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?
The world's largest retailer, Wal-Mart, can be just as vulnerable to consumers' changing tastes as any old retailer. Its same store sales have declined for two years in a row, according to the Wall Street Journal today. The retailer, which includes Sam's Club warehouses, needs to find some of the higher income shoppers from which Costco and Target benefit.
Sam's Club wants to get more spenders in the door, so it is offering a 10-week membership for $10. If you aren't happy with the membership, you can get your $10 back. The regular price for a membership is $40 per year.
I'm always surprised that many people say that they can't justify the annual fee because they can't recoup the savings. Seriously? I could justify the savings in one or two trips and I don't have kids to feed. I recommend going through every aisle in the store just once, and you'll be surprised at the variety. When I do that at Costco, I always see an item such as bath mats or entry way rugs that I didn't realize Costco sold.
If you're wondering when Costco will offer a similar deal, don't hold your breath. It's never done membership offers except when a new store opens.
The Sam's Club membership deal is for 10 weeks after you sign up, but the offer is only good through June 5. Click here to find Sam's Club locations in Minnesota.
The best piece of carry-on luggage to take with you on spring break (or whenever you're going) is the Tumi 22-inch (Alpha collection), said Consumer Reports in its last report.
The only problem is that Tumi, while a great, long-lasting piece of luggage, is pricey. And it rarely goes on sale. The Alpha 20 or 22-inch carry-on, for example, is $595. But for can go to either Tumi store at the Mall of America (952-854-4767) or the Galleria in Edina (952-920-0682) and get $100 off any purchase of $400 or more now through April 3. Or you can buy it at the Tumi online store and get the discount with the discount code INVEST. You can also get free shipping online for purchases over $150 at the site.
One Tumi employee reminded me that the 22-inch Tumi carry-on is considered too large to use as a carry-on at some airlines, so go with the 20-inch, also $595 before the discount.
The discount is not available on Tumi's budget line called T-Tech. That's no big loss though. I have seen the T Tech line at Costco. Unfortunately, I have also seen lots of the same T-Techs at two local discounters (Brand Name Deals in Fridley and Discount 70 in Columbia Heights), which usually means many were returned. I bought one with a wobbly wheel and had to return it.
If you're looking for a budget alternative, try the Delsey Helium Fusion for $90. Consumer Reports rated it as a best buy. Macy's currently has a 21-inch lite model for $90.
Gotta personal favorite piece of luggage that's survived use and abuse? Share.
Not everyone is a fan of Costco or Sam's Club. Some people don't think they would recoup the $50 or $60 annual fee. Others don't have a warehouse club that's convenient to them. Some don't want to buy in "obscenely" large quantities.
So when Target tries to copy the warehouse clubs with its temporary "Great Save" departments up now through Feb. 5, it's fun for Costco and Sam's Club members to compare. Products included in The Great Save are: bath tissue, detergent, baby formula and diapers, bundle electronics (i.e. extra Wii remote with the purchase of a Wii console), printers and blu-ray players. Many items appear online too.
I checked a few prices to see how they compare to Costco and Sam's Club.
Store brand of 13 gallon kitchen plastic bags with drawstrings:
Target's Up&Up $10.49 for 120 (.087 cents each), Costco's Kirkland Signature $12.69 for 200 (.063 cents each) and Sam's Club Member's Mark $8.98 for 150 (.059 cents each).
Lowest price: Sam's.
Bounce dryer sheets:
Target: $7.99 for 240 sheets ($.033 cents each)
Costco $7.49 for 250 sheets ($.029 cents each)
Sam's Club $7.52 for 250 sheets ($.030 cents each)
Lowest price: Costco, but coupon clippers could lower the price at Target with a coupon. Unlike the warehouse clubs, coupons are allowed at Target, including on Great Save items.
Nature Made fish oil softgels (1,200 mg)
Target: $14 for 300 ($.046 each)
Costco $15.39 for 375 ($.041 each)
Lowest price: Costco, but coupon clippers could lower the price at Target with a coupon. Sam's Club did not carry the Nature Made brand.
Summary: The warehouse clubs were still cheaper than Target's Great Save items on the few items checked, between 11 to 30 percent less. But Target shoppers aren't paying an annual fee and they can use coupons.
Prices were checked at Target on Lake Street in Minneapolis and Costco and Sam's in St. Louis Park on Jan. 7.
The bloom seems to be off the rose for Target. I remember moving to the Twin Cities 23 years ago and thinking "What is this weird fascination that Minnesotans have for Target aka Tarzhay?" Nowadays Target seems to have disappointed nearly all of us in some way, yet many of us still shop there. People set the bar extraordinarily high for Target and when it has disappointed us in the last decade or so, we seem to take it personally.
The closest thing I can find in today's retail landscape to the Target worship of the 1980s is Costco. It isn't the all-encompassing store that Target has become, but who doesn't love its liberal return policy, the attempt to stock high-quality merchandise and the fact that its employees are paid a decent wage?
Mary Protas of Coon Rapids called in a cheers and jeers for Costco today. She gives the company a thumbs up for calling her recently when a product she purchased had been recalled. (Call Costco big brother if you want, but it tracks everything we buy. That's why you really don't even need a receipt for returns.)
But every retailer can improve. Protas, who buys a lot of milk as a daycare provider, hates the square container that Costco sells. The pour spout is too large, she said, so it always spills. I've heard the same complaint from other readers, but Costco hasn't done anything about it because the square container saves on shelf space.
What's your slobbery wet kiss for Costco? Or a slap to its backside maybe? Spill it.
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