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Strategy We shopped at Sam's Club and BJ's to see which was a better warehouse store, and the winner was clear

Sam's Club and BJ's Wholesale seem to be pretty similar on the surface. But after shopping at both, we found one bulk retailer had a much better experience to offer in-store.

  • Published:
A membership at BJ's costs $55 a year. play

A membership at BJ's costs $55 a year.

(Business Insider/Jessica Tyler)
  • Sam's Club and BJ's Wholesale are similar membership-based warehouse clubs that offer a wide variety of products and services.
  • There are quite a few differences between Sam's Club and BJ's, including the presence of a self-checkout option and the lack of a food court at BJ's. BJ's stores used to have food courts, but most are being replaced by Dunkin' Donuts kiosks.
  • I went to a Sam's Club in Westchester, New York, and a BJ's in Jersey City, New Jersey, and found that Sam's Club is less expensive to join and offers more in store.

Sam's Club and BJ's Wholesale are membership-based warehouse clubs selling groceries, clothing, furniture, and, well, lots of other stuff.

Both stores offer eye and ear exams, a pharmacy, one-hour photo services, and either a food court or kiosk at affordable prices. Even the return policies are similar, though BJ's stops accepting items after a year, while Sam's Club will do so for most items at any time.

An annual membership is required to shop at both stores. Sam's Club costs $45 for an annual membership, and BJ's costs $55. A premium membership at either store costs $100 or $110 a year, respectively.

After visiting both stores, it seemed like BJ's was struggling to keep up with Sam's Club and the stores' other rival, Costco.

But BJ's is showing some signs of strength. Last month, the warehouse chain filed to go public, with plans to trade on the New York Stock Exchange under the ticker "BJ." The warehouse chain had previously traded publicly until 2011, when it made a deal with two private-equity firms to take it private, according to CNN Money.

According to a grocery-store ranking from Consumer Reports, Sam's Club and BJ's rank about equally in cleanliness, meat and produce quality, customer service, store-brand quality, and prices of organic items.

BJ's ranked higher than Sam's Club in just two categories: healthy organic options and checkout speed.

To see for myself which store offered the best deals, I went to a Sam's Club in Westchester, New York, and a BJ's in Jersey City, New Jersey. Here's what I found:

Sam's Club was the first store I visited. An annual membership costs $45 for the standard plan and $100 for the premium plan. No one checked my membership upon entry. Without a membership, you can use a guest pass to shop, but there is a 10% service fee at most locations.

Sam's Club was the first store I visited. An annual membership costs $45 for the standard plan and $100 for the premium plan. No one checked my membership upon entry. Without a membership, you can use a guest pass to shop, but there is a 10% service fee at most locations. play

Sam's Club was the first store I visited. An annual membership costs $45 for the standard plan and $100 for the premium plan. No one checked my membership upon entry. Without a membership, you can use a guest pass to shop, but there is a 10% service fee at most locations.

(Hollis Johnson/Business Insider)


The tech department was right up front, with rows of TVs and computers for under $2,000.

The tech department was right up front, with rows of TVs and computers for under $2,000. play

The tech department was right up front, with rows of TVs and computers for under $2,000.

(Business Insider/Jessica Tyler)


There was a full mobile phone center in the tech department as well.

There was a full mobile phone center in the tech department as well. play

There was a full mobile phone center in the tech department as well.

(Business Insider/Jessica Tyler)


Also near the front of the store were a photo printing center, an optical center, and a hearing center. Non-members can use the optical and hearing centers, as well as the pharmacy that's offered at most locations.

Also near the front of the store were a photo printing center, an optical center, and a hearing center. Non-members can use the optical and hearing centers, as well as the pharmacy that's offered at most locations. play

Also near the front of the store were a photo printing center, an optical center, and a hearing center. Non-members can use the optical and hearing centers, as well as the pharmacy that's offered at most locations.

(Business Insider/Jessica Tyler)


Aisles of snacks stretched wall to wall, and everything was sold in bulk. Most of what was sold in the snack aisle cost $10 or less.

Aisles of snacks stretched wall to wall, and everything was sold in bulk. Most of what was sold in the snack aisle cost $10 or less. play

Aisles of snacks stretched wall to wall, and everything was sold in bulk. Most of what was sold in the snack aisle cost $10 or less.

(Business Insider/Jessica Tyler)


Produce was also sold in bulk at a low price point. A five-pound bag of clementines was just over $6.

Produce was also sold in bulk at a low price point. A five-pound bag of clementines was just over $6. play

Produce was also sold in bulk at a low price point. A five-pound bag of clementines was just over $6.

(Business Insider/Jessica Tyler)


Sam's Club was relatively organized. Aisles were labeled, and similar products were grouped together.

Sam's Club was relatively organized. Aisles were labeled, and similar products were grouped together. play

Sam's Club was relatively organized. Aisles were labeled, and similar products were grouped together.

(Business Insider/Jessica Tyler)


But it still had the "treasure hunt" element that warehouse clubs are known for. Random products were placed all over the store.

But it still had the "treasure hunt" element that warehouse clubs are known for. Random products were placed all over the store. play

But it still had the "treasure hunt" element that warehouse clubs are known for. Random products were placed all over the store.

(Business Insider/Jessica Tyler)


In the spacious center of the store, clothes were stacked surrounded by books and furniture sets. Most clothes and books were $20 or less.

In the spacious center of the store, clothes were stacked surrounded by books and furniture sets. Most clothes and books were $20 or less. play

In the spacious center of the store, clothes were stacked surrounded by books and furniture sets. Most clothes and books were $20 or less.

(Business Insider/Jessica Tyler)


Sam's Club also had a selection of high-end jewelry kept behind glass ...

Sam's Club also had a selection of high-end jewelry kept behind glass ... play

Sam's Club also had a selection of high-end jewelry kept behind glass ...

(Business Insider/Jessica Tyler)


... and it had a huge wall of gift cards being sold at discounted prices. For example, $50 gift cards to restaurants were being sold for under $40.

... and it had a huge wall of gift cards being sold at discounted prices. For example, $50 gift cards to restaurants were being sold for under $40. play

... and it had a huge wall of gift cards being sold at discounted prices. For example, $50 gift cards to restaurants were being sold for under $40.

(Business Insider/Jessica Tyler)


The lines at the register were pretty long, but Sam's Club has an app that allows customers to scan items as they go through the store and then pay through the app, skipping the long lines. Sam's Club also accepts returns for most items except for electronics and appliances, which have a 90-day limit.

The lines at the register were pretty long, but Sam's Club has an app that allows customers to scan items as they go through the store and then pay through the app, skipping the long lines. Sam's Club also accepts returns for most items except for electronics and appliances, which have a 90-day limit. play

The lines at the register were pretty long, but Sam's Club has an app that allows customers to scan items as they go through the store and then pay through the app, skipping the long lines. Sam's Club also accepts returns for most items except for electronics and appliances, which have a 90-day limit.

(Business Insider/Jessica Tyler)


Past the register was a food court selling $1.50 hot dogs, 89-cent sodas, and other unbelievably cheap meals. You don't need a membership to eat at the food court.

Past the register was a food court selling $1.50 hot dogs, 89-cent sodas, and other unbelievably cheap meals. You don't need a membership to eat at the food court. play

Past the register was a food court selling $1.50 hot dogs, 89-cent sodas, and other unbelievably cheap meals. You don't need a membership to eat at the food court.

(Business Insider/Jessica Tyler)


I went to BJ's next. An annual membership costs $55 for the standard plan and $110 for the premium plan. No one checked my membership upon entry at BJ's, either. Like at Sam's Club, non-members can use a guest pass to shop, but they'll be charged a 20% service fee at most locations.

We visited a BJ's Wholesale Club in Jersey City, New Jersey. play

We visited a BJ's Wholesale Club in Jersey City, New Jersey.

(Business Insider/Jessica Tyler)


Like at Sam's Club, the tech department was at the front of the store, and most products cost under $2,000. BJ's advertised its tech advisor program that offers free help to customers. Sam's Club offers this as well, but it was not advertised as clearly in the store.

At the front of the store was the tech department, selling a huge selection of laptops and TVs. Most TVs cost between $500 and $2,000. play

At the front of the store was the tech department, selling a huge selection of laptops and TVs. Most TVs cost between $500 and $2,000.

(Business Insider/Jessica Tyler)


In the same way that Sam's Club had a mobile center, BJ's had a mini Verizon store set up near its tech department.

There were a few branded displays, like a mini in-store Verizon center. play

There were a few branded displays, like a mini in-store Verizon center.

(Business Insider/Jessica Tyler)


BJ's, like Sam's Club, has optical, hearing, and photo centers, as well as a pharmacy.

Near the registers, the store had optical and hearing centers that you didn't need a membership to use. play

Near the registers, the store had optical and hearing centers that you didn't need a membership to use.

(Business Insider/Jessica Tyler)


Snacks were sold in bulk for around the same price as at Sam's Club, but there wasn't nearly as much variety. Prices on produce were comparable as well.

BJ's snacks were sold in bulk, but the selection was underwhelming. There wasn't a ton of variety, and there seemed to be more candy than snacks. play

BJ's snacks were sold in bulk, but the selection was underwhelming. There wasn't a ton of variety, and there seemed to be more candy than snacks.

(Business Insider/Jessica Tyler)


Making my way through the store, I noticed a lot of empty shelves.

There were quite a few empty shelves throughout this part of the store. A lot of products were out of stock. play

There were quite a few empty shelves throughout this part of the store. A lot of products were out of stock.

(Business Insider/Jessica Tyler)


The selection of gift cards and other items was noticeably smaller at BJ's than at Sam's Club, though the company carries a comparable selection online.

There were gift cards near the register, but the selection was pretty small. play

There were gift cards near the register, but the selection was pretty small.

(Business Insider/Jessica Tyler)


The store was organized pretty similarly to Sam's Club. Not everything was in the same place, but there were similar signs grouping products together.

The store was organized pretty similarly to Sam's Club. Not everything was in the same place, but there were similar signs grouping products together. play

The store was organized pretty similarly to Sam's Club. Not everything was in the same place, but there were similar signs grouping products together.

(Business Insider/Jessica Tyler)


There was still a treasure-hunt experience at BJ's, despite how organized the aisles were. The middle of the store sold books, clothes, furniture, and tons of other random products that didn't seem to fit anywhere.

While the aisles were clearly labeled, there was still a pretty random product assortment. Toys and books were right next to the gardening supplies. play

While the aisles were clearly labeled, there was still a pretty random product assortment. Toys and books were right next to the gardening supplies.

(Business Insider/Jessica Tyler)


BJ's had a self-checkout option that allowed customers to skip the line. Sam's Club had its scan-and-go app, but it did not have a self-checkout. BJ's returns policy isn't as lenient as Sam's Club's — it stops accepting returns on most items after about a year.

It also had a self-checkout lane, which is a huge perk when lines get long. play

It also had a self-checkout lane, which is a huge perk when lines get long.

(Business Insider/Jessica Tyler)


Rather than a full food court like Sam's Club had, BJ's had a Dunkin' Donuts kiosk with a few small tables set up next to it. Even though BJ's costs more to join annually, I found it didn't really offer any additional perks for the price. While the online selections may be comparable, Sam's Club had a better in-store experience and had more to offer.

Instead of having a food court like Costco or Sam's Club, the store had a small Dunkin' Donuts kiosk by the exit. play

Instead of having a food court like Costco or Sam's Club, the store had a small Dunkin' Donuts kiosk by the exit.

(Business Insider/Jessica Tyler)