Debating whether to join Sam's Club or Costco? Consumers sizing up the two big players weigh a variety of factors, including price. Cheapism.com found that members can save up to 30 percent by shopping at one store over the other; the right choice depends on what you put in your oversize cart. Cheapism priced out more than 30 like items, from grocery products to TVs, at each warehouse club. To make direct comparisons between different package sizes, each price was broken down into unit cost (per ounce, pound, etc.).
At Costco, even a basic individual membership comes with pharmacy discounts. At Sam's Club, consumers must join at a higher membership level to claim this benefit. Both pharmacies offer flu shots for $14.99 and extend the service to nonmembers, but Sam's Club ups the charge to $20 without a membership card. In a 2013 Consumer Reports survey of more than 200 pharmacies, Costco came out the cheapest, totaling $167 for five commonly prescribed generic drugs. Sam's Club's total was far higher, at $376.
Sam's Club sold mixed frozen vegetables under its Daily Chef brand in packages of six 12-ounce bags (a total of 72 ounces) for $5.98. Costco's similar Kirkland Signature house-brand vegetables came in one big bag that weighed in at 5.5 pounds (88 ounces) and cost $6.49. The difference in price per ounce was more than 11 percent, with Costco coming out the cheapest.
At Costco, Crest Pro-Health toothpaste was packaged in four 7.8-ounce tubes (for a total of 31.2 ounces) while Sam's Club sold four 6-ounce tubes (a total of 24 ounces). The price at Costco was $11.99, or 38 cents an ounce, and the cost at Sam's Club was $9.78, or 41 cents an ounce. That made Costco more than 5 percent cheaper. Costco was also offering a coupon that brought the total price down to $8.49, for a savings of more than 30 percent over Sam's Club.
The two stores didn't carry the same brand, but they offered comparable products. Costco was selling a pack of 480 Lysol disinfectant wipes for $13.59, while Sam's Club was selling 390 Clorox disinfectant wipes for $13.48. Although the total prices were almost the same, Costco came up the winner based on unit price, 18 percent cheaper than Sam's Club.
Diapers are a big reason many families with young children consider memberships to warehouse clubs. The two stores again didn't sell the same brands; Cheapism compared the cost of size 2 Pampers at Sam's Club and Huggies at Costco. The Pampers, a box of 162 diapers, cost $39.98, while 228 Huggies cost $38.99. That's right -- Costco had a lower price on a bigger box of diapers.
The cost of joining Sam's Club starts at $45 for an individual or business membership; Costco charges $55. The terms are roughly the same, although individual members have access to optical and pharmacy discounts at Costco but not Sam's Club. A Costco business membership allows up to six add-on members and Sam's Club allows eight (at the same $45 or $55 rate). The highest membership levels include annual cash back rewards: $10 for every $500 spent at Sam's Club, up to $500, and 2 percent back at Costco, up to $750. Again, the Sam's Club membership is $10 cheaper, at $100 for a Sam's Plus card vs. $110 for an Executive membership at Costco.
For consumers deciding between Costco and Sam's Club, the purchase of a big-ticket item such as a digital SLR camera may help sway the decision. The two warehouse stores carried an identical camera bundle: a Nikon D5300, two lenses, a case, and a 32GB SD card. It was about $150 cheaper at Sam's Club, where it cost $1,149.
If you're shopping for a crowd and need to stock a restroom, head to Sam's Club. The store's Member's Mark brand edged out Costco's Kirkland Signature on both toilet paper and tissues. Toilet paper ($16.87 for 45 rolls) was about 30 percent cheaper per roll and tissues ($11.98 for 12 boxes) were 19 percent cheaper per box than those at Costco.
Frozen chicken breasts presented a considerable difference in price between the two warehouse clubs. Sam's Club sold a 6-pound bag for $11.98, while Costco sold a 6.5-pound bag for $17.99. That's about 28 percent off frozen chicken breasts when you buy from Sam's Club.
Both warehouse stores carried Dannon Light & Fit Greek yogurt -- a 32-ounce tub at Sam's Club and a 95.4-ounce size at Costco. The Costco price comes to 15 cents per ounce, while at Sam's Club the price was 13 cents per ounce, saving customers almost 11 percent over Costco.