CONSUMER REPORTS: Costco vs. Sams Club

Costco
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If you don’t mind giant sizes and you have room to store boatloads of things such as paper towels, warehouse clubs are a popular shopping option. But how do you decide which to join? Consumer Reports compared the two biggest—Costco and Sam’s Club.

First up, membership cost. Both offer different levels. Costco starts at $55 and Sam’s Club at $45.

In Consumer Reports surveys of subscribers, both clubs consistently get high marks on price. When it comes to services, however, the offerings vary. At Costco, you can get a mortgage, invest in securities, or buy car insurance. And Sam’s Club offers online auctions, where you can bid on things such as TVs and laptops, starting at just $1. You can also sign up to receive regular shipments of things you use lots of, including diapers or printer ink.

Consumer Reports’ reader surveys find that both Sam’s Club and Costco have the same quality for electronics. But Costco rates higher for the quality of so many other items, including jewelry, women’s and kids’ clothing, and eyeglasses.

If you’re not happy with fruit or produce you bought, Sam’s Club offers a “double-your-money-back” guarantee on fresh food. Other returns? Both clubs are flexible on most returns, although they each have a 90-day limit on some electronics. And Sam's Club requires a few items, including cell phones, to be returned in 30 days.

As for customer service, neither club has bragging rights. Costco squeezes ahead by just a little, but Consumer Reports’ readers’ scores range from poor to fair.

The final verdict? Costco has the edge, but Consumer Reports says that both stores are worth their membership fees. With product selection varying so much from store to store, Consumer Reports says the club that’s best for you may be the one that sells what you need the most. And before joining, Consumer Reports suggests checking the products and services offered by each by visiting the clubs’ websites and walk-in stores nearest to you.