- I visited Costco and BJ’s to compare the two wholesale membership stores.
- BJ’s is smaller and sells more name brand items.
- Costco is the better choice thanks to reasonable prices, a superior food court, and clean store design.
Inflation and rising grocery bills are pushing more shoppers to membership clubs for bulk savings.
I’m a Costco member, so I visited BJ’s to see how the two chains compare.
Both stores operate on the same premise: Customers purchase annual memberships that give them access to bulk goods at prices lower than most other grocery stores, plus a discount on gas and other items.
Costco has over 500 stores across the US, while BJ’s has about half as many, located on the East Coast.
Costco’s Gold Star membership is $60 a year, and the Executive Level is $120 per year. BJ’s prices are just barely less expensive at $55 for the lower level and $110 for the higher tier. Costco has far higher sales than other membership clubs, reporting $192 billion in the 2021 fiscal year.
BJ’s is a smaller player, with $16.3 billion in sales in 2021, though that still made it the company’s best year to date.
I visited both stores to see how they really compare.
When you walk into Costco, a greeter checks to make sure you have your membership card, which is required to make purchases besides alcohol, at the food court, and a few other exceptions. I entered the gigantic Costco warehouse and was immediately greeted by large electronic displays, with TVs stacked up high.
You could outfit an entire home from the appliances in Costco, including washing machines, dryers, refrigerators, dishwashers, and more.
Then, we finally made our way to the food. Brand name snacks mostly made up the center displays, sitting on pallets.
Products are loosely organized by type, like snacks or baked goods. Most products either come in huge boxes, or you’re required to buy multiple bags.
For the most part, every section is inside the main warehouse itself, but dairy and some fruits and vegetables have their own separate refrigerated sections off the main area.
Back out in the main warehouse, we found the bakery with fresh and packaged goods.
Fresh baked goods are displayed right in front of the kitchen.
You can also buy custom cakes and order them in store.
The rest of the back wall next to the bakery is a deli and meat counter.
This is where you can find the chain’s famous $5 rotisserie chickens.
A few aisles of refrigerated shelves hold cheeses, butter, and all different kinds of dips and spreads.
Costco is also known for its prepared foods, like taco kits or other meals, which are located in this section and rotate regularly.
Beer and hard seltzers are available in the main area of the store. Other alcohol is only sold in the liquor store next door, which has a separate entrance, though that isn’t the case in all locations.
The remaining aisles on the far side of the store are dedicated to freezers with entrees and desserts, and pantry goods in bulk.
Most of the non-food items are gathered in the center of the store, from clothes to books, furniture, electronics, and fine jewelry.
A floral section has bouquets and arrangements, sometimes themed around upcoming holidays like Mother’s Day.
Costco also provides select services inside stores, including a pharmacy, optical store, and hearing aid center.
There are about fifteen checkout lanes staffed by workers, plus newer self-checkout stations.
Just past the checkout lanes, the food court sells food and drinks, including the famous $1.50 hot dog and soda combo deal.
After easing pandemic restrictions, tables for indoor dining were added back.
Next, I went to BJ’s just a few miles away.
When I walked into BJ’s for the first time, it was much less overwhelming than Costco.
It’s still a big warehouse, but quantities are smaller, and products aren’t stacked up nearly as high.
BJ’s has most of the same product categories as Costco, like outdoor equipment furniture, grills, and clothing, in addition to groceries.
The main difference is there is less of everything. Outdoor furniture displays are smaller, and there aren’t water slides and other summer accessories hanging from the ceiling.
BJ’s does have an electronics section, but it’s not highlighted at the entryway of the store, and it’s definitely smaller than its competitors.
There are displays of books, clothing, puzzles, and other non-grocery items in the middle of the store, just like at Costco.
Some pieces of BJ’s, like this greeting card section, reminded me more of a standard Target or Walmart than another warehouse store.
The bakery section was very similar to Costco’s bakery.
Fewer items seemed to be made in-house. Instead, they were from name brands I recognized.
Some things are baked in-store, though. BJ’s sells custom-decorated cakes, just like Costco.
Other baked goods, like cookies, cakes, and pies, made the whole section of the store smell good.
Walking through BJ’s feels quite different from Costco, because it’s more open and spacious, without the piles and miles of merchandise the other store is known for.
There are some appetizers and snacks in refrigerated sections, but it doesn’t hold a candle to Costco.
There are a few unique kinds of cheese and other dishes, but not as many as you could find at Costco.
The selection of dips and spreads wasn’t bad by any means, but it isn’t necessarily superior to the average Walmart, which doesn’t charge a membership fee.
The prepared food looked especially paltry compared to Costco.
Of course, BJ’s sells rotisserie chickens for $4.99, just like Costco.