Discount Warehouse Shopping Comparison - Costco versus BJ's versus Sam's Club



I belong to all the various discount warehouse chains available to me. My wife claims I am wasting money and that they are all the same when it comes to service, product offers and discounts. I tend to disagree and think each has it's merits and drawbacks. I have belonged to these clubs for years and have come up with a small list of things I like and dislike about each chain that I have decided to share here in HubPages. These chains obviously change and evolve over the years so please comment to keep the hub current. I'm looking for opinions and tips on the best ways to take advantage of these discount warehouses and reap the best benefits for us all in relation to discounts. Please comment and contribute to and share your thoughts on this comparison and any tips you might want to share.



Costco is what I like to refer to as the high end of the discount warehouse chains. Costco offers a nice well organized environment, discount gas and Auto Services at most locations and the standard fair of services as well. If you're into business services they offer those as well such as payroll etc. Costco also offer a myriad of other service like kitchen counter tops and car buying services. Costco seems to like to locate there stores in rather odd locations but that's my opinion. Like all the other chains they check your cart on the way out of the store. I personally have never had them tell me "gee they overcharged you" but that's the reason they say they check, I'm highly skeptical as you can tell. The general shopping experience at Costco is rather pleasant if your into that, honestly I'm there to save money. On the Green side the store are mostly naturally lit but having cutouts in the ceilings so the nasty gas halogen lights do not irritate me.

Pro's for Costco:

  • Clean
  • Fabulously low deli food prices, hot dog or polish for 1.50
  • Great Wine Selection
  • Great Meat Selection
  • Discount Gas
  • Discount General Services
  • Discount Auto Services
  • Well Organized
  • Seems of all the chains to have the same items available the most often
  • Great warranty on electronics
  • Higher end and less crowded
  • Less militant product checkers at exit doors, (why do they do this anyway?)

Con's for Costco:

  • Highest cost of the 3 compared here I think
  • Seems to have only higher end products for purchase most times.
  • Locations are sparse and it's at least far away 20+ miles for me.
  • Takes debit cards and American Express only so you're limited.
  • Offers Food samples I hate this. Folks looking for a free meal. Plug the aisles and are generally rude.
  • Weird square milk containers that do not pour without spilling, I hate these.


Sam's Club

Sam's Club is the next in line, what can I say it's Walmart in volume.
The stores are everywhere, so much so I think they must compete with each other it's a bit weird. The stores are not always very well organized or very clean and are perpetually busy with what seems like few checkouts and accept there own charge card and Discover. Sams seem to be the lowest priced of all of them. My biggest problem is the brands seem to change fairly frequently and I tend to like the brands I like. If you do not care about the branding and are purely worried about cost I'd say this is the choice.

Pro's for Sam's Club

  • Cheap Low prices seem the lowest of the bunch
  • Seem to always have things in stock
  • Discount Gas
  • Discount General Services
  • Discount Auto Services
  • It's everywhere , locations abound
  • Less militant product checkers at exit doors, (why do they do this anyway?)

Con's for Sam's Club

  • Stores tend to be crowded, cluttered a bit and not clean in my opinion
  • Recurring items are not common, it seems week to week I can never get the same items
  • Offers food samples I hate this. Folks looking for a free meal. Plug the aisles and are generally rude.
  • Weird square milk containers that do not pour without spilling I hate these.
  • Checkouts, these folks emulate Wal-Mart they need to reduce the lines.



The least known and more East Coast and South chain discount shopping provider . It's right in between Sam's and Costco, it tends to be less crowded and well thought out. It has a deli for lunch meat, I like this. BJ's has recurring brands I can get week to week that vary quite a bit from Costco and Sam's this is a nice thing. They have things in less volume as well I can buy salads in containers similar to my local grocery store and not a 55 gallon vat version like Costco and Sam's. I love the fact they also accept regular coupons for items. If you shop carefully this can be the difference on price between all three, but to be honest I'm not a coupon maven, I try but it's not my forte.

Pro's for BJ's

  • Accepts there own coupons and manufacturer's coupons as well so if your a coupon person this is a great deal.
  • Some discount services.
  • Clean and well organized
  • Mid priced. not Sam's and not Costco.
  • Good quantity not huge vats of things
  • Milk is in ordinary jugs a big plus on that.

Con's for BJ's

  • Fewer locations that even Costco and regional which make it harder to use for many people
  • Self checkout is terrible and can take forever in fact I've given up on occasion , talk about frustrating.
  • No Gas at any location I have visited, some may have it but I've not personally seen one.
  • They have food samples too, but it's not the chaos of Costco or Sam's
  • Often out of stock on items, nothing more frustrating than planning a visit and them not having common items.
  • Militant door checkers, borderline insane actually, these folks need a different purpose in life.



I used all three discount outlets but to be honest I'm ditching Sam's , I hate going there. The place is personally a turn off for me but like I say that's a totally personal decision and I'm sure many people will love the place and that great. . No reflection on the people working there but I can't stand navigating the sample crowds and then waiting an eternity in the checkout line already aggravated I was there in the first place.

I still like Costco currently but not on the weekends, It's rivaling Sam's environment but I'll keep this one as it has products my wife likes so that's it. I actually personally prefer BJ's as it's closer to my house and has the right milk containers (non square). The checkout is pretty good other than the self checkouts which I do not go to anymore. I do wish the loss prevention folks there would not go through every item on the receipt at the doors on busy times it causes a big jam. What did I just checkout for.. if you want to do that lets just checkout at the door and save an employee position.

Additional Information:

Costco has raised it's membership fees' 10% The basic member ship is now $55.00. I still like Costco. I have to admit I like the cheap lunch's every once in a while as well.

BJ's membership is still at $50.00.

Sam's is at $40.00

Update: After some period of time I have decided to do Costco only at this point.

Wholesale Shopping

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Comments 35 comments

Micki Mayes 7 years ago

We live near Davenport Iowa where we shop at a Sam's Club. We are tired of being treated like criminals when we have ligitimately paid for everything in our cart, and then stopped at the door to see whether we have "over paid" for anything (or so this is what Sam's Club says as if they are trying to help the customer). This is not necessary, and we would like to know if there are any steps that we can take to stop this activity. If anyone has any ideas please contact me

excellasys profile image

excellasys 7 years ago from US Author

Micki I have to agree with you, I know this is a loss prevention techinque to save $$$ for the stores. At Costco for example once you leave the checkout there is food you can buy and customer service , so for the less honest folks in life I guess that's a chance to shoplift something. My point is do the checkout and then have an exit. At the same time I wonder why Target and even Wal-Mart stores do not have the same mechanism in place.

Ed 7 years ago

The BJ's in Utica, NY sells gasoline--with member prices, too.

Len Rapoport profile image

Len Rapoport 7 years ago from New Jersey

Statistics now show that retail theft has risen to become one of the largest crimes in America and costs each family approximately $435 per year. I don't know about you, but frankly, having Costco look over my cart as I leave the store doesn't bother me in the least. After all, unlike traditional stores that put your merchandise in a bag, the clubs do not. It is easier for a shop lifter to steal in these situations then in a traditional store.

Of course, they would have to stick those huge, hard to open, plastic packages in their undies and that would make it a bit hard to get out of the store. Give these guys a break, Costco is the best of the lot, customers take advantage of their no questions asked satisfaction guarantee and I have seen some really crazy fresh flowers that died after a week in your home...or a tomato plant in the pot returned in September after the growing season is over and get their money back.

Other retailers should learn from Costco, they are Best of Breed. Read my article about saving money by understanding their pricing codes,

scheng1 7 years ago

Hope the management team can read this and evaluate their policies.

CostReductionGuru profile image

CostReductionGuru 7 years ago

I had a Costco manager explain to me, that the checking at the door was more to ensure that their clerks did not miss anything. Also, he noted that their margins are narrow and missing one case of soda was a margin hit for the store.

A couple of other points that are great about Costco.

- The company has a policy that the CEO can not make more than 30x the lowest paid employee.

- If you spend the extra $50 and get an Executive card you get 2% back at the end of the year, up to $500, on your purchases (except gas). This more than pays for my membership every year.

- I also own a business and they will deliver my non-perishable order straight to my office at no additional cost.

- If you want to use a credit card, buy off of Costco's website. It works there, I found that I could buy computers for my business there and custom configure them for less than in the warehouse.

I don't know about the square milk. Ours comes in jugs.

Mike N. 6 years ago

Hello everyone, especially those of you bashing Costco. I work Member Services for Costco in one of the busiest Costco's in our area. The reasons for our checking you carts and your receipts are just as was brought up by someone earlier, to keep our costs down. We are looking for theft, yes, this is true, but, we are also looking for things which were missed by the Front End Cashiers.

When Costco first came into our area, I was a member of both Sam's and Costco for a couple of years, and to myself and my wife there was no competition between the two of them, Costco won out, and we dropped our membership to Sam's, long before a became an employee.

I would not still be employed by Costco if it weren't for the fact that I caught a $400 + Dyson Vacuum cleaner that a cashier missed. The couple had a full shopping cart about $450 worth of food, groceries and sundries and the cashier somehow missed the Dyson, which saved the company money and the honest customer/member time in coming back to pay for the item.

Megan 6 years ago

I'm actually an emply for Sam's Club. We have MANY faults but at least at my club when it comes to member experience we're pretty good. We have the same hotdogs Costco does and we have normal milk jugs and we do take Mastercard. And working at the door an hour a month for three years I can tell you I personally have saved the corporation at least a thousand dollars, so it makes sense.

Matt 6 years ago

I'm a member at Costco (Bergen County, NJ) but last night visited BJ's on a 60-day pass. Here's what I noticed:

-Costco has better layout of the isles, makes it easier to walk through the warehouse

-My local Costco has some furniture items (sofas, tables, chairs, etc) while BJ's does not. And prices of many items are competitive

-BJ's has better variety of many items

-Costco is open until 8:30 and BJ's until 10 during the week

-I thought there were less employees around at BJ's and their average age was much lower than those of Costco

-Meat prices at Costco are generally lower. BJ's had more 3rd party products thus raising price per unit

-BJ's offer items in smaller quantities

Lee 6 years ago

I've only been to Sams once and they seemed fairly similar to Costco (from what I remember of 3 year ago trip).

Comparing BJs and Costco, I find that BJs does have a little better selection in several areas... but their prices are too high. When I can go down the block to Target or Walmart and buy things CHEAPER without paying a membership fee it bothers me. So much so that after 5+ years as a BJ's member, I let my membership lapse 4 months ago. There is a BJs on Long Island that sells Gas. OCCASIONALLY it has a good member price for gas. MOST of the time, it's, at best, 2 cents cheaper than other stations less than 2 miles away. And no Costco on Long Island has gas... though at least two I've gone to had gas stations nearby that went under and would have been, presumably, an easy thing for them to take over and convert into a Costco Gas.

I've been to several BJs and Costcos on Long Island and they are for the most part, the same at each. I don't buy a wide variety, but things that I do buy I rarely have trouble finding (if the chain carries it to begin with).

Plus for BJ's: EXPRESS LANES. though sometimes they are less than express.

Plus for Costco: MOVIE TICKETS!!! And other event tickets and items.

Compare the food courts of BJs and Costco and there is no comparison - Costco is always crowded and BJ's, at best, has an employee on their lunch break.

David 6 years ago

Bj's hands down is the best wholesale club! Costco is so over priced, what do members save at that club? Why shop at sams? its just a wal-mart with a member ship fee. Bj's is so member friendly from the minute you walk in and until your on your way home. Just vist your local club you'll see what your missing. To sum up at Bj's your a member not a number.

Jana 6 years ago

I have been a Costco member for a couple of years because I like their dog food and could only buy it there. Recently, I was able to locate the dog food elsewhere and so reconsidered renewing my membership as I drive past a BJs 5mins from my home to go the extra 15mins to Costco. So yesterday I went into BJs and approached the membership desk to see about a daily pass to try the store out. I waited there for more than 5 mins before being helped even though there was no one in line in front of me. When the clerk decided to help me, she was actually surprisingly rude and unhelpful. I was asking about the membership and if the "executive" membership worked the same way that Costco's did and she just repeated a mantra like she was a zombie "2% cashback at the end of the year." I said, ok but if I don't earn back to the full amount of the higher membership, will I receive that as cash? She just kept repeating herself and blinking rapidly like I was stupid or something. So I asked if I could look at a brochure and she said there wasn't one. I was really trying to be patient because I realize one rep isn't the whole story of any store but man I was getting irritated. I said, well don't I need to sign something if I get a membership? She said yes. I asked if I could look that over and she said no because everything about the membership she already explained to me. Wow.

I went ahead and walked around the store anyway - really hoping I would like it better since it was so much close -- but I really wasn't impressed. I love the Kirkland brand and I love Costco's prices. I compared prices to things I regularily buy like:

liquid glucosamine -- cheaper at Costco's

Paper towels and toilet paper -- same price

Dog food -- cheaper at Costco's

laundry detergent -- Cheaper at Costco's


I also noticed that Costco's has a lot of house brand products where there weren't as many at BJ's. No house brand laundry detergent, trash bags, etc.

Additionally I saw that the name brand items I don't usually buy anyway were the same price I would pay at my local grocery store, such as Tide and Finish.

I also wasn't impressed with the layout of store -- it didn't make a lot of sense to me and I ended up wandering around a lot looking for my regular buys to do a comparison.

On our way out, we stopped by the food section and liked the variety and ordered pizza with a couple sodas and have to say Costco pizza wins hands down! Not only that, but the clerk overcharged us $1.00 for a $3.00 meal which I just didn't feel like dealing with.

So even though I am disappointed that it didn't work out, I am happy to be reminded that I have been shopping at a high quality warehouse all this time.

wicklesscandles 6 years ago

I like Costco better than Sams Club. Never been in a BJ's. The only reason I go to Sams Club is they have a couple of items I like that Costco does not carry.

michael 6 years ago

my wallet was stolen and bjs club card was in it...getting a replcment license for photo id but had a plain no photo license to prove who i am. bj's refuses to give me a replacement card until i have a photo id, depsite me telling them all the account details. down to the weekly items i buy there....sometimes they make an exception, but not for me. the great thing was the manager helping (sic) me, had a title of Memnbership Acquisition and Retention....good luck to him

excellasys profile image

excellasys 6 years ago from US Author

Michael I have to agree with you, in terms of customer "friendliness" I'd rate them Costco, Sam's BJ's.

In a separate topic that has a few responses above, I seriously dislike this whole idea of "checking" your cart to "make sure you were not overcharged". I wish they would stop insulting my intelligence. They should simply implement some better controls on checkout and eliminate this step entirely, rather than implement a crutch to mitigate a poor process design.

andrea martin 6 years ago

After a Sam's club member for 12 years I am Not renewing my membership. I am tired of waiting, waiting, waiting on checkout lines. I don't know about anyone else, but I think its rude how they don't care how long your wait is. My time is more valuable than saving a few extra pennies. At Costco they are curteous, have 2 people working each checkout and I'm done in a fraction of the time.

TJ 6 years ago

Ok so i am doing this project comparing BJ's Costco and Sams club. Where do they all get their fresh product from? Anyone :)

Bds 5 years ago

Produce from bjs comes from burros frozen logistics

MOllylynn 5 years ago

I'd just like to comment saying I work loss prevention at the door at BJ's. Our point isn't just checking for theives, but also checking for cashier's mistakes. You don't know how many times I caught a cashier who overscanned papertowels or something and charged somebody twice. So we're there to really help you out.

Amanda 5 years ago

Having worked at BJs for about 4 years as a cashier, they are a really great wholesale club. We absolutly take coupons and if you are patient and work the deals right you can combine a bjs coupon with a manfacture's coupon which is where the savings really come from. Also instant rebates are always popping up around the store which adds up really fast. If you just pay attention to the flyers in the beginning of the store and the monthly coupon books and even go as far as looking in the sunday newspapers you can clearly see that the deals at BJs by far surpases everybody elses unit prices. I can't imagine a wholesale not accepting manafacture's coupons when you can go to any other store and use them on the single items anyways. Self checkouts are a pain and you are better off going through a cashier most of the time.

Gayle 5 years ago

I have had Costco and Sams memberships in the past. I'm now a BJ's member. Love love love BJ's. You can stack coupons on brand name items - I got $6.00 off of paper towels last week with a BJ's coupon and a Bounty coupon.

I have never had a problem with BJ's Customer service. Exactly the opposite. The cashiers are always friendly and helpful. BJ's has FABULOUS cheeses and I recently tried the BJ's brand of Bar-b-que ribs next to Lloyds brand. The entire family agreed we liked the BJ's brand better. And they have a crab salad that is to die for.

BBSNH 5 years ago

I have shopped at Costco and BJ's in NH within the past few years. BJ's is rarely better than Walmart for pricing so I can't say they are even close to being competitive with Costco. BJ's gas prices are no deal either. I often find local stations cheaper or within 2 cents, so no deal there. Local Costco (Nashua) does not have gas. I also find that Costco products are often of better quality. That's not to say that BJ's sells junk, just been happier with purchases from Costco. Costco is not perfect, but I also like the fact that you often see the same cashier's there year after year. It says a lot about a company.

Arawak profile image

Arawak 5 years ago from a white room with dark curtains, at the station!

I have shopped at Sam's and BJ's for awhile. I was shocked to see a manager at Sam's being rude to a young employee and made a complaint accordingly. Both Sam's and BJ's have a great selection and price. The employee's seem to go out of their way in Melbourne Florida and Palm Bay. However, I refuse to venture into the Vero Beach Sam's. If you are a person of color, it seems you are followed thru-out the store!

Dave Wright 5 years ago

If you are buying electronics, Costco is the best. You can't beat their 2 year no questions asked warranty.

Rachel 5 years ago

Just visited BJs n a very affluent neighborhood around me. It was HORRIBLE!!! The store was filthy, very unorganized, and the prices were very high. I could go to the grocery store and buy the same exact items for less. Why would I pay a membership fee to spend more on things. Also, they had a horrible selection on everything other than food!!!!!

I have not been to a Cosco's, none in my area.

Sam's club is much cleaner and much more organized here. Their selection is great, they have many different items than BJ"S. Hands down, in my area Sam's club wins. That's probably why it's so crowded and BJ's was a ghost town!

Pilm 4 years ago

Costco member here. I find Amazon Mom superior to Costco for baby food, diapers, wipes, etc (plus free shipping). Gas prices at Costco are usually lower than other places in town, but not by as much as they used to, lucky if it's ever more than 5 cents below Raceway. Meat prices and quality are good, but I'm more of a chicken eater and Walmart prices are still under $2/pound, better than Costco. Fruit prices at Costco aren't very good anymore either, and very often you find rotten or bad tasting apples, grapefruit, etc. Yeah, we all know fruit is a gamble, but at least at Walmart you don't need to buy a months supply to find out if it's a good gamble or not! Probably only 3 things I really like at Costco that I can't find better anywhere else (3# bags of almonds, Healthy Choice soup, turkey burgers), but besides that, not much. Also noticed they seem to be losing control of prices over the last year, many things going up more than ever before. Perhaps they need to tighten up their return policy and great customer services because a few unreasonable people can drive up costs for all members. And now with the increased membership fee, I have to seriously consider passing on Costco and going back to Walmart for what I need.

Kms 4 years ago

Sams has the best associates, best prices, quality products, and gives back to the community! I love my local Sams club!

Tom 4 years ago

Something most here didn't mention....BJ's is the only club that accepts EBT (food stamps). The Loss Prevention Department is harried by the amount of theft on the days the EBT card funds are released (usually the 1st of each month, but have heard its different now.)

DMB 4 years ago

Costco's food quality is best. Did comparative gas cost study - Costco best price over anyplace else in Atlanta & metro. Freshest roses. Costco film development very good with frequent sales on it. Best lunch for $1.50. $79 buys 2 $50 honey baked ham gift certificates. Omeprazole $4 cheaper than BJ's. Every Sam's Club I've been in is filthy, & not just restrooms. Gave up BJ's card as they had contractors constantly hounding customers in the aisles to sell their services for siding, garage doors, home repairs, etc. BJ's closed some local stores, probably more to come. All in all, Costco is far superior - guess that's why they are always so crowded.

Sarah Godwin 3 years ago

I have never shopped in Sam's, but I have alternated BJ's and Costco memberships the past couple of years. Gas prices have been about the same at both locations and consistently save me about ten cents a gallon, sometimes more. Store layouts and very different and require a bit of practice to figure out. I found similar products and similar prices, but some things I like are available at only one or the other. Customer service has been great for me at both stores. Sine we are a frequently moving military family I think in the future I will choose my membership based on proximity to my home.

David 2 years ago

The square milk containers are made that way so that they can be palletized rather than stocked in rolling racks. This saves the company labor costs and allows them to pass the savings on to their members by the way. If you don't pick up the jug but pour it by tipping it forward on the rounded corner below the spout opposite the handle, it will not spill. The container was carefully designed by Costco and a large vendor who supplies the milk to most of their Midwest and Eastern locations. I know this because I was stocking this department when the change was made and had to explain this numerous times to our customers.

Another pro for Costco is that they pay good wages and benefits to their employees, which results in high employee retention, and better service to their customers. In addition they have a maximum markup on any item in the company of 14%....Sam's and BJ's will charge whatever markup they can get a way with.

Also you need to be sure you are comparing apples to apples when comparing Sam's and Costco pricing and quality on similar items. Kitchen Aid mixer at Sam's is $299 with a 475 watt motor and plastic gears, Costco's is $349 with metal gears and a 750 watt motor. You do the math and then tell me which is better!! Costco carries only mid and high price point items in any category. Their vision of value is high quality for the lowest possible price. 2 years ago

Grammar needs to be checked on this article, nothing bothers me more than using the wrong word ie there/their/they're, etc.... Otherwise, I must say, I have not been a member of one of these clubs since bjs fouled up their security and millions had to cancel their credit/debit cards and get them replaced, I, for one, never even received an apology from bjs, in fact when I wrote them they indicated I needed to be more careful in the future, so I cancelled my membership and never returned.

Linda Robinson60 profile image

Linda Robinson60 15 months ago from Cicero, New York

Good Morning Len a wonderful informative, money saving hub, terrific content and lots of essential tips, so nice meeting you. Look forward to following you. Linda

colorfunch 14 months ago

I have both BJs and Costco. I like that Bjs has more brand selection per product line ( like juices, diapers, health and beauty) their aisles are also labelled but the cashier lines are very long. I go to costco for my organic meats and produce. Faster checkout lines too.

Kitty Hill profile image

Kitty Hill 11 months ago

Grammar Police here too! With all due respect, if you're going to publish please take the time to Spell/Grammar Check and have an objective proofreader help first. In the Midwest, I do not have the BJ experience but it sounds like a good run on a trip to see what they're like. As for Sam's Club, I was a member many years ago when they were the only kid on the block and it was "ok" but I've come to detest the whole Walmart empire and their dirty stores, ill-stocked organization, crappy quality products and slow service...not to mention their politics.

I LOVE Costco! Good quality products at fair prices with great discounts and the Kirkland brand too. Clean stores with plenty of cart room and consistent organization, friendly customer service and all the other amenities offered. Plus, I'm impressed with their reputation for fair employment practices and treating their employees right. I love going there for "shop n' munch" and having a chance to taste-test food items before I invest in large quantities (but it's also great to split stuff up with family). Membership may be a tad more than others but it really does pay for itself with the annual rebate savings. It may be crowded on weekends and holidays but I was amazed at Christmas when they had an extra employee with a handheld scanner totaling your cart so by the time you got to the cashier all you had to do was pack and pay! Actually, this streamlined approach made it easier for checkout to pack for you and all you had to do was pay and get home to start wrapping gifts! Maybe I should buy stock in Costco too!

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