Saturday, November 18, 2006

Review: BJs vs Sams vs Costco


Bottom line question.....would shopping at any of these places save me money? Also, did I like one place over the other? I went out for a few hours seeking these answers today.

It all started when my wife gave me a coupon from BJ's that would give us me a 60 day membership there.
(I say ME because while the paid membership gives you two cards, this 60 day free membership is locked to a single shopper....because they put your picture on the card) So while I knew I was going to take advantage of this trial BJs membership, I thought I would stop in at Sams Club as well as Costco which are all down the street from each other here in Nashua, NH. (Living in southern NH is great....we have more stores than we would normally have because the "sales tax-free" shopping of New Hampshire attracts so many people from Massachusetts)

I do have "some" experience with club shopping, though I myself have never belonged. It has probably been about 4 years since I stepped inside one of these places, but I must say that today they all look about the way I remember them. My wife had a card for her school when she worked at Presentation of Mary Academy, but she didn't shop there for home things...and that was also a few years ago too.
(I believe my Mother in-law might have a BJ's membership...but I am not sure)

When I say they all looked as I expected, I don't mean to suggest that the three clubs each don't have their own personality....they certainly do. But they also seem to have a lot in common. I was actually surprised at now much food areas of each of these places sold. Between junk food, auto stuff and electronics.....there was little room for anything else.
(they had "good" food too....and at what looked like good prices....but they serve a ton of snack food and pastry...I guess this is what people buy)

But in terms of access to the general range of things, I didn't find the store to be as interesting as a Walmart of Target. They all simply seemed to have tons of certain things, and then it seemed catch as catch can for the rest.
(I guess I remember a lot of clothes too.)

In fact, I was actually looking for a lamp for our bedroom, and I was very disappointed to find that none of the three stores had ANYTHING interesting!
(They had small desk lamps...maybe one or two at each place.....but only Sams had a single tall floor lamp)

I also went from store to store with a few "items" in mind as I was going to benchmark between the them. The items included the following:
  • Block of Cheddar Cheese (2 pounds or more)
  • HD TVs
  • Laptop Computers
These items seemed to be popular things at all three stores, also being front and center in all three. I was going to try and benchmark them by price, but this turned out to be impossible since the brands and items varied from store to store. This means I would have been comparing apples and oranges. (BTW: All three DID in fact sell apples and oranges, I should have compared those! :-)

All I could notice is that on these sort of popular high volume items, all three stores carried say three price/feature bands of product.....like a $700, $1100, and $1500 laptops of several different screen sizes.

SO DID I LIKE ONE CLUB OVER ANY OTHERS:
So my comparison is not so much based on particular items as opposed to general impressions, and my general impression started off with thinking there was a lack of selection, even in the more popular items. Yes, the selection is perhaps as good as any department store besides Target and Walmart, but since I would be "tied" to the store because of my membership, I wasn't comfortable with that.
(though I was shocked at how many different digital cameras that Costco had....it almost seemed that they had as many as Hunt Photo, and at very good prices.)

If I were to pick one out of the three, I would go with Costco. I liked the selection a bit more, and I actually "liked" the massive size of the items available. All three had bulk packages of things, but Costco seemed to take that to the extreme with many things.
(how about a 50 pound bag of sugar or two gallons of Mayonase!)

The people at BJs seemed to be friendlier, and more willing to help....and while all three had that warehouse "feel", Sams Club seemed to be almost out of control in terms of being messy.
(but then the Walmart next door is similar too)

But remember....my review above might only be valid in these particular stores...and even then, I might have hit a particularly good or bad work crew when I went. I like the idea that BJs has to give you the 60 day trial shopping with limitations. I think Sams also has some sort of "one day" memberships.....but Costco seemed almost militant about even letting me go in without a memberhip card. I needed to "register" and get a pass to even look!
(I was stopped at the door on the way in.....don't they think people come in to compare?)

Representatives at BJs and Sams Clubs gave me the pitch, gave me a sizable packet on their membership benefits and answered all my questions when I asked.....Costco was a bit different. The guy there simply have me a very thin flier and told me to look online. (not a very appealing sales job...and I had read online about how Costco employees are more motivated and friendly...I didn't see that, but maybe it was just the particular crew I ran up against)

WOULD I SAVE MONEY WITH A MEMBERSHIP:
First of all, it seems to me that warehouse shopping just doesn't fit our needs. The cost of membership needs to be considered, and while there appears to be savings to be had, unless we either buy everything there or we have our eyes on some bigger ticket items we would probably lose out. (and even the big ticket item argument might be dampened because of the limited selection and the ability to perhaps buy those on "special" at a regular store.....like buying last years lawn mowers at the start of snow season)

In fact, this was something I wondered....do these clubs ever have "sales" to move old models?
(That's where a lot of savings can be had, and this I just don't know)

I guess general prices are a bit cheaper than just buying "off the rack" at department stores....but perhaps NOT if you look around and shop a bit. For example, the Microsoft Zune player was $239 at Costco....and it was $249 at Target.
(but Target was giving the buyer a $25 gift card for the purchase...so it was LESS)

As I said before, I actually like the idea of bulk shopping for many items, but not everything, and this would mean that our shopping effort would be going up rather than down....and this is worth something too. If you had a situation with a bigger family or perhaps a business where you had a pretty constant volume of purchases of particular items....it seems like a GREAT idea.
(Another example, I have a couple of older printers, and they just didn't carry the toner I needed)

So I will probably use my BJ's membership as much as I can over the next 60 days, and unless a bolt of lightning comes down hitting me and somehow really enhancing my shopping experience...I will probably let my membership lapse.



BOTTOM LINE:
There certainly is decent savings to be had, but you have to "fit the mold" in order to realize it.

Check it out yourself....here is a coupon for a 1-day BJs membership.
(hunt around, you might find coupons for the other places as well)

Check out other people's reviews too on BJs, Sams Club and Costco.

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