Gone are the days when wholesale clubs were solely for bargain shoppers looking to buy in bulk. Leading wholesale retail chains Costco, BJ’s, and Sam’s Club also offer solid discounts on today's best mobile tech and other electronics.
Sure — the catch is you have to pay annual membership fees to access these exclusive deals. However, if you do a little number crunching, you'll see that the potential savings offset the price.
So how are wholesale clubs different from standard retailers?
Traditional big-box retailers like Walmart make their money by charging shoppers higher markup. Also called a price spread, a markup is a difference between the cost of a product and its retail price. For instance, if a product retails for $100 and it costs $80, the price increase is $100 – $80 = 20 or 20%.
According to Finbox’s financial data, Walmart’s gross profit margin is approximately 25.2% whereas Costco’s is 13.2%. This translates into lower markups and low prices for budget-conscious consumers. If you’re looking for a means of saving money this year, chances are you're considering joining Costco, Sam’s Club or BJ’s. Depending on your shopping habits, the right wholesale club nets you the best value for your money.
So which wholesale club is right for you?
We’re comparing the pricing and benefits of each wholesale club to help you take the guesswork out of choosing the right one.
Wholesale club membership fees and perks
Costco: Annual membership fees at Costco (opens in new tab) start at $60 for the basic Gold Star tier. Members get two cards per household and can shop at Costco.com or at Costco warehouses. Currently, Costco is taking up to $400 off Microsoft Surface devices (opens in new tab) in an online-only sale. Perks include delivery, fuel discounts, medical prescriptions, groceries, and more.
Costco also has a premium membership, the Gold Star Executive for $120. This tier offers a year 2% cashback reward on Costco purchases up to $1,000 a year including on Costco Travel. Members also get access to additional benefits and discounts on Costco Service, pulse Costco Connection magazine. You may cancel your Costco membership and get a refund at any time if you’re not satisfied with the service.
Sam’s Club: Membership fees are as low as $45 per year for the basic tier at Sam’s Club (opens in new tab). Perks include instant discounts on already discounted items, fuel discounts, and free flat tire repair. Sam’s Club also offers 5% cashback on gas, 3% on dining and travel, and 15% on other purchases via Sam’s Club Mastercard. Cashback rewards are capped at $5,000 annually.
As an alternative, you can get the Sam’s Club Plus yearly membership for $100 per year. Additional perks include, 2% cashback rewards up to $500 a year, free shipping, and early shopping. Sam’s Club Plus members also receive pharmacy and optical discounts including up to 20% off eyeglasses. Sam’s Club is known for its solid deals on tech.
BJ’s: Starting at $55 per year, BJ's wholesale (opens in new tab) club membership offers in-club and online savings with up to two memberships per household. If you want to share your savings, for $30 each a year, you can add up to 3 additional members. Perks include up to 25% off groceries, same-day delivery, curbside pickup, and access to digital in-Club coupons via BJ's Mobile App.
Individuals who opt for the $110 per year membership get even more benefits like 2% cashback, exclusive savings events, and triple cashback during special events. Membership services also include BJ's Travel, BJ's Optical and BJ's Tires Center. More importantly, BJ's is the only wholesale club that accepts manufacturer coupons. This means you can stack your savings on in-Club coupons.
Wholesale club locations in the U.S.
According to retail data from ScapeHero (opens in new tab), as of June 27, 2021, Costco, Sam's Club, and BJ's have more than 1,300 locations across the United States and Puerto Rico combined.
Costco: Has 559 locations in 475 cities across 47 of the United States and its territories. California has the most locations with 131 Costco stores.
Sam’s Club: Has a total of 598 locations in 487 cities across 45 of the United States and its territories. Texas has 82 Sam’s Club locations, more than any other state.
BJ’s: Has 230 locations in 204 cities across 17 of the United States and its territories. New York has the most BJ’s stores with 45 locations.
Are wholesale clubs really worth it?
Given the annual membership fees and benefits of Costco, Sam's Club, and BJ's — are wholesale clubs worth it?
The short answer is yes, at least, for many people. Wholesale clubs afford you membership-only discounts perks on products and services that you would normally pay more for. This includes electronics, food, gas, tires and more. Although Amazon Prime and Walmart Plus membership programs offer discounts, they operate differently than wholesale entities.
Moreover, warehouse clubs allow frugal shoppers and small businesses to buy in bulk, resulting in even greater savings in the long run.