Sam's Club vs Trader Joes: Pros and Cons Compared

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There are many different types of grocery stores and chains, some of which suit certain individual’s needs over others. For example, many grocery stores offer all organic and healthy food items at slightly higher costs, while others offer bulk items at discounted prices.

Depending on the number of people in your household, your lifestyle, as well as your health and nutrition goals, one store might suit you better than another. For example, Sam’s Club is perfect for families with lots of mouths to feed, while Trader Joe’s might be the ideal place for young adults who live on their own and simply want healthier alternatives to the usual snacks they consume. 

Nevertheless, Sam’s Club and Trader Joe’s each have their pros and cons. Here’s what you should know about both food stores — and which is right for you. 

Sam’s Club pros

Sam’s Club is a membership-only warehouse club that offers its members various products for exceptional value. Below are some of the perks of shopping at Sam’s Club. 

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Because Sam’s Club supports buying in bulk, the chain’s items are often discounted, meaning you’re getting more bang for your buck.

Ability to purchase in bulk

Many people go grocery shopping weekly, every other week, or even just once a month. Depending on how much food you need to support you and your family, you might be shopping more frequently than others. If you like to shop less frequently, there are still ways to ensure you get enough food to last you for weeks at a time. 

At Sam’s Club, you can buy products like paper towels, toilet paper, cleaning items, and food in bulk, saving you a ton of money down the line. However, keep in mind that this is mostly practical for households with more than just one or two individuals, such as families with young children. 

Access to discounts

One of the best perks of certain grocery stores is their access to discounts and sales, which can ensure a successful shopping experience that doesn’t break the bank. As mentioned above, Sam’s Club offers great discounts to shoppers — especially if you have a Sam’s Club membership. Many items are offered at a cheaper price than you would find at regular grocery stores, saving you money you can spend on additional products.

Lower gas prices

Did you know you can save money on gas if you’re a member of Sam’s Club? That’s right: Sam’s Club members receive discounted gas prices at any Sam’s Club location. 

With the rise of gas prices over recent years, this is a major perk of shopping at Sam’s Club. Sam’s Club goes beyond offering a variety of grocery and household items and accommodates its customers in a variety of ways, helping them maintain their budgets.

Budget-friendly prepared meals

Another major perk of shopping at Sam’s Club is the access to fully prepared meals at discounted prices. Many people will either order fast food or dine in at a restaurant, eating unhealthy food and/or wasting money as a result. 

You can find many prepared food items at Sam’s Club for much cheaper. Customers also say the prepared meals are extremely tasty while coming at a fraction of the cost you would pay elsewhere. Some popular prepared meals include sausage ravioli, rotisserie chicken bites, chicken alfredo, manicotti, and enchiladas. 

Sam’s Club Cafe

Sam’s Club has its own café for shoppers to purchase delicious food while they run their errands. I don’t know about you, but when I go grocery shopping on an empty stomach, I purchase twice as much as I would if I wasn’t hungry. 

Many people will shop while famished and buy things that they don’t actually need, spending way more money than they anticipated or buying unhealthy snacks they might be currently craving. Sam’s Club Cafe allows you to satisfy your cravings right then and there so that you don’t let your mind get ahead of you and make decisions based on your current state of hunger.

Some of the cafe menu options at Sam’s Club include hotdogs, pizza, pretzels, yogurt, cups, sundaes, salads, ices, fountain drinks, and more.

Membership Options

Sam’s Club has two membership options: Club and Plus. Sam’s Club membership is $50 a year while Sam’s Club Plus membership is $110 a year. The Club membership offers perks like same-day delivery, instant savings, Sam’s Club MasterCard, fuel savings, bonus offers, and more. The Sam’s Club Plus membership offers all of the same perks as the Club membership plus free shipping, free curbside pickup, early shopping, pharmacy savings, optical savings, and Sam’s Cash for Plus.

These memberships (depending on which one you choose) come with a ton of additional benefits, including but not limited to up to $500 in cash rewards, free select prescriptions, and more.

Sam’s Club cons

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Sam’s Club is loved by many consumers, but it’s not without its faults.

Now that you’ve read about the pros of shopping at Sam’s Club, it’s time to consider some of the downfalls below.

High membership fees

Many people believe that Sam’s Club memberships aren’t worth the hype. Though the Sam’s Club membership is only $50 a year, some consumers claim you can get a better deal elsewhere. Additionally, to access the best perks, you would have to pay $110 a year for the Sam’s Club Plus membership.

Depending on which other stores you’re comparing Sam’s Club to (in this case, it’s Trader Joe’s), a membership might actually not make sense for you. For example, many say that Trader Joe’s has incredible deals and perks that don’t require you to pay an annual fee, making it more of an attractive option than Sam’s Club. Again, it depends on the amount of people in your household and your unique shopping needs.

Wasted items

There are many things one should never buy at Sam’s Club. Because a lot of people buy in bulk when they shop there, many shoppers end up wasting a ton of items. For example, if you’re an individual with a Sam’s Club membership and you live by yourself, you likely won’t need as many of the bulk items that Sam’s Club offers. It might come in handy to buy paper products in bulk, but other food items — especially ones that perish — simply aren’t worth you paying a huge chunk of money upfront. 

On the other hand, families with multiple kids and adults in the home will likely benefit from buying in bulk, as they will actually use the items they purchase and receive them at a discounted price.

Easy to overspend

Because of all the great deals available to you, it’s easy to spend more than you budgeted for at Sam’s Club. While it might seem smart to buy in bulk and invest a certain amount of money on products upfront, one simple grocery store run can feel like a hefty investment. In other words, people often get caught up on how great of a deal something is without evaluating whether they actually need and will use that product or food item. This can lead to pricy grocery store visits that you could avoid at other grocery stores like Trader Joe’s.

Lower selection of organic products 

Numerous Sam’s Club customers complain about the lack of organic products available at this grocery chain. That’s not to say Sam’s Club doesn’t offer organic products and gluten-free items, but many people feel it is not as accommodating as other health food stores such as Trader Joe’s. With the influx of sustainability and more health-conscious consumers, this is a major gap that Sam’s Club might want to address.

Trader Joe’s Pros

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The grocery store chain sells a ton of unique products and everyday basics with its own label, meaning you can’t find these items anywhere else

Trader Joe’s is a popular and national chain of neighborhood grocery stores that offers quality products at reasonable prices. There are pros of shopping at Trader Joe’s, including the following.

Reasonable prices

Trader Joe’s is known for affordable prices. Similar to Sam’s Club, Trader Joe’s offers great deals that you won’t find anywhere else. This is a major draw for young professionals and individuals who live alone or have small families. Today, grocery shopping can be financially taxing, and oftentimes, it feels as though you have to break the bank just to fulfill your grocery list. At places like Trader Joe’s, you can still purchase high-quality food items for a reasonable cost that won’t seemingly put you in debt.

Unique food and snack selections

Trader Joe’s is infamous for its branded food items which are some of the most unique and tasty snacks on the market. In fact, this is a major draw to many loyal Trader Joe’s customers. Other grocery stores sell their own brand of products, but these items typically include less healthy ingredients and unnecessary additives, which is why the items are cheaper. Trader Joe’s, on the other hand, does not sacrifice quality for a lower selling price. 

Healthier food options

As noted above, Trader Joe’s prioritizes nutritious, natural ingredients. Most of the products are extremely health-conscious and free of added colors, MSG, and other dangerous ingredients. Trader Joe’s also has an array of affordable organic products, which is another major draw to the grocery store. Shoppers who are on a budget but still want to eat healthy and prioritize whole foods will find success at Trader Joe’s. 

Not only that, but Trader Joe’s often sells healthier alternatives to popular items on the market. For example, my personal favorite snack is Takis, which are rolled corn tortilla chips with bold spicy flavor. Unfortunately, this item also includes a host of unnatural ingredients, including artificial food dyes. Trader Joe’s offers a similar type of product that boasts rich flavor while using more natural ingredients like stone ground yellow corn, vegetable juice, lime juice concentrate, paprika, and turmeric for color. 

As a whole, Trader Joe’s is filled with healthier snack options that don’t sacrifice taste.

Friendly staff

Trader Joe’s is infamous for its outgoing and peppy staff members. Anytime you have a question, you can bet there is a Trader Joe’s worker ready to guide you in the right direction. 

Furthermore, when you’re checking out, most staff members will treat you as if you’re a longtime friend. Suffice it to say customer service is an integral part of a business’s success.

Trader Joe’s Cons

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No grocery store is perfect, and Trader Joe’s is certainly not an exception.

Here are some downfalls of Trader Joe’s.

Discontinued items

It’s always a sad day for loyal customers when their favorite product has been discontinued. Unfortunately, this is a common issue with Trader Joe’s. The grocery chain will often launch a tasty popular product that wows their shoppers only to discontinue it a few months later. Because Trader Joe’s sells a lot of items you can’t find anywhere else, this can be devastating to customers who have been anticipating indulging in their favorite snack.

Large crouds

Another common complaint about Trader Joe’s is the large crowds in the shop at all times. Many Trader Joe’s locations tend to be relatively small, but their customer base certainly isn’t. This means crowded aisles and disorganized chaos. In fact, many customers joke that they can barely turn a corner without bumping into someone in this beloved grocery store. That being said, the influx of shoppers is certainly confirmation that Trader Joe’s is doing something right. 

Quick-perishing produce

Trader Joe’s might have fresh, organic produce available, but unfortunately, it often goes bad quickly. This can lead to a waste of money and food, which is always a nuisance.

Overuse of plastic

Many shoppers critique Trader Joe’s for their overuse of plastic products, especially in the produce department. For example, many of the vegetables and fruits are sold in plastic bags that are generally unnecessary and contribute to an unhealthier environment. If Trader Joe’s could be a little more environmentally friendly and conscious, they would probably gain even more loyal customers.

However (and possibly another perk of this chain), Trader Joe’s listens to its customers’ concerns. The corporation has already taken the initiative to reduce its plastic usage after seeing how it negatively impacted the environment and influenced shoppers’ perceptions of the company.

Sam’s Club vs Trader Joe’s: Which is better?

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Considering all the pros and cons above, it’s hard to decide whether Sam’s Club or Trader Joe’s is better. This answer, of course, depends on the particular shopper and their unique needs.

A customer with a large family at home will likely find more success at Sam’s Club, as they can buy items in bulk and save money in the process. Not only that, but they will have access to lower gas prices and discounted prepared meals on days they are too swamped with work or occupied by their children to cook. To many a busy mother or father, Sam’s Club sounds like the ideal grocery store. 

On the other hand, health-conscious individuals who don’t mind shopping as they need rather than in advance in bulk will likely prefer Trader Joe’s to Sam’s Club. At Trader Joe’s, they’ll have access to reasonable prices, delicious snacks, healthier alternatives, and more. Additionally, Trader Joe’s offers its own prepared meals (albeit at a slightly higher price) that come in handy during busy weeks.

Suffice it to say, both grocery stores have their perks and their downsides. You need to assess your personal needs as a shopper and understand where your money is going before deciding on the right chain to support. For example, if you have a membership with Sam’s Club, run the numbers and calculate whether you are actually saving money with your yearly fee. If you are shopping at Trader Joe’s, understand whether you throwing away money in an attempt to buy enough groceries to last you a couple of weeks or if what you’re purchasing and the price you’re paying suits your lifestyle.

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