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Shopping Experience

Based on the few reviews we could find, it seems that many wholesale club members are satisfied with the Sam's Club and Costco shopping experience, no matter which store they frequent. In comments about Sam's Club on Viewpoints, consumers say they use Sam's Club primarily to stock up on everyday household and food supplies.

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Reviews note that the produce is always fresh and far more affordable than at the regular grocery store, and several rave about the bakery selections. Some gripes about Sam's Club shopping concern the limited payment options and limited selection of organic and specialty items, such as gluten-free products. A few shoppers also grouse about poor customer service and long lines, a situation that's location specific. During our visit to Sam's Club on a Monday morning in June, there were many registers open and checkout was fast and efficient.

As for the Costco shopping experience, consumer reviews on Viewpoints praise the retailer for superior customer service; several report that employees went above and beyond to help out. Costco shoppers really like the monthly coupons and say they provide even better savings. Still, grumbles about the superstore include reports of poor quality meat, expensive membership fees, and a perception that some stores are chaotic and messy and often short of popular items. On our visit that same Monday but in the afternoon, we found the store to be exceptionally clean and witnessed numerous workers straightening and restocking the shelves.

Departments.

The array of departments at both stores is very nearly the same, as is the range of inventory. At Sam's Club, the main departments are grocery, health and beauty, books, electronics and computers, pets, office supplies, clothing, toys and video games, and baby. Sam's Club departments also include auto and tires, which includes tools, workbench storage options, and GPS systems; furniture for the living room, dining room, bedrooms, and office; home accessories, such as flooring, lighting, tile, and storage options; jewelry, which includes engagement rings and wedding bands; outdoor and seasonal items, such as patio furniture, grills, Christmas lights, and above-ground pools; and flowers -- Sam's can do the flowers for weddings and events and put together gourmet gift baskets.

The departments at Costco are almost identical to those at Sam's Club and feature similar goods. One of the few differences we found is that Costco sells funeral supplies, including caskets, cremation urns, and pet cremation urns; Sam's Club is not in this line of business. Likewise, Costco offers wedding dresses at select locations and Sam's does not. Additionally, Costco seems to have a smaller selection in certain areas. At our Costco, there were five different toasters for sale compared with 18 at our local Sam's and 17 sets of luggage at Costco vs. 34 at Sam's.

Payment Methods.

Paying for a full shopping cart can be tricky at wholesale clubs. Cash, check, and debit cards are often the only options. Sam's Club, however, stands out because it also accepts MasterCard and Discover credit cards. Costco takes only American Express credit cards. Both issue their own credit cards, which also can be used for payment.

Online Experience.

The online experience is everything in this technology-driven era, and Sam's Club and Costco both host organized, straightforward websites. In fact, the organizational structure of the two is very similar and navigation is quite easy. Both wholesale giants encourage members to create an account. You can also sign up online for a membership. To make Sam's Club shopping even easier, the Click N' Pull perk lets members buy online and pick up the next day at the nearest location.

Review continues below

Despite the organizational appeal of the websites, the few reviews we could find are harsh. On Epinions, shoppers report that the Sam's site is slow, the offerings are limited, customer service for online orders is terrible, shipping takes forever, and the online ordering process is confusing and frustrating. Similar assessments are shared in other wholesale club reviews on Epinions about Costco's online services, although Costco earns slightly higher ratings than Sam's Club. The main barbs lobbed at Costco include very slow shipping times, misleading product information on the site, and even one complaint about a delivery filled with cockroaches.

by Raechel Conover (Google+ Profile)

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