Retail

Wal-Mart vs Sam's Club: Pros and Cons compared

A Sam's Club store sits next to a Walmart store in Rolling Meadows, Illinois.
Scott Olson / Getty Images News via Getty Images

We’re all feeling the pinch of inflation at the grocery store. Grocery prices rose 25 percent over the last four years, outpacing overall inflation by six percent during that same period. The costs of many goods are finally decreasing as inflation starts to ease, but grocery prices have remained stubbornly high. Americans are now spending 11.3 percent of their income on food. That is the highest number in over 30 years and it is forcing more consumers to shop around for the best possible grocery deals.

Walmart is the largest grocery chain in the U.S., while Sam’s Club is the tenth-largest grocer in the nation. The two stores often draw comparisons with one another since they are owned by the same company. In fact, both stores trace their roots back to the same man: Sam Walton.

Walton opened the first Walmart store in Rogers, Arkansas in 1962. Twenty-one years later, he opened the first Sam’s Club in Midwest City, Oklahoma.

Walton was famous for saying, “Give [customers] what they want…and a little more.” With grocery prices at historic highs, many consumers are weighing their options. Does Sam’s Club or Walmart give them “a little more” for their money? Which offers the best value? What are the advantages and disadvantages of shopping at each store? We took a deep dive to find out.

24/7 Wall St. used information from the Walmart and Sam’s Club websites to compile all of the following information.

Value Claims

Businessman turns wooden cubes and changes the word price to value or vice versa.
Source: Dmitry Demidovich / Shutterstock.com
Sam’s Club and Walmart both claim to provide low prices and great value to customers.

Walmart currently operates three different store formats: Walmart Supercenter, Walmart Discount Store, and Walmart Neighborhood Market. The retailer’s corporate website states, “Every Day Low Price (EDLP) is the cornerstone of our strategy, and our price focus has never been stronger.”

Sam’s Club describes itself as “a membership warehouse club, a limited-item business model that offers our members quality products at an exceptional value unmatched by traditional retail.”

Both stores claim to offer great value to their customers, but which is the overall winner? We compared the stores in a variety of different categories.

Number of Locations

Exterior of a Walmart in Mountain View, California
Source: Sundry Photography / iStock Editorial via Getty Images
This Walmart in Mountain View, California is one of over 4,600 U.S. locations.
  • Winner: Walmart

There are 600 Sam’s Club locations in the United States. Texas boasts more Sam’s Club stores than any other state with 82.

Walmart operates 4,622 stores in the U.S. Texas also houses the most Walmart locations with 509. In the category of convenient locations, Walmart is the easy winner with over 4,000 more stores than Sam’s Club.

Product Samples

Sam's Club sampling station
Source: Courtesy of Mike Edmisten via 24/7 Wall St.
Sam’s Club sampling station
  • Winner: Sam’s Club

Sam’s Club offers daily “Tastes & Tips” sampling demonstrations. It’s a great way to find your new favorite thing.

Walmart does not normally offer daily samples of the products it sells. Advantage: Sam’s Club.

Coupons

Woman in grocery aisle with coupons
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Walmart accepts coupons, while Sam’s Club does not.
  • Winner: Walmart

Sam’s Club does not accept coupons.

Walmart readily accepts manufacturer’s and internet coupons. If you are a thrifty couponer, you know this is a big deal.

Membership Fees

Customers shop at a Walmart store in Skokie, Illinois
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There is no required membership fee to shop at Walmart.
  • Winner: Walmart

Walmart does not charge an annual membership fee for regular shoppers, so it wins this category. A paid membership is required to shop at Sam’s Club.

Walmart does offer an optional membership program, though. A Walmart+ membership costs $12.95 per month or $98 for a year-long membership. Since the benefits are the same, it is significantly cheaper to purchase the annual membership for customers who plan to use the membership for one full year. However, Walmart+ also offers the option to pause a membership one month at a time for customers who choose the pay-by-month option.

The Walmart+ Assist program offers memberships at 50% off to anyone who qualifies for government assistance programs such as SNAP, WIC, Medicaid, SSI, TANF, TTANF, NSLP, and LIHEAP. College students can also receive discounted memberships through the Walmart+ Student program.

As noted above, paid memberships are not optional for Sam’s Club shoppers (although some states require Sam’s Club locations to sell alcohol to customers without a membership). You can also get an eye exam and fill a prescription at Sam’s Club without purchasing a membership. However, you can’t purchase glasses or over-the-counter medications if you are not a member.

Sam’s Club currently offers two membership tiers. A Club Membership costs $50 a year. A Plus Membership carries a $110 annual fee. Membership discounts are available to military personnel, first responders, health care providers, teachers, students, and seniors.

Membership Benefits

A shopper stocks up on merchandise at a Sam's Club store.
Source: Scott Olson / Getty Images News via Getty Images
A shopper stocks up on merchandise at a Sam’s Club store.
  • Winner: Sam’s Club

We are declaring Sam’s Club the winner of the Membership Benefits category, but both membership programs have distinct advantages. It really comes down to your individual needs and desires. We broke down the benefits of each membership so you can make up your own mind.

Sam’s Club Membership Benefits

Sam's Club member services counter
Source: Courtesy of Mike Edmisten via 24/7 Wall St.
Sam’s Club member services counter

Sam’s Club memberships are more customizable than Walmart+ since there are two different membership tiers.

Club-Level Membership

Sam's Club U.S. Executive Vice President and Chief Merchant Megan Crozier speaks during a keynote address at CES 2024
Source: Ethan Miller / Getty Images News via Getty Images
Megan Crozier, a Sam’s Club executive, speaking about the Scan & Go shopping option

The Club level membership at Sam’s Club begins with a 90-day free trial for new members. This membership tier includes a primary membership card and one complimentary membership card for another member of the household. Additional members can be added for a fee of $45 each. Each additional membership comes with a primary and complimentary card.

These physical or digital membership cards are required to make purchases at Sam’s Club. The retailer’s “Scan & Go” app allows members to pay with their mobile device, thus skipping the checkout line. These lines can be quite long, especially on weekends.

Many Sam’s Club locations offer gas stations open only to members (though a select few are open to the general public). Sam’s Club gas prices are typically cheaper than surrounding gas stations, giving members another benefit. There are also car washes at 41 Sam’s Club locations.

Plus-Level Membership

Sam's Club gas pump
Source: Courtesy of Mike Edmisten via 24/7 Wall St.
Sam’s Club gas stations are typically only open to members.

A Sam’s Club Plus membership includes all the benefits of a standard Club membership, along with several additional perks. Sixteen additional Club-level members can be added for $45 each.

Plus-level members receive free shipping on eligible items with no minimum purchase. This membership tier also includes free curbside pickup.

A Plus membership offers additional optical and pharmacy discounts. It also provides members with two percent cash back on qualifying purchases.

As a final perk, Plus-level members can enjoy early shopping hours. These early hours are 8:00-10:00 a.m. on weekdays and 8:00-9:00 a.m. on Saturdays.

Walmart+ Membership Benefits

A Walmart Supercenter cart sits outside of the store
Source: Joe Raedle / Getty Images News via Getty Images
A Walmart Supercenter cart sits outside of the store

Walmart+ does not offer multiple membership tiers. As noted earlier, though, customers can choose to pay membership fees monthly or yearly.

An annual Walmart+ membership is more expensive than a Club-level membership at Sam’s Club, but it is slightly cheaper than a Plus-level membership. Walmart+ offers a different but valuable slate of benefits to its members. It begins with a 30-day free trial so customers can test drive the program’s benefits.

Walmart+ members receive free grocery delivery, which is the most popular feature of the program for many consumers. Members also enjoy free shipping for merchandise orders over $35. However, non-members can also receive free shipping for many online orders over this same amount. For orders under $35, members pay a shipping fee that is only nominally less than the fee for non-members. Walmart offers items from third-party sellers on its website, but if those items are not shipped by Walmart, they are not eligible for free shipping even with a Walmart+ membership. A Sam’s Club membership offers notably better shipping options than Walmart+.

There is a pretty nifty return option for Walmart+ members, though. Customers can return items that were delivered to their homes simply by scheduling a pickup. No boxes or labels are needed. This is especially handy for grocery deliveries. If your bread is smashed or your bananas are too brown, you can return them with almost no hassle. Big props to Walmart for providing this service to its members.

A rewards program is available for Walmart+ members. Rewards never expire and can add up to some nice savings on future purchases. Walmart+ members also receive early access to many store promotions, such as Black Friday sales.

Walmart+ members receive fuel discounts of 10¢ per gallon at Exxon and Mobil stations, and discounts up to 10¢ off at select Walmart and Murphy stations. Members can also purchase gas at Sam’s Club fuel centers. This fuel discount reciprocity is a one-way street, though. Walmart+ members can access member prices at Sam’s Club gas stations, but Sam’s Club members cannot receive discounts at Walmart or any other gas station. Advantage: Walmart.

Similar to Sam’s Club, Walmart+ offers members a “Mobile Scan & Go” option. Payment can be made directly from the Walmart app. It is slightly less convenient than the Sam’s Club option, though. Once the payment is made, customers must still go to a self-checkout station and scan a QR code to complete the purchase and receive a receipt. Coupons cannot be applied to these mobile payment orders.

Additional Walmart+ Benefits

Paramount+ logo pillow
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Walmart+ members receive a free Paramount+ subscription.

Walmart+ added another perk in 2022. Members now receive a free subscription to Paramount+. Considering how the bill for multiple streaming services can quickly add up, this is a nice benefit for members.

Another interesting membership perk was added through a 2023 partnership between Walmart and Expedia. Walmart+ members can receive benefits like five percent Walmart Cash on travel-related costs like car rentals and hotel bookings, as well as two percent on flights.

Product Variety

A worker walks through the aisles in a Walmart Supercenter on February 20, 2024, in Hallandale Beach, Florida.
Source: oe Raedle / Getty Images News via Getty Images
Walmart offers tens of thousands more product choices than Sam’s Club.
  • Winner: Walmart

Walmart is the clear winner in this category. The average Walmart store carries some 140,000 stock-keeping units (SKUs). Meanwhile, the typical Sam’s Club store offers around 6,000 to 7,000 SKUs. This is by design. Remember that Sam’s Club describes itself as a “limited-item business model.” If a wide selection of products is important to you, then Walmart is your store.

However, there are some items where Sam’s Club actually offers a better in-store selection than Walmart. Take furniture, for example. If you are in the market for a new sofa or mattress, you probably won’t head to Walmart. Sam’s Club, however, stocks sofas, mattresses, and other furniture pieces in its stores.

Oenophiles will favor Sam’s Club over Walmart, as well. The wine selection at Sam’s Club is typically bigger (and better) than what you’ll find at Walmart.

Price Comparisons

Shoppers stock up on merchandise at a Sam's Club store in Streamwood, Illinois
Source: Scott Olson / Getty Images News via Getty Images
Buying in bulk at Sam’s Club can provide great value for customers.
  • Winner: Sam’s Club

We saved the most important category for last. Sam’s Club wins the price comparison battle, but with some important caveats. The warehouse store typically sells items in bulk or, at the very least, in larger sizes than you would find in a typical package at a regular retail store like Walmart. This type of bulk buying can provide consumers with significant savings, but they will have to find room to store these large items once they get back home.

Here are a few price comparisons on everyday items between the two stores. The prices were accurate at the time of publication and may vary by location.

Diapers

Huggies Little Movers diapers
Source: Courtesy of Mike Edmisten via 24/7 Wall St.
Sam’s Club sells 174-count packages of Huggies Little Movers diapers.
  • Winner: Sam’s Club

A 120-count pack of Huggies Little Movers diapers (size 3) costs $39.97 at Walmart. A 174-count pack of the same diapers costs $46.98 at Sam’s Club. That breaks down to a cost of 33.3¢ per diaper at Walmart and 27¢ per diaper at Sam’s Club. When you consider that a baby can go through seven to ten diapers per day, purchasing diapers at Sam’s Club can mean big savings for parents.

Dog Food

Iams Proactive Health dog food
Source: Courtesy of Mike Edmisten via 24/7 Wall St.
The 50-pound bag of Iams dog food is a good deal at Sam’s Club.
  • Winner: Sam’s Club

Fido needs to eat! Pet owners should note that it is cheaper to purchase food at Sam’s Club than at Walmart. A 7-pound bag of Iams Proactive Health dog food costs $17.98 at Walmart. A 50-pound bag of the exact same variety of dog food costs $66.98 at Sam’s Club. The cost breakdown is $2.57 per pound at Walmart, but only $1.34 per pound at Sam’s Club. Obviously, there is quite a size difference between a 7-pound and a 50-pound bag of dog food. If you have a place to store the bigger bag, though, the savings are notable.

Cereal

Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal
Source: Courtesy of Mike Edmisten via 24/7 Wall St.
Sam’s Club sells big boxes of Cinnamon Toast Crunch.
  • Winner: Sam’s Club

Cinnamon Toast Crunch is one of America’s favorite cereals and you can purchase it at both Walmart and Sam’s Club, but at disparate prices. An 18.8-ounce Family Size box of Cinnamon Toast Crunch costs $4.93 at Walmart, which breaks down to 26.2¢ per ounce. A 49.5-ounce package of the same cereal costs $7.98 at Sam’s Club, which equates to just 16¢ an ounce. You’ll need extra pantry space for the larger package, but once again, the savings are worth it.

Beer

Bud Light
Source: Courtesy of Mike Edmisten via 24/7 Wall St.
Beer is only slightly cheaper at Sam’s Club than at Walmart.
  • Winner: Sam’s Club

We mentioned Sam’s Club’s large wine selection earlier. If you’re more of a suds drinker, though, the store also features a selection of beer. Sam’s Club typically beats the prices at Walmart for beer, but the difference is not nearly as pronounced as it is with other products.

For example, a 12-pack of Bud Light (12-fluid-ounce bottles) costs $12.99 at Walmart. A 24-pack of the same bottled beer costs $24.99 at Sam’s Club. So, if you want 24 bottles of Bud Light, it will cost you 99¢ more at Walmart.

Peanut Butter

Jif peanut butter
Source: Courtesy of Mike Edmisten via 24/7 Wall St.
The two-jar pack of Jif peanut butter at Sam’s Club is a better deal than purchasing one jar at Walmart.
  • Winner: Sam’s Club

Who doesn’t love peanut butter? Jif is the best-selling peanut butter brand in the U.S. and it can be purchased at both Walmart and Sam’s Club.

Walmart sells a 16-ounce jar of Jif creamy peanut butter for $3.12, which works out to 19.5¢ per ounce.

Sam’s Club sells the same peanut butter in a two-pack of 48-ounce jars, for 96 ounces total. The price for this two-pack is $11.66, which equates to just over 12¢ an ounce. That’s a pretty “Jiffing” good deal.

Milk

Great Value milk
Source: Courtesy of Mike Edmisten via 24/7 Wall St.
Walmart actually offers a better deal on milk than Sam’s Club.
  • Winner: Walmart

Sam’s Club wins the price comparison category overall, but that doesn’t mean absolutely everything is a better deal there. Milk, for instance, is cheaper at Walmart. One gallon of Great Value 2% milk costs $2.62 at Walmart. One gallon of Member’s Mark 2% milk costs $2.88 at Sam’s Club.

Walmart also beats the prices at Sam’s Club for some milk alternatives, such as almond milk. A half-gallon of Great Value unsweetened vanilla almond milk costs $2.44 at Walmart. A half-gallon two-pack (one gallon total) of Member’s Mark unsweetened vanilla almond milk costs $5.38 at Sam’s Club. Unsweetened vanilla almond milk is 50¢ cheaper per gallon at Walmart.

Laundry Detergent

Tide Pods with Ultra Oxi
Source: Courtesy of Mike Edmisten via 24/7 Wall St.
Sam’s Club crushes Walmart’s prices for Tide Pods.
  • Winner: Sam’s Club

Laundry is a drag but, since we all have to do it, we might as well get a good deal on detergent. (Speaking of detergent, here is a look at eight detergent brands to avoid.)

Tide Pods are a very popular and highly effective laundry detergent. An 85-count package of Tide Pods with Ultra Oxi costs $27.24 at Walmart. A box of 104 pods of the exact same detergent costs $26.67 at Sam’s Club. Yes, you read that correctly. You can purchase 104 pods at Sam’s Club for less than 85 pods at Walmart. Sam’s Club wins BIG in the laundry detergent battle.

Paper Towels

Bounty paper towels
Source: Courtesy of Mike Edmisten via 24/7 Wall St.
Buying paper towels in bulk at Sam’s Club can save you some money.
  • Winner: Sam’s Club

Sam’s Club is a great place to stock up on essentials like paper towels. A pack of 12 oversized rolls of Bounty Select-A-Size paper towels costs $23.48 at Sam’s Club, while an 8-pack costs $22.18 at Walmart. The Walmart package contains triple rolls, which are larger than the rolls in the Sam’s Club package. However, Sam’s Club is still the better buy. The Walmart package contains the equivalent of 24 regular-sized paper towel rolls, while Sam’s Club offers the equivalent of 28 regular rolls. This equates to four additional regular-sized rolls of Bounty for just $1.30 more at Sam’s Club.

Body Wash

Olay body wash
Source: Courtesy of Mike Edmisten via 24/7 Wall St.
Olay body wash is cheaper at Sam’s Club than at Walmart.
  • Winner: Sam’s Club

Purchasing toiletries at Sam’s Club can also be a cost-saver. We compared the price of Olay Ultra Moisture Body Wash with Shea Butter at both stores, and Sam’s Club offered the better deal. One 30-fluid-ounce bottle of this body wash costs $8.97 at Walmart. A three-pack of 23.6-fluid-ounce bottles (70.8 total fluid ounces) of the same body wash costs $15.98 at Sam’s Club. This breaks down to 23¢ per fluid ounce at Sam’s Club and nearly 30¢ per fluid ounce at Walmart.

Tires

Sam's Club tire department
Source: Courtesy of Mike Edmisten via 24/7 Wall St.
Sam’s Club tire department
  • Winner: Sam’s Club

Both Sam’s Club and Walmart offer more than groceries. Each store has an Auto & Tire department, with Sam’s Club usually offering better deals. For example, we compared the Sam’s Club and Walmart prices for Hankook Dynapro tires, which are quality mid-range tires. We priced tires that would fit a small SUV like a Ford Escape (tire size 225/65R17). The cost, including the installation fee, comes to $164.88 per tire at Sam’s Club and $185.99 at Walmart. Multiply that for four tires and you’ll save quite a bit at Sam’s Club.

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