vs. Costco: Online Shopping and Delivery Options

Despite the popularity of e-commerce in the digital age, shopping at isn't a great experience. That's because of a few idiosyncrasies, such as a limited online catalog and higher prices. But along with the drawbacks come a few advantages. Even if you're not a member, you can shop for some products on (with a 5% surcharge), and the store's same-day grocery delivery is a convenient time-saver, though both non-member and delivery purchases have added surcharges.

Online shopping is a far more pleasant experience on Sam's site. Not only is the user interface more attractive and intuitive, but you can also arrange for curbside pickup as well as same-day delivery. However, depending on your membership level, both will cost you. Curbside pickup is $4 for Club members and free for Plus shoppers. And same-day delivery from your local warehouse comes with a $12 fee for regular members and an $8 charge for Plus cardholders.

Winner: Sam's Club

Costco Tire CenterPhoto credit: Maxwell Shukuya / Cheapism

Sam's Club vs. Costco: Automotive

In the auto departments at Sam's Club and Costco, a similar selection of tires and accessories carry largely equivalent prices, but the available services vary somewhat. Both stores offer free rotation, balancing, and flat repair for the life of the tires they sell. Sam's edged out Costco in our tire installation comparison partly because of its 24/7 roadside tire changes.

But Sam's Club and Costco also have auto-buying programs that offer haggle-free vehicle pricing for club members. Costco offers breaks on car insurance through Connect and 15% off parts, service, and accessories at participating service centers.

Winner: Costco

Sam's Club vs. Costco: Furniture and Home Goods

The two warehouse giants offer an impressive selection of furniture and home goods, whether you need a new mattress, sectional, or decorative rug. And while both retailers sell a range of products, from budget-friendly buys to pricier options, Sam's Club has more lower-end home goods. A queen bed from the Sam's Club in-house brand costs just $249. The Kirkland Signature equivalent? That'll set you back $1,099.99. It's a similar story for couches and sections. Of course, a head-to-head solely based on price isn't necessarily a fair comparison given the likely differences in quality. (For what it's worth, consumers have good things to say about both retailers' furniture).

Rather than pick a winner, we'd say that homemakers can't go wrong with either store, though those with tight budgets might prefer Sam's Club.

Winner: Tie

Sam's Club vs. Costco: Electronics and Appliances

Both clubs offer a large variety of electronics at similar prices. The cost of an 85-inch Samsung TV, for example, was $1,099.99 at the Costco warehouse and $1,198 for the same model at Sam's Club. That's around a $100 difference. The prices for a smart LG top-loading washer were even closer, though Sam's had the advantage: It was $849.99 at Costco and $845 at Sam's. The two warehouse clubs also offer extended warranty plans on select products through Allstate, though they limit the return window to 90 days for most new electronics.

However, while their selections and prices are comparable, Costco has an edge over its rival thanks to its two-year extended warranty through Costco Concierge Services.

Winner: Costco

Costco televisionsPhoto credit: Justin Sullivan / Getty

Sam's Club vs. Costco: Financial and Business Services

Most large retailers these days have their own credit cards, but these two stores feature an array of other financial services, as well — many that you may not know about. Costco offers check printing, water delivery, health plans, and payment processing.

Sam's Club offers a similar menu of services, including check and other business printing as well as point-of-sale services from Clover. The average shopper probably won't join Sam's or Costco to take advantage of these services, but they're worth checking out.

Winner: Tie

Sam's Club vs. Costco: Health Services and Pharmacy

Costco shoppers at any membership level can get between 2% and 40% off medications when not using insurance coverage for prescription drugs by signing up for the Costco Member Prescription Program. Sam's Club members paying out of pocket for prescriptions must upgrade to Sam's Plus ($110 a year) for benefits that include a 30-day supply of over 600 generics for $10 or less as well as a handful of free medications. Both pharmacies provide flu shots, and you don't have to be a member to receive one. In our 2023 comparison of flu shot prices, Costco was the cheapest at $20, though Sam's Club shots were similarly priced at $20 to $23 for the same shot.

Winner: Costco

Costco TravelPhoto credit: Costco Travel

Sam's Club vs. Costco: Travel

Many consumers look to Costco for travel planning and discounted travel booking online and over the phone. Members get reduced rates on hotels, vacation packages, cruises, and rental cars from a number of companies. Costco's executive members get a 2% reward on travel services, too.

Winner: Costco

Sam's Club vs. Costco: Payment Methods

Paying for a full shopping cart can be tricky at Costco warehouses. The store only accepts Visa cards (the club's exclusive partnership with American Express ended in 2016). When we shopped at Sam's Club, on the other hand, American Express, MasterCard, Visa, and Discover were all accepted. Cash, check, debit, and EBT are valid options at either club, and both retailers accept different payment methods for online purchases.

Winner: Sam's Club

Sam's Club vs. Costco: Return Policies

Thanks to 100% satisfaction guarantee policies, both stores do not set return deadlines for most merchandise, with the exception of electronics (many of which have 90-day return windows). Although both stress that a receipt is preferred, they will attempt to process returns without one.

Both retailers accept returns of online purchases in-store. The difference is that refunds for online orders from Costco include shipping and handling fees. Sam's Club refunds the shipping cost only if the return is the result of an error.

Winner: Costco

Checkout line CostcoPhoto credit: Cheapism

Sam's Club vs. Costco: An Overview

Sam’s Club
Locations- 591 in the U.S. and Puerto Rico (861 worldwide)- 599 in the U.S. and Puerto Rico

Membership- $60 for household or business

- $120 for executive or executive business (2% reward up to $1,000 a year)
- $50 for household

- $110 for Plus (2% reward up to $500 a year)

Prices- 4 items cheaper by unit price

- 4 items cheaper by unit price

- Higher rankings in customer satisfaction surveys

- Continually ranked as one of America's best large employers

- Scan and Go

- Free store pickup

- Dogged by concerns about employment practices
Product Selection- Larger selection of organic and health food

- Higher-end brands and a perception of higher quality

- Lower product turnover

- Goods perceived as lower quality

Online Shopping- Some products available to non-members online with 5% fee

- Same-day grocery delivery

-Limited selection and higher prices online

-Out-of-date website
- Products available to non-members online with 10% fee

- Same-day grocery delivery and curbside pickup

-Warehouse and online prices are the same

-Intuitive website

Automotive- Tires with free rotation, balancing, and flat repair

- Auto insurance with additional benefits for executive members

- Car-buying service

- Discounted service and parts from participating service center

- Tires with free rotation, balancing, flat repair, and 24/7 roadside tire assistance

- Car-buying service
Electronics- Free technical support 5 a.m. to 8 p.m Pacific Standard Time

- Extended 2-year warranty on many purchases

- Optional third-party protection plans

- Customer support via phone or chat Monday through Saturday from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. Central Standard Time, and Sunday 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Central Standard Time

- Optional third-party protection plans
Furniture and Home Goods- More premium home goods and furniture

- Larger selection of more affordable home goods and furniture

- Check printing

- Primo water delivery service

- Health plans and payment processing for businesses

- Check printing

- Point-of-sale services from Clover

- Business printing and logos

Health Services- 2% to 40% off prescriptions

- Cheap generic drugs

- Pet medications

- Optical services at many locations

- Free hearing tests including hearing-aid cleaning and checkups

- Cheaper flu shots

-Discounted generic drugs with Plus membership, including 10 select prescriptions for $0

- 8% off pet medications with Plus membership

-Telehealth by Walmart Health Virtual Care

- Optical services at many locations

- Free hearing tests
Travel- Discounts on hotels, rental cars, vacation packages, cruises, and theme parks

- 2% reward on travel purchases for executive members

- Discounts on hotels, rental cars, concerts, events, sports games, and theme parks
Payment- Cash

- Check

- Debit

- Visa

- EBT cards

- Mobile payment (Apple Pay, Google Pay, Samsung Pay)

- Costco Shop cards
- Cash

- Check

- Debit

- American Express, MasterCard, Visa, Discover, store credit card (also good at Walmart)

- EBT cards

-Walmart and Sam's Club gift cards

Returns- No deadline for most items

- Receipt preferred but not required

- 90 days for electronics

- Online refunds include shipping and handling

- No deadline for most items

- Receipt preferred but not required

- 90 days for electronics and heavy appliances

- 30 days for commercial heavy equipment and motorsports items

- 14 days for cellphones

- Online refunds do not include shipping and handling unless return results from store error or shipping damage

CostcoPhoto credit: jetcityimage/istockphoto

The Bottom Line: Costco Wins

While you can't go wrong with either retailer, Costco has a slight advantage over Sam's Club when you consider its top-notch shopping experience, high-quality products, and enticing return policy. That's not to say that the warehouse store is right for everyone. If you do a lot of online shopping and want a seamless checkout experience, it makes sense to pick Sam's Club, as the retailer's curbside pickup and Scan and Go offerings let you skip the line. But when it comes to selling premium goods and services at cut-rate prices, Costco has Sam's Club beat.

Cheapism in the News