🔒 Gear up Sam’s Club members (and civilians): Secret codes, best days to shop, and sample insights to help you save, hack and work that warehouse system

These are 20 need-to-know tips to get the best deals possible at the warehouse giant

ROLLING MEADOWS, IL - JANUARY 12: A shopping cart sits in the parking lot of a Sam's Club store January 12, 2010 in Rolling Meadows, Illinois. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images) (Scott Olson, 2010 Getty Images)

HOUSTON – We know you know: Sam’s Club has some amazing deals. That’s why you signed up for the membership (or are seriously considering it if you landed on this story).

But did you know the best deals are in a certain spot of the store? That there are hidden spots on its website sporting rock-bottom prices? That there’s a special code on those price tags that can help you score deals when the time is right?

There is...and it’s all within your reach. Keep on reading. We’ve got you.

1. Price tags

You might be surprised to learn there’s a pretty interesting letter coding system on the price tags at Sam’s Club that provide a window into the store’s stocking and perhaps pricing. Look for N, A, C, O, or S on the left-hand side of the tags.

Here’s an example:

A Sam's Club price tag, as seen on Aug. 25, 2022. (Copyright 2022 by KPRC Click2Houston - All rights reserved.)

See the A in the lower left-hand corner near the long row of digits? Frugal Fit Mom -- one of the most prolific and knowledgeable YouTube personalities talking about bulk buying -- notes that means:

A = Always or active - There’s plenty in stock but price likely to be reduced in the future.

Here are the other reported code hacks:

N= Never out – always in stock – likely not ever marked down

C = Canceled – The item will not be restocked. The store is likely trying to get rid of it to free up shelf space, according to Mashed.

O = One-time buy – the store only has a one-time shipment of the item.

S = Seasonal – The item will be restocked a few times until it’s gone and then will return next season.

We love YouTuber Fit Frugal Mom’s explanation here.

2. Best days to shop

This varies store by store -- or club by club if you’re into the lingo, but a general rule of thumb is to avoid the weekends and Fridays. Some online influencers like Frugal Fit Mom say the best time to go is during the week in the morning or the early afternoon or in the last two hours before the store closes. What works for your store? Let us know in the comments where you go and when you find the fewest crowds.

3. Best way to shop in stores

At Sam’s Club, the merchandise is ALWAYS moving around. It’s a good idea to know generally where things are, but particular merchandise -- brands versus Member’s Mark -- is constantly moving to reinforce the treasure hunt mindset. Generally speaking, the basics -- the things most often bought are in the back corners of the store -- and most particularly in the back left. It’s the farthest spot from the front door, which means shoppers have to walk through the entire store to find paper towels, bottled water, trash bags and toilet paper. Interestingly, it’s easy for you to miss these basics, as they’re back-to-back in some areas. You might be expecting to walk somewhere else to find what you need, but no, it’s right there beside the other thing you really came in here to get. If you’re not careful, you might have to come back multiple times to get the basics again, thus walking again, right by that impulse-buy cake that somehow made it into your cart.

4. The coupons

Sam’s Club doesn’t accept manufacturer’s coupons, but it does have its own coupons in its flier, the Instant Savings booklet. They have the booklets in-store if you ask, and the company will also send them to you.

5. About those gift cards

Sam’s Club and Walmart gift cards are interchangeable. These are accepted payment methods at Sam’s Club, and yes, they do include Walmart gift cards, as the parent company of Sam’s Club is Walmart Inc. Learn more about the Sam’s Club story here and its presence in Houston.

Not a secret, but it’s not always spelled out. You don’t have to be a Sam’s Club member in order to shop at the store. You can ask a Sam’s Club member to buy you a gift card and use it without a membership to purchase in the store and online. You can also come along with a member and purchase things with them.

6. The SAMPLES.

Try them all you want, but know that the sample items are often the higher-priced items that the store wants to feature.

If you want to save the most, be sure to check the aisles for a potentially more cost-effective option that may not be a sample item. However, we’re not putting the kibosh on samples. We love them. We’ve even heard in this report that samples are UNLIMITED, but we don’t have the chutzpah to have more than one. Have you?

7. The return policy

The Sam’s Club return policy is exceptionally generous on most products, with a few exceptions like electronics and major appliances. Get the details here. Some products that can’t be returned are gift cards and prepaid cards, tickets, custom-made items -- like personalized gifts and photos, purchases made through the Sam’s Club Wholesale Trading Program and prescriptions. You can return most things purchased online at the stores or ship it back.

8. Find savings in these corners of the Sam’s Club website and beyond

It’s a good idea to get hooked into the savings and clearance section of SamsClub.com to score the best deals. Did you know there’s also a limited-time Shocking Values page that updates daily, akin to daily deals sites like Meh.com.

You can also follow social media accounts that feature the best deals in real-time. These folks are devoted and know what’s going on, crowdsourcing the best of the best deals.

9. The Member’s Mark

These are often the best products to save on but be sure to check. Sam’s Club is known for having a number of brand-name products, but its Member’s Mark brand is one of the huge reasons why Sam’s Club is a shopping destination. The Member’s Mark brand -- like Costco’s Kirkland Signature brand -- has products in a range of items, from cookies to pet supplies to outdoor furniture. The prices on these quality products show what, ideally, big purchasing can accomplish for consumers. The Motley Fool put it this way: “Having a house brand that shoppers equate with national name brands allows a chain to cut out a mouth that needs to be fed in the supply chain. Instead of having to buy the item from its manufacturer, the retailer produces the item itself or uses a third-party producer. That lets the chain obtain the item at a lower cost, letting it sell it for less money, likely at the same or a greater margin. If the company, Sam’s Club in this case, can establish its house brand as a high-quality option, then consumers will opt for it over the name brand when possible. That creates a positive cycle where shoppers switch to brands like Member’s Mark and are happy because they have spent less money. That increases their loyalty to the retailer, which is especially important for a warehouse club like Sam’s Club, which succeeds or fails based on membership renewals.”

10. Subscribe and open the newsletters and fliers.

Sign up for the newsletter. The company will serve up products to you, but perhaps the most helpful part of subscribing is making sure you know what events are coming like Members Only events and promotional one-off events. Did you know the company once had a treasure hunt? We’ll definitely let you know if they do that again...

11. Make a plan...but get the gas and the rotisserie chicken.

Part of the allure of the warehouse is that prices are so low, but don’t get too carried away, y’all. We like to go into the store with a “regular store” mindset. Only buy the products that you’d actually use if there weren’t a Sam’s Club. Only grab the things that you’d use within the expiration date. Only buy the things that you were intending to purchase and put on a list. And yes, be Type-A and make a list when you go to Sam’s Club. It will be your savings strength. There’s a lot of stuff in there. A lot of product allure. And you’re saving so much! Maybe. Don’t become your worst enemy by saving because you HAVE to. Save because you can on the things that you actually need.

That rule has two noted exceptions: the gas and the rotisserie chicken. Just get them. They’re sold at a loss to bring you in.

12. Need a lot of protein? There’s a spot for that.

Type in “Member’s Mark Meat” on the app or website and see what you find. (Spoiler alert: We’re going to tell you in the next paragraph.)

Sam’s Club sells large quantities of boxed meat that are shipped to your house. Each costs $136.98. “The Field” is a box of nine pounds of beef. “The Feast” is a 14.5-pound box that’s a mix of beef, poultry and pork. “The Farm” is 12.25 pounds of beef, pork, and poultry.

13. You don’t have to be a member

Membership has its perks (hello Plus membership with its early opening hours and no fees on pickups), but there are some attractions to the Sam’s Club store that you can use whether you have a club card or not. You can go to the store’s pharmacy and café without a card. You also don’t have to have a membership to buy alcohol.

14. Communal buying can help you save, build bridges

Get yourself teamed up with a trusted family member or neighbor. Save with them. Talk with your relatives or neighbors and find out how you could split things up on your Sam’s Club haul. You could even split the membership fee, but make sure to talk it all out so everyone is happy with the arrangement.

Strategize with them before your trip to the store. Sam’s Club has great deals on things like condiments and frozen foods and laundry supplies. Splitting these items up and buying in bulk will help you get the savings and also guard against expiration and overbuying on products that sit around your home or fill up your storage spaces.

15. Maximize the savings with an app like Ibotta.

Miss your manufacturer coupons? There are ways to still save. You can also try cashback apps like Ibotta, Honey or Fetch Rewards that work when you scan your receipt.

16. One penny

Look at all that clearance. See anything in common with those prices? They almost all end in a one. The same pricing system works in the stores as well, so if you’ve got a one on the end of that price, you’re likely at the best possible price.

17. Checking out doesn’t have to be the painful thing

Sam’s Club is all about its Scan & Go effort. You use your phone to scan the products in your cart while in the store and then check out prior to leaving, confirming that you have the appropriate number of items in your cart.

As someone who tried this for the first time with two toddlers in the cart, I can confirm this works -- even when the toddlers have decided to go into the throes of a full meltdown near the exit. There was one hiccup while using this tool -- a clearance item. The price tag refused to scan. We didn’t end up buying the item, but it was one fail noted in the process. There is an attendant check before you leave the store, but it’s a quick scan of three or four items and you’re out, skipping the often-lengthy lines (especially on the weekends).

18. Place order online, pick up in store

Though the in-store experience is just that -- an experience, you can stick to a shopping list a little better by buying online and picking up your order at the store. There is a $4 pickup fee for Club-level members, but it’s free and unlimited if you are a Plus member.

19. Inside the Sam’s Club app.

There’s a Sam’s Cash Bonus Offers area in the app where you can find offers on services like HBO Max and Marc Jacobs merchandise. This is still in Beta, but it’s worth a look around. If you put on location services, you can see local stores and restaurants where your Sam’s Club credit card will have a percentage back to your card.

20. Great deals on gift cards

Gift cards aren’t a dollar-for-dollar purchase at Sam’s Club. Like everything at the store, you’re buying in bulk and there are perks to bulk buying. If you’re already going to give gift cards for coworkers or family members or your kids’ teachers, buying them in bulk could be a good idea for you. There are dining, entertainment, retail and travel gift cards that have considerable savings on the dollar amount listed on the cards.

How do you get the best deals and savings at Sam’s Club? Let us know in the comments and we could include your ideas in an update on this article.

See our full bulk buying series:

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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.