I Shopped at Sam's Club for the First Time and This Is What I Learned

Sam's Club sign

Scott Olson / Getty Images

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

First Impressions

Between the nightmarish parking lot, long lines, and overwhelming warehouse, I can’t say I enjoy shopping at Costco. That said, my family and I have been loyal members for years without ever considering an alternative … until now. For the first time, I shopped at Costco’s biggest competitor to answer a simple question: Is Sam’s Club worth it? Here’s my first-hand account of everything I learned from my first trip to the Walmart-owned superstore.

Related: I Shopped at Costco for the First Time and This Is What I Learned

Sam's Club

The Membership Is Cheap

With a $45 basic club card and a $100 plus option, both Sam’s Club annual membership tiers are cheaper than Costco’s equivalents. Sam’s Club also seems to offer better new member promotions, like offering $45 off a new member’s first purchase.

Related: Don't Miss These Perks of Costco and Sam's Club Membership

Scan & Go Sam's Club

Scan & Go Is a Time-Saver

Hate crowds? You can skip the lines on your way out of Sam’s Club thanks to the store’s Scan & Go feature. All you have to do is scan products with the app, pay with your card, and show an employee a QR code on the way out. When I read about the feature, I was skeptical coming from Costco’s dysfunctional app. But Scan & Go works well and is a huge perk.

Related: Where You Can Order Groceries Online With an EBT Card

Sam's Club

(Almost) Everything is Sold in Bulk

If you’ve ever been to a Costco, Sam’s selection of bulk goods should feel familiar. The aisles are filled with floor-to-ceiling palettes of dry goods, which I found just as overwhelming (I prefer Trader Joe’s).

Related: 31 Things Not to Buy at Costco, Sam's, or BJ's

Sam's Club TVs

You Can Buy Electronics

Like its competitors, Sam’s Club offers a fairly large selection of electronics, with an emphasis on flat-screen televisions. However, I found the computer and computer accessories section at my local branch lacking compared to Costco or even Target.

Sam's Club Bakery

There’s a Bakery

Sam’s Club offers a wide variety of baked goods like bagels, croissants, and cakes. While I didn’t try everything, their croissants were just okay, and many of their products were frozen. One advantage they have over Costco is that you don’t have to purchase a dozen bagels or muffins, which is convenient if you live alone.

Sam's Club Produce

The Produce Is Fresh

With a huge walk-in freezer and produce area, Sam’s Club has you covered when it comes to fruits and veggies. That said, the selection wasn’t as abundant as a local grocery store’s offerings.

Sam's Club Gas Prices

Sam’s Club Posts Its Gas Prices

I’ve always found Costco’s hush-hush attitude toward gas prices mildly annoying. Wouldn’t posting cheap gas prices entice passersby? That’s certainly the position Sam’s Club seems to take, as the wholesaler advertises its gas prices both in front of the filling station and within the store.

Related: Here’s Why Costco’s Cheap Gas is Good for Your Engine

Member’s Mark

Member’s Mark is the In-Store Brand

Member’s Mark doesn’t have the same cachet as Kirkland, but experts and reviewers do enjoy several Sam’s Club-brand products. For instance, the Member’s Mark vodka receives a gold medal and 93/100 rating from the Beverage Testing Institute. Plus, it costs just $13.

Sam's Club Rotisserie Chickens

Rotisserie Chickens Are Affordable

Like Costco, Sam’s Club sells its rotisserie chicken for $5, making it an affordable choice for a quick meal. How is Sam’s able to keep its prices so low? The chicken is likely a “loss leader” meant to attract customers to the store.

Sam's Club
Sam's Club

It’s Smaller Than Costco

After visiting Sam’s Club, stepping into my local Costco felt like entering a military air hangar — it was huge! That’s not to say Sam’s Club is small, or that it felt like its inventory was lacking. In fact, I preferred Sam’s (relatively) petite warehouse.

Sam's Club

It’s Not Too Crowded

While this was my first time visiting Sam’s Club, it did seem significantly less crowded than Costco. Yes, the parking lot filled up as soon as they opened on a weekday, and yes, people were buzzing about with their giant shopping carts. But even then, Sam’s lacked the hectic, overstimulating feeling that I get when I shop at Costco.

Sam's Club Liquor
Sam's Club Clothes

You Can Buy Clothes

Clothes are displayed on large tables, just as they are at Costco. You can shop for popular brands (Hurley, Levi’s, etc.) alongside Sam’s Member’s Mark garments.

Sam's Club Pharmacy

There’s a Pharmacy

Even non-members can order prescription drugs from Sam’s pharmacy, which also sells a variety of over-the-counter medicines.

Sam's Club cafe counter

The Cafe is Small

I didn’t try anything at Sam’s Cafe, but it looked underwhelming from a distance. One item to note: The cafe is open to non-members, so you can check it out before purchasing a membership.

Related: Food Court Showdown: Costco vs. Sam's Club

Sam's Club Quote Helen Walton

They Quote Helen Walton

“It’s not what you gather, but what you scatter that tells what kind of life you have lived.” I found it ironic that Sam’s Club would plaster this quasi-inspirational quote about giving above an employees-only area. While Sam’s Club workers mop the floors and stock the shelves for low wages, the Waltons grow their $200-billion fortune by millions every hour. Oh, and they “scatter” a small fraction of it every year, all while remaining the richest family in the world. How generous!

Sam's Club App

The App is Excellent

While Costco is stuck in the dark ages — both its website and app are outdated — Sam’s Club has invested in its technology. Beyond the app’s exemplary Shop & Go feature, it also shows shoppers in-store pricing 

Sam's Club Labeled Aisles

Aisles Are Labeled

Sam’s Club was easy to navigate given its well-marked aisles and sections. That’s more than I can say for Costco, which strangely eschews aisle descriptions in favor of numbers.

Sam's Club Seasonal Items

Some Items are Seasonal

Since I visited Sam’s Club in October, Halloween and Christmas decorations were scattered across the store. The bakery also had a few seasonal items like pumpkin pie.

Sam's Club Flowers and Plants

They Sell Flowers and Plants

My local Sam’s had a few bouquets and a meager selection of houseplants, though the flora on display did look pretty healthy. 

Sam's Club Pre-Made Meals

You Can Enjoy Pre-Made Meals…

In a rush? Like Costco, Sam’s Club offers plenty of pre-made meals, including pre-cooked salmon dinners and other dishes that you have to bake yourself.

Sam's Club Sushi

…And Sushi

The sushi didn’t look great — try a Japanese market instead — but it is nice that Sam’s offers more than just American comfort food. 

Costco by Anderson Depp (CC BY-NC)

It’s a Lot Like Costco

While they both have their pros and cons, Sam’s Club is a lot like Costco. When I walked in, I was struck by how similar they are in their layouts, offerings, and, well, vibes. That said, Costco still feels like a more upscale and polished warehouse store, though the retailer has plenty to learn from its Walmart-owned competitor. So is Sam’s Club worth it? If you buy bulk and don’t have a Costco in your area, I’d say yes.