Both stores operate on the same premise: customers purchase annual memberships that give them access to bulk goods at prices lower than most other grocery stores, plus a discount on gas and other items.
Costco has over 500 stores in the US, and Sam’s Club has about 600.
Costco has far higher sales than Sam’s Club, reporting $192 billion in the 2021 fiscal year, compared to less than half that at $63.9 billion for Sam’s Club.
I visited both stores to get an idea of how they compare in person, beyond the balance sheet.
When you walk into Costco, a greeter checks to make sure you have your membership card, which is required to make purchases besides alcohol, the food court, and a few other exceptions.
Walking past the carts and greeters, I entered the gigantic Costco warehouse.
In my location, large electronics are on display near the entrance, with TVs stacked up on huge shelves.
Ceilings are extremely high, and stocks of products extend nearly all the way up. Many of the largest products at Costco are located along this side wall.
You could outfit an entire home from the appliances in Costco, including washing machines, dryers, refrigerators, dishwashers, and more.
Then, we finally made our way to the food. Brand name snacks mostly made up the center displays, sitting on pallets.
Products are loosely organized by type, like snacks or baked goods, but it’s so overwhelming that it’s good to come in with a game plan.
For the most part, every section is inside the main warehouse itself, but dairy and some fruits and vegetables have their own separate refrigerated sections off the main area.
Some staples always seem to be available in the produce section, while others change out seasonally.
Back out in the main warehouse is the bakery with fresh and packaged goods.
Fresh baked goods are displayed right in front of the kitchen.
You can also buy custom cakes and order them in store, right in front of the bakery.
The rest of the back wall next to the bakery is a deli and meat counter.
This is where you can find the chain’s famous $5 rotisserie chickens.
Rows and rows of refrigerated cases hold more meat products.
A few aisles of refrigerated shelves hold cheeses, butter, and all different kinds of dips and spreads.
Beer and hard seltzers are available in the main area of the store, but other alcohol is only sold in the liquor store next door, which has a separate entrance.
Remaining aisles on the far side of the store are dedicated to freezers with entrees and desserts, and pantry goods in bulk.
When I first walked inside, it looked nearly the same as Costco with large electronics placed near the entry.
Otherwise, the stores had the same main merchandise categories.
A large area of the entryway is dedicated to holding these orders.
I was surprised to find that at Sam’s Club, all alcohol sales are made in the main store area.
Sam’s Club had wine and other flavored drinks in the main store, while Costco typically is limited to beer and seltzers.