Many people who are not members of Sam's Club and Costco often say to me that they can't justify the $40 or $50 annual fee because they don't think they can recoup that in savings. I highly doubt that. In fact, Consumer Reports has repeatedly found savings of an additional 20 to 30 percent at warehouse clubs compared to Target or Wal-Mart.
But shoppers who often become fans of their warehouse club shouldn't blindly assume that everything represents a savings of 20 percent or more. I recently shopped Hunter Douglas window blinds. I had to have a designer come out to measure (sent by Costco). To my surprise, Costco's price on Hunter Douglas blinds was the same as places such as Hirshfield's, Aero Blinds and the Little Blind Spot. What this also taught me is that Hunter Douglas tightly controls its prices. In fact, the company has quit selling its products to most mail order businesses, which usually have significantly lower prices.
I've never compared prices on Costco's carpet or cabinets because they're so difficult to do an apples to apples comparison. Anyone ever compared the warehouse club prices on those items?
What other products offer little or no savings at warehouse clubs? Soda pop for one. The price of Pepsi products can easily be beat at a sale at Cub, Rainbow, Target or Wal-Mart.
Other consumer writers have complained about the high price of gasoline and paper products, but I disagree. Costco's gas prices in St. Louis Park are consistently about a dime less per gallon, and sometimes as much as 15 cents less than other stations in the area. But here's the caveat: You can find prices just as cheap if not cheaper in other areas of the Twin Cities. Prices area always less in Coon Rapids and Burnsville, for example, but it's not convenient for me to drive there. Earlier today, the cheapest price in the Twin Cities was $3.43 per gallon at Sam's Club and Costco stations in Burnsville, according to TwnCitiesGasPrices.
Mary Hunt of Debt Proof Living believes that Costco's paper product prices (toilet paper, tissue, paper plates et al) are not competitive, but Consumer Reports found that Costco's party supplies were 20-30 percent less than Target. I agree with Hunt that some of the bath tissue prices on name brands aren't that low, but the private label Kirkland Signature brand is priced lower than other private labels and is excellent quality.
Any other especially good or not-so-good deals you've found recently at Costco or Sam's?