🔒 Costco and Sam’s Club: Bulk buying warehouse castles - are they right for you?

KPRC 2 takes on the pros and cons of these warehouse-style shopping destinations

A shopper with a full cart waits to check out at a Costco Wholesale store May 25, 2021 in Colchester, Vermont. (Robert Nickelsberg, Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images)

HOUSTON – When you commit to anything big in your life, it’s important to consider the pros and cons of that commitment.

While deciding to have a membership to Costco or Sam’s Club doesn’t rank on par with who you’re going to marry or where you’re planning to live, it can have a big impact on your budget, especially if used appropriately (or inappropriately) over time.

At KPRC 2, we are taking a comprehensive look at bulk buying in Houston and beyond for Insiders, starting with the massive stores most bulk shoppers flock to for the best deals available: Costco and Sam’s Club. Be sure to check back on Click2Houston.com and on-air for the full series, chock-full of helpful information, deals and benefits you might not know about to help you make better decisions. Also this added perk -- get connected with fellow shoppers with a keen eye on savings.

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Now, let’s take a look at some of the benefits and potential detractors of signing up for a membership-style store.


Benefits

Buying big

You won’t have to worry whether you have toilet paper or batteries or garbage bags. If you go the Costco or Sam’s Club route, you’re buying for the long haul. If you’re a busy person, that means you don’t have to think about purchasing things as often, which, for many people is reason enough to purchase the membership.

Savings

If you’ve gone shopping at regular stores or paid your curbside grocery bill on an app, you’re in for a pleasant surprise when you look at most price tags at the bulk stores. Like, you may be wondering how it’s done. (We did too, but more on that in our ongoing series! Be sure to stay tuned for a look at each store’s business model and history for insights into how those deals are accomplished.)

But first impressions – you’re likely going to see that most prices per unit of whatever you’re buying are remarkably lower than at other mainstream stores that sell in smaller quantities.

You’ll perhaps see this is most prevalent when you shop the clearance and manager specials areas. We’ll be breaking down the best ways to get the best savings at these stores through this series, so be sure to watch for our shopping tips stories. They’re great big guides from a number of bulk shopping experts who share how to combine savings methods to get the absolute best deals – some that don’t even require a membership card. Seriously.

Store brands

Like many stores, Costco and Sam’s Club have loyalists to their store brands who celebrate their quality and price.

Some shoppers swear that some of the store brand products -- Kirkland brand/Member’s Mark brand -- are literally the same products as mainstream brands, made in the same factories as the store brands.

While we have not independently confirmed reports like this, there are plenty of online rankings that rank bulk store brands right alongside name brands that can cost considerably more per unit. The Kirkland brand, for instance, ranks among brand names in dishwasher and laundry detergent lists and tests.

Whatever the case, the store brands and their price points are a definite draw to these membership havens.

Commitment

If you’re ready to wed yourself to a membership, it can be a really great thing. You’re committed. You’ve sunk money into this.

Start owning the membership and all of its perks. You can download the app, start visiting the club’s website and begin receiving its newsletter in your email to make sure you’re getting inside deals. There are plenty of ways to make sure you’re getting the best of the best deals and making the most of your membership. Stay with KPRC 2 for that comprehensive report.


Potential detractors

Buying big

Let’s face it: buying a three-pound brick of cream cheese isn’t for everyone. Purchasing a 45-pack of toilet paper isn’t either.

If you have limitations of space, buying big just may not fit your life. Trust us -- we’ve tried to stash that toilet paper pack in a New York City apartment closet and it REALLY. WASN’T. PRETTY. (Capital letters intentional. *SHIVERS*)

Another consideration is how much you will actually consume. Consider -- before you commit -- how much you actually use, particularly on perishables. Waste is a cost to the environment and to your pocketbook. As a consumer in these inflation-ridden times, there is nothing worse than throwing out the thing on which you’d planned saving so much money. Be careful with your purchasing and be realistic about you and your household’s needs.

Are you really saving?

Despite popular opinion, not all bulk buys at stores like Costco and Sam’s Club are actually savings compared to other stores, especially if you’re considering your membership fee. Be sure to look at the unit price if you comparison shop and remember that membership fee (if you paid one -- there are ways to avoid this).

Do you spend too much time in the “expensive” areas of Costco and Sam’s Club stores that may not have the best available savings? Do you buy things you think you need or those that you actually need? Those are just some of the things you should consider as you determine whether bulk buying is useful to you and your life.

Limited selection

Will you find yourself going to the grocery store or other stores to get the things you’re “missing”? It’s likely if you or your family have particular tastes. While stores like Costco and Sam’s Club do carry a number of name brands, there are definitely more limited options in brands and products. You can see some of the major differences in Costco and Sam’s Club’s lineups here. However, if you’re ready to do it, there’s beauty in the limited selection and, as many have noticed, clear quality in the limited selections.

Commitment

Commitment to a store with limited options can get boring and proximity to other grocery or retail stores could hamper your efforts to remain true to your membership thus making the cost of the membership pay off. It’s always a good thing to assess your finances and make sure membership remains a viable option for your life. If you didn’t pay for a membership -- and there are ways to avoid it -- the problem is moot, but still something to consider if you’ve decided to auto-enroll in membership renewal.

The crowds

Savings is a big draw for lots of people. You might find the crowds at peak times of day a little overwhelming inside and outside the stores. Like most things, there are hacks to all of this, so stay tuned for our full reports on shopping tips for both Costco and Sam’s Club.


About the Author:

Amanda Cochran is an Edward R. Murrow award-winning journalist. She specializes in Texas features, consumer and business news and local crime coverage.