Shopping at Costco saves money, even after paying the $55 membership fee, but comes at the price of buying in bulk and limited selection.
Sam's and Costco Tires, Pharmacy, and Other Services
Automotive, Health, and Financial Services
Automotive.In the auto departments at Sam's Club and Costco, tires and auto accessories sell for largely equivalent prices. The product selection is also similar, but the available services vary.
Gas prices are harder to compare because so much depends on where you live; state and local taxes and delivery charges vary drastically. The stores we visited on the same day are within 25 miles of each other. Sam's regular gas prices were $3.75 a gallon and Costco gas prices were $3.84 a gallon.
Pharmacy and Health Services.Sam's and Costco offer several health and wellness services, including a pharmacy with discounted prices on items not covered by private or a state/federal insurance program. But if you don't have insurance for medications, Sam's Club is ideal. For $4, the superstore can fill a 30-day prescription for select medications; a 90-day supply goes for $10. If you join as an Advantage Plus member, you save 8 percent off name-brand medications and 40 percent off generic medications that aren't part of the $4/$10 prescription plan. We didn't find similar discount deals at Costco pharmacy apart from already low prices on medications. Costco members can get flu shots through the pharmacy.
Optical services are available at both wholesale clubs as well. Some Sam's Club locations have an optometrist on site and the club accepts vision insurance. The day we visited the store, the starting price for contacts was $13.85 a box. Costco operates a vision center in most locations, where eye appointments can be made with trained optometrists. Both Sam's and Costco sell frames, but we couldn't find comparative pricing information.
Both superstores also offer hearing services, including free hearing tests for members. Costco goes a step further with its free hearing-aid testing, which includes a free cleaning and battery change.
Health screenings can be done at Sam's Club and Costco pharmacies. Costco makes this service available only at select locations and it was hard to gather useful information about it, but we did learn that some stores offer osteoporosis and heart screenings for free through the pharmacy. Sam's Club follows another model. Each month features a different free screening; for example, June is men's health and July is kids' health. Screenings are conducted by trained professionals and offered at select stores one Saturday a month to the first 100 members who show up. Sam's Club also offers a $99 personalized prevention health plan worth $229.
Financial Services.Most large retailers these days have their own credit cards, but these two superstores feature an array of other financial services, as well. Costco offers check printing; refinancing and online investing for individuals and 401(k) plans, credit card processing, payroll services, and check printing for businesses. Sam's Club processes credit cards for businesses and arranges check printing and small business loans through partner banks. The average shopper probably won't join Sam's or Costco to take advantage of these services, but they're worth checking out. Back to top »
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