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The 6 Key Differences Between Costco, Sam’s Club, and BJ’s

Buying in bulk isn't the same in every store you shop.

CostcoAndriy Blokhin/Shutterstock

Location

Costco has, by far, the most locations compared to Sam’s Club and BJ’s. There are approximately 741 Costco locations, 597 Sam’s Club locations, and 210 BJ’s locations. Costco shops are worldwide with locations in Canada, Mexico, the United Kingdom, and Japan, among others, statista.com reports. Meanwhile, Sam’s Club locations can be found coast-to-coast in the United States, according to allstays.com. BJ’s has the smallest operation with locations only on the East Coast and in Ohio.

Sam's Club CardJeff Bukowski/Shutterstock

Membership costs

Although Costco has the most locations of these warehouse stores, the store also has the highest yearly membership cost. The most basic annual membership cost is $60, in comparison to $45 for Sam’s Cub and $55 for BJ’s, per their official websites. If you’re shopping without a membership, you’ll pay a 10 percent service fee at most Sam’s Club locations and a 20 percent fee at most BJ’s locations, Business Insider reports. Costco non-members only receive a 5 percent service fee. One review of Costco and Sam’s Club notes, however, that although Costco has a higher membership price, it offers a wider selection of services and a prescription program. Sam’s Club requires a membership upgrade for the latter. Here are the 7 things you can buy at Costco without a membership.

BJ'sHelen89/Shutterstock

Rewards

All three stores have very similar rewards programs if you upgrade to a pricer membership. Costco’s Executive Membership offers a 2 percent reward on travel services in addition to a 2 percent reward on up to $1,000 a year, per Cheapism. In comparison, Sam’s Club Plus rewards $10 for ever $500 spent and up to $500 a year. And BJ’s offers 2 percent cash back too if you sign up for their Perks Rewards card. These are the 11 ways to shop at Sam’s Club without a membership. 

Sam's ClubCassiohabib/Shutterstock

Prices

There are countless price comparison reports for Costco, Sam’s Club, and BJ’s. According to one comparison, BJ’s just barely topped Costco for the best pricing, followed by Sam’s Club. In another comparison, Costco products were cheaper than that at Sam’s Club—but the cost of membership was also taken into account, making Costco’s cost more for the first visit. Yet, another review found that BJ’s has the best prices followed by Sam’s Club, and then Costco. Note, cost is all relative to the types of products you purchase—like organic or non-organic produce, for example—as well as the level membership you purchase, and your location. Costco and Sam’s Club even offer services like eye exams. 

Sam's ClubJonathan Weiss/Shutterstock

Return policies

Neither Costco nor Sam’s Club have a hard deadline for non-electronic returns, per Cheapism. Although, Sam’s Club recommends having the receipt and original packaging. As for BJ’s, items purchased over a year ago aren’t returnable; neither is used merchandise without the original packaging and accessories. BJ’s also has a list of things that are not returnable. Here are the 15 most expensive things you can buy at Costco.

Shopping CartSean Wandzilak/Shutterstock

Shopping experiences

According to the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI), Costco ranks higher in customer satisfaction than Sam’s Club and BJ’s. The report ranks America’s best department and discount stores based on more than 50,000 customer surveys, according to the Statesman. Another survey by Tamkin ranked various companies based on customer service. In that survey, Costco barely out-did Sam’s Club and BJ’s with 79 percent of respondents giving the store a “good” or an “excellent” rating, Money Talks News reports. Next, check out these 13 Costco tips frequent shoppers keep to themselves.

Emily DiNuzzo
Emily DiNuzzo is an associate editor at The Healthy and a former assistant staff writer at Reader's Digest. Her work has appeared online at the Food Network and Well + Good and in print at Westchester Magazine, and more. When she's not writing about food and health with a cuppa by her side, you can find her lifting heavy things at the gym, listening to murder mystery podcasts, and liking one too many astrology memes.