A Look At Costco, Sam’s Club and Other Wholesale Shopping Clubs

costco, sam's club, wholesale shopping clubs
Photo by Paul Sakuma

Costco, BJs, and Sam’s Club are wholesale shopping clubs and warehouse stores that offer their members a lot of benefits. However, I haven’t been in any of them for years, so it’s a good time to consider them as a means of containing my growing grocery bills. With what’s going on in the economy right now, I’m willing to investigate new strategies to help slim down my budget!

An Online Walk Through Some Popular Wholesale Shopping Clubs and Warehouse Stores


Although Costco doesn’t have a warehouse store in my state, it still has plenty to offer on its website. I discovered that you can shop at Costco in various ways: you can get a Gold Star Membership or Business Membership for $50 a year, or you can upgrade to an Executive Membership for $100.00, which will give you an additional 2% annual reward. Moreover, if you’re a member, you can purchase a Costco Cash Card for use at Costco; and while non-members may also use the cash card to shop online or at a warehouse location, only members may purchase or reload this card.

The Gold Star Membership for $50 will give me access to their food selections and office break room classics like coffee and bottled water for one year. In addition, I can buy anything from appliances to video games at Costco, up to and including jewelry and caskets. Now that’s one stop shopping!

When it comes to getting the most value from items that I purchase, I’ll need all the help I can get, so I’ve turned to the rebate section. While not everyone is a fan of mail-in rebates, you can submit rebates online through the Costco website. It helps when I can submit qualified items for rebates through the website, which Costco will help me track, since one of the complaints I’ve heard about rebates is that they’re a pain to keep up with.

One thing that struck me when I read over the Member Benefits brochure was that Costco takes cash, checks, debit/ATM cards, American Express, the Costco Cash card, and Costco-branded credit cards such as the True Earnings American Express Rewards Credit Card. Unfortunately, my bank-issued MasterCard or Visa wouldn’t fly here, a big inconvenience for those who prefer to track their expenses with such cards.

I’ve heard that Costco’s warehouse stores offer great deals on bulk items like paper towels and pet food, but it’s not easy to compare prices for me — I couldn’t find listings for them on the website. Also, the What’s New section features few (if any) food items, so it’s hard for me to gauge whether I should commit my grocery dollars here. And they seem to know I’m a sucker for gadget bargains — I’d have to be wary of impulse spending while in any warehouse store.

However, if I need photo processing, a pharmacy, travel arrangements, event tickets, or flowers, Costco offers these services without sending me all over town to get them. You can also find other consumer and business-related services as well as insurance services here.

wholesale shopping clubs, warehouse stores, warehouse shopping
Photo by PunkJr


BJ’s Wholesale Club

Next, I drove my virtual station wagon over to BJ’s Wholesale Club. The basic Inner Circle membership is $45 for 12 months and you can upgrade to the more comprehensive BJ’s Rewards membership for $80. The first thing I clicked on was the Brands Sold in Club page where I easily found my feline friend’s preferred cat food listed. On the page, I found the dishwashing liquid and laundry detergent that I normally use for my kitchen, plus some of my favorite Godiva chocolates.

The In-Club Values section shows a listing of the goods and brands the store offers, but no prices. The grocery section claims you save more than 30% off every day compared to supermarket prices. That sounds good, but I’d have to track the prices on a spreadsheet or price book over a period of time to verify that amount. As with Costco, I’d have to worry about forking over my paycheck because of bargains I couldn’t resist — and watch out! They have a bakery there. 😉

Sam’s Club

I’ve driven past Sam’s Club a few times and the website has some interesting features, like Click ‘n’ Pull. With Click ‘n’ Pull, members can sign in, click on the items they want, then drive over to the warehouse store to pick up their orders the next day. Salad to go, anyone?

I also like how we can see what products the store carries, along with their prices. We can see ahead of time that those huge bags of rice are limited to 4 bags per customer or that they don’t have the specific salad dressing we’re used to, so I won’t waste minutes trying to scour the store for the wrong thing. Plus, they have an organics section. Advantage membership starts at $40, while the Advantage Plus membership is $100.

Parting Thoughts

Warehouse stores and wholesale shopping clubs are legendary for their convenience and big bargains. However, to protect your food budget, you should go in with a list of the items you need. In my case, I’ll probably have to work hard to keep deals I don’t need from hopping into my cart! If I go for the bulk bags of flour and sugar or the massive carton of pasta, then I’d have to plan where to store these goodies in my space-limited house. Also, I need to make sure I can’t get the necessities on my list at a cheaper price from area grocery stores or Amazon.com. Still, buying in bulk is a well-known cost saving strategy, so overall I’m definitely interested in exploring more of what these warehouse stores have to offer shoppers.

11 thoughts on “A Look At Costco, Sam’s Club and Other Wholesale Shopping Clubs”

  1. The Costco stores in the valley (Phoenix AZ) operate this same scam. They always try to use the analogy of ‘It’s like a gym membership …’. They train their employees to say the same analogy (Last year, several Costco employees used the same analogy …hmmmmm.). This is completely ridiculous. Believe me, you are not the first person that has called Costco on this unfair and deceptive business practice.

    After disputing this unfair practice last year, Costco member services finally conceded (after a 45 minute discussion.) that I could cancel and start a new membership. However, they stated it would look “suspicious” on why I had opened and cancelled memberships. I asked them to explain how this would look suspicious. They stated it would appear I was trying to defraud them of membership dues (????!!!). I told them to enter a note explaining why the membership was cancelled. They also offered a ‘One time exception’ to reset the issue date (Only one time?). I called Costco headquarters (Seattle WA), and issued a complaint. The person admitted they receive a large volume of calls regarding this “policy”. Despite this volume of calls, Costco continues this money making “policy”. I doubt my complaint went any further than that telephone conversation.

    This year, Costco membership and a manager told me that cancelling a membership and opening a new membership would not work. After pressing the manager, she admitted that I could cancel and open a new account, but it would need to be approved by managers higher than herself.

    It is plain and simple: If I purchase a 1 year contract, I expect 1 year of service (not more or less.). If I decide to let my membership lapse and renew several months later, you bet I expect to get what I paid for (1 year of service.).

    This is a HUGE money making scam operated by Costco. For the most part, Costco employees are trained to “shutdown” customer complaints and remain unflexible.

    Money speaks louder than words. Like another poster stated, tell the manager you WILL take your business elsewhere. Also complain to Costco headquarters in Seattle WA.

    Everyone that has encountered this scam needs to post everywhere possible on the internet.

    If you don’t believe the this is true, then go to your local Costco and ask them if the expiration date is adjusted if you renew late.

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  5. Costco does not have the common courtesy to include a return shipping label with merchandise ordered from their website. A shipping label can only be generated by printer using a download link from costco sent by email. This is not fair to the minority of people who do not have printers. No mention is made of this by costco prior to ordering. If you cannot return the merchandise to a warehouse you are stuck with it. I believe this is an evasion tactic by costco to avoid accepting returns from people without printers.

  6. To be fair, I use Costco and I have been happy with their services and products. All companies have their share of complaints from disgruntled customers. So take all that you read in stride. And some, even with a grain of salt.

    These companies wouldn’t be so highly praised or successful if they weren’t doing something right.

  7. Beware Sam’s Club 6 month no payments deal. We have recently used the 6 month no pay on three separate occasions. The Sam’s Club clerk did exactly what they were supposed to do to key the coupon into the register. Our cash register receipts reflects the coupon. However, in all three cases, when the bill came, it was not set up and we had to call to get it fixed. I am not sure who is running this scam Sam’s Club or GE (credit card company), but check your bill before they charge you outrageous finance charges.

  8. Thank you everyone for your comments. I was considering a membership but after reading about these complaints, especially the one about renewing late, I have decided against doing so. Hassles are not worth any savings and I have been doing pretty well with shopping bargains locally.

  9. Sam’s Club 6 months, no interest, no payments sounds good, but the reality is not so good. It will probably work ok if you don’t make any other purchases on your account. Is that what they want?

    We use a credit card for normal purchases to earn cash back (Discover) and pay the balance in full each month so that we don’t incur finance charges. When I make payments, they apply it to the promotional balance, not my regular charges.

    How does that make sense when they guarantee you the promotional balance with NO payments. When I send e-mail from the website, I get very quick responses, but sometimes they do not seem to be related to most of my e-mail, rather a cut and paste response. I have been told a # of times that they apply payments to the lowest interest rate, so they apply to my promotional account, which has no INTEREST rate if paid off within 6 months. Explain that, Sams Club. Sometime I get someone who actually reads my e-mail and does what I ask, but most of the time, I get pre-fabricated answers. What good is an e-mail inquiry system that does that?

  10. The issue with payments being applied to the promotional balance is fairly common. It’s not just Sam’s Club. Home Depot, Sears, Best Buy, etc. all do that with their credit cards. Essentially, payments are applied to the oldest purchase and since most people first sign up for the card to get the promotion, that’s the oldest purchase. You need to call and have the payment applied to newer purchases.

  11. I have had the worst experience at Costco Bellingham. The employees at the return desk were very arrogant and loud in front of other members. I had the original receipt of an item which I had purchased a few months back and wanted to return it. They kept telling me that the computer showed I had already returned it, (which is not true at all) I tried to explain to them that there must be a glitch in the system or someone accidentally punched the wrong key but he kept putting me down in front of other customers. I will be putting in a complaint.

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