Continued from part 1: Costco or Sam's Club: Convenience and Price: An Oahu Overview (Part 1 of 2)
To be fair, most of my Costco experience comes from the Hawaii Kai store. The Costco Iwilei store has a broader and wider selection of goods than the Hawaii Kai one. It is, after all, the Costco store with the highest sales worldwide. With regard to Sam's Club, I've frequented both their Keeaumoku and Pearl City locations and they're a tad more identical to each other than the Costco locations which can vary in size.
There are a couple of areas that Costco and Sam's Club differ in selection. Costco has a wider variety of wine, a number of which falls in the under $10 category. It also, coincidentally, has a wider variety of cheese; one presumes to go with the wider selection of wine. In terms of other alcohol, both Costco and Sam's Club carry a wider variety than than most grocery stores. Sam's Club has a wider variety of snacks than Costco. This can be important if you're a Little League mom, or if you regularly need to contribute to the church potluck. My son's eyes nearly popped out when he saw that he had a choice of not one type of Kit Kat, but four. To be honest, the snack chip selection at Sam's Club is also jaw-dropping. I like that they do sell boxes of one flavor rather than a variety pack. With variety packs there's always one flavor no one likes, so that ends us sitting in the box while the kids have a fit because the ones they like are gone.
If you're a business owner you'll appreciate the office supply section at Sam's Club. It's bigger than Costco and carries daily supplies such as file folders in a variety of colors, envelopes of varying sizes and even different types of paper, like cardstock. If you're a convenience store owner, you'll also appreciate the wider variety of beverages at Sam's Club.
When it comes to produce, both Costco and Sam's Club keep a good stock of staples on hand like carrots, potatoes and celery. Costco seems to pay more mind to organic offerings, whereas Sam's has a wider variety of unexciting but necessary vegetables like whole green onions and sliced cabbage for coleslaw. Sam's Club also seems to keep more types of potatoes on hand than Costco. Sam's usually has Yukon Gold, red, white, sweet and heirloom potatoes on hand in addition to Russets. I'm not much of a potato person, but it's hard not to notice.
As for the bakery, both offer nearly the same items. Sam's Club seems to have more locally baked outside vendor products than Costco, for instance their hamburger and hot dog bun brand is Love's. Sam's also seems to have more tortilla products, including larger flour tortillas for wraps. The edge does go to Costco for In-house baked products, as they seem to have more of them -- in particular, varieties of cakes and pies. Having said that, I like Sam's birthday cakes more. I believe they still do buttercream frosting on it.
One of the areas that Costco does excel over Sam's Club is their limited-time, limited-quantity offerings. By this, I mean items like furniture and clothing. Costco is quite adept at picking out and merchandising attractive pieces for sale. I don't necessarily get that same vibe from Sam's Club. It seems to me that Costco sacrificed some of its floor space for these goods over the everyday, practical item shelves that define Sam's Club.
One area I don't have enough knowledge of, is their tire departments. Both Costco and Sam's have them, and both offer installation too.
And as a last note, because my family seems to eat more pizza than any other family I know, Sam's Club's take and bake pizza is just $6.98 and is preferred over the Costco take and bake which is $8.99. I believe they are roughly the same size.
I'm going to give this one to Costco, only because if you don't like what you bought, Costco has the most flexible return policy anywhere. In fact, if you don't like your membership, they'll even give you back the prorated portion of it. Costco also has a program that automatically extends the warranty on a number of electronic items such as televisions and computers. With their new Citibank VISA you may be able to extend the warranty on all your purchases without an extra fee.
As for individual items carried at both retailers, each has good quality tried-and-true products. I guess that's what happens when you're Walmart and Costco, the number one and number two retailers in the country. Surveys occasionally have the Sam's Club brand surpassing Costco in satisfaction surveys and both are always near the top of the major retail brands when it comes to customer satisfaction.
At the start of this two part article, I stated that the number one consideration to take into account when picking a membership is convenience. If you live near Costco, pick it. If you live near Sam's Club, pick it instead.
I'll end this with a bit of nostalgia. I remember how hard it was to make ends meet before warehouse clubs. Even after the advent of their arrival, I recall thawing a five-pound brick of NIQF (not-individually-quick-frozen) chicken thighs, splitting it into 3 or so portions and making food for the rest of the week with it. Milk? Out of the question. My husband recalls growing up on Milkman (powdered milk) and going to a friend's house to snag the real stuff out of the refrigerator.
Which one to join? The short answer can be found here:
Costco Oahu Locations:
Costco Hawaii Kai (East Oahu)
Costco Iwilei (Downtown area)
Costco Waipio (Waipahu/Leeward)
Costco Kapolei (West Oahu)
Sam's Club Locations:
Sam's Club Keeaumoku (Ala Moana)
Sam's Club Pearl City (Leeward)
Costco has four branches somewhat evenly spaced throughout the urban and suburban stretch of Honolulu. Sam's Club has two locations, both centrally located in dense population hubs. If you're only picking one and not the other, pick the one situated where you can most often enjoy the benefits. Extended, that means that Hawaii Kai residents should most certainly pick Costco, whereas an apartment dweller near Ala Moana should pick Sam's Club.
As for whether they're both worth it, In Hawaii it's a resounding YES. If you're a Costco member and want to know whether you should join both clubs, fortunately Sam's Club has a way for you to find out. It's called a One Day Pass (PDF), There's a small 10% upcharge, but at least you'll get a chance to browse the aisle to see the merchandise.
If you're a Sam's Club member and want to find out if Costco has what you need, you can get a Costco member to buy you a Costco gift card and shop without a membership. The cashier will ring you up under the member code #99. Be aware that some have reported issues with the gift-card-only approach. It may, for non-member shopping at Costco, be better advised to -- borrowing the slogan from a local competitor-- "shop with a friend."
Or, if you're still sitting on the fence about both, use the One Day Pass at Sam's Club and a member-purchased gift card at Costco to explore.
Membership clubs offer Hawaii residents a reprieve from crazy regular tourist retail prices. As an example, a 1/2 gallon of lactose-free 2% milk might cost $8.50 at a normal store. At Costco, you get three 1/2 gallon cartons of 2% lactose-free milk. At an everyday store, 8-ounce trays of mushrooms are advertised at the SALE price of $3.00. At Sam's Club, four times the quantity (a two pound container) is usually around $5.50.
It's pretty hard to not join. Membership fees are generally low given the benefit they provide. The lowest priced membership is $55 at Costco and $45 at Sam's Club. It's not that simple though. There are multiple levels of membership, some of which may end up saving you more than you paid.
For instance, with the $110 Executive Membership at Costco, we've received a merchandise check for all of our membership money plus more every year. Add the upcoming VISA card they're offering with Citibank, and you could end up saving thousands of dollars on top of the price you paid.
Sam's Club has its own branded credit card and a purchase rebate program too. They also have specials. For example, through the end of 2016 if you use your Discover Card to buy the membership, you can get a bonus Sam's Gift Card of either $10 or $25. Sometimes, you can also find deals on Groupon or LivingSocial. In any case, $45 is not a lot of money relatively speaking. Last year I bought an outdoor grill and I probably saved $350 or more over comparable models.
That leads us into merchandise prices. They're different, as is the merchandise. Sometimes the Costco price is lower, sometimes the Sam's Club price is. One website did an extensive comparison table of merchandise which, while interesting, doesn't really address Hawaii prices at all.
In general, I think that Costco has better prices on liquor and organic food, whereas Sam's Club has great prices on Wal-food. Staples usually overlap in terms of availability, but often come in different brands and packaging sizes. For instance, at Sam's Club, flour is sold in 25# bags and at Costco the normal stock size is 50#. Costco's 50# size may have better per unit prices, but really -- who needs 50# of flour for a household?
Getting into specifics, for the sake of comparison, Yoshida's teriyaki sauce was $8.29 at Sam's Club and $6.99 at Costco. Conversely, an eight-pack of sweetened condensed milk was approximately $1.50 per can at Sam's Club and a little over $2.00 at Costco.
Which leads to another point. Both companies receive routine price changes from headquarters and also have some flexibility in pricing locally. When there is a large batch of perishable produce that needs to be sold, both will price it accordingly. Interestingly, one blog explains how you can tell which items at Costco have been marked down and why. Summarized, it looks like this:
Reading Costco Price Tags
.99 = item is full price
.97 = a deal decided by the manager, usually on clearance items
.49 and .79 = a manufacturer’s special
.00 = the goods are about to expire
* = the item is being discontinued
Reading Sam's Club Price Tags
.01 or anything ending in a penny = clearance priced
Letter on shelf tag (usually RH corner) is:
A = Active Item (Something that they normally carry)
N = Never-Out (Item should always be in-stock)
C = Canceled (Store will no longer carry the item. If it’s not already clearance priced, it will be soon if not sold out)
The point here is that prices are dynamic, so a point to point comparison today may change tomorrow.
Before concluding, it would be hard to discuss gas prices without delving a bit into the subject of selection. With the exception of the Hawaii Kai Costco, Costco offers a gallon of gas at a price normally 35 cents or so below retail competitors' prices. I had heard that Hawaii Kai didn't get a gas station because the community opposed it, but I have been unable to confirm that that was the case.
Sam's Club Pearl City also offers discount gas at about 35 cents less than retail competitors' prices.
According to GasBuddy, both Costco and Sam's Club were selling gas at $2.13 a gallon when the next competitor's price -- excluding Navy Exchanges, which are limited to armed service personnel -- was $2.50.
(Due to amount of detail in this subject, it was separated into two parts. This post addressed Convenience and Price. The next post will address Selection and Quality.)