Both stores operate on the same premise: Customers purchase an annual membership that gives them access to bulk merchandise at lower prices than most other grocery stores, plus a discount on gas and other items.
Costco has more than 500 stores in the United States, and Sam’s Club has about 600.
Costco had significantly higher sales than Sam’s Club, reporting $192 billion in fiscal 2021, compared with 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, off the balance sheet.
When you enter Costco, the greeter checks you to make sure you have your membership card, which is required to make purchases along with alcoholic beverages, food court and some other exceptions.
Passing the wagons and greeting, I walked into the gigantic Costco warehouse.
At my site, large electronics are displayed near the entrance, with televisions stacked on huge shelves.
The ceilings are very high, and the stock of products stretches almost all the way. Many of Costco’s biggest products are located along this side wall.
Equip an entire home with the appliances found at Costco, including washers, dryers, refrigerators, dishwashers, and more.
Then we finally got to the food. Brand-name snacks mostly consist of central displays, sitting on pallets.
Products are loosely organized by type, such as snacks or baked goods, but it’s surprisingly good to come up with a game plan.
For the most part, each department is within the same main warehouse, but dairy and some fruits and vegetables have separate refrigerated sections outside the main area.
Some food items seem to be always available in the produce section, while others change seasonally.
Back 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 and order custom cakes in the shop, right in front of the bakery.
What remains of the back wall next to the bakery is a deli and meat shop.
This is where you can find the chain’s famous rotisserie chicken for $5.
Rows and rows of refrigerated cans contain more meat products.
A few aisles of the refrigerated shelves hold cheese, butter, and all kinds of dips and spreads.
Beer and hard drinks are available in the main area of the shop, but other alcoholic beverages are only sold at the adjacent liquor store, which has a separate entrance.
The remaining aisles across from the store are for freezers serving appetizers and desserts, and pantry items in bulk.
When I first walked in, it almost looked like Costco with large electronics placed near the entrance.
Other than that, the stores had the same main categories of merchandise.
A large area of the entrance was designated to hold these commands.
I was surprised to find that at Sam’s Club, all alcohol sales take place in the main store area.
Sam’s Club had wine and other flavored drinks in the main store, while Costco is usually limited to beer and soft drinks.