Sam's Club vs Costco: One Has a New Plan to Make Checkout Faster

MANAGE MONEY - SHOPPING
In a race to exit the store, is Costco or Sam’s Club making it easier for customers?
Updated Feb. 5, 2024
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Ready, set, checkout! Instead of dueling race cars, drop a checkered flag in front of a Costco shopper and a Sam’s Club shopper for a race to the finish of trying to check out of either store. Who would win? Hands down, it would be the Sam’s Club shopper.

Since Sam’s Club instituted its scan-and-go feature on its app, the customer can now pay on the app, show the digital receipt to the door person, and then zoom out to their car. 

Meanwhile, back over at Costco, shoppers are still slowly pushing their carts to the checkout stand on an endless (it feels that way) line. Sam’s Club is now making this even easier with AI, which will allow shoppers to avoid the receipt checker as well.

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How fast you can check out at Costco and Sam’s Club

While there has yet to be a scientific study on checkout times at either warehouse store, you can do things to speed up the checkout process at Costco or Sam's Club.

Using the scan-and-go feature on the Sam's Club app is a lifesaver for Sam's Club members. Scan items as you place them in the cart as you shop. When you've finished shopping, pay via the app and then show the digital receipt at the door, and you are free.

While there are many Costco membership benefits to take advantage of, getting through the check-out lines is not one. Costco shoppers can opt for the self-service line, which is usually shorter than the full-service line. However, it can take just as long because you have to wait for an employee for a lot of items to be scanned or to purchase additional items available at checkout only, such as ice.

You can potentially speed up the checkout process by changing the time you shop. If you're a weekend shopper, try shopping mid-week. Either shop when the store opens or midafternoon to find times when there are smaller crowds.

Checkout issues at each warehouse store

Both stores are guilty of long lines. Both stores have numerous checkout stations. Unfortunately, some checkout stations are unstaffed until the store's line reaches critical mass.

Another issue is that shoppers don’t line up in an orderly manner at either store. People try to enter in the middle of a line pretty often, and it can create a frustrating scenario. Some may place their shopping cart at an angle or sideways to push their way in.

The worst offenders at both stores are those who announce they forgot something. They abandon their cart and vanish into the store for 10 to 30 minutes. A kind soul may push their cart for them if the checkout line starts moving.

Each store has to deal with those regular customer issues, but the two stores are dealing with the check-out bottleneck in two very different ways. Sam’s Club is continually trying to speed the process up with technology while Costco continues to rely on their employees, meaning the checkout process varies by store.

How the self-checkout process compares between Costco and Sam’s Club

Using the self-checkout process between Costco and Sam’s Club is like comparing two pretty polar opposite experiences.

At Sam’s Club, self-checkout is self-checkout, as the entire process is via the scan-and-go option on their phone app. You don’t need any assistance to get through the checkout process and be on your way, regardless of the size or amount of items in your cart.

Costco doesn’t have an app. Some Costco’s don’t have hand scanners at the self-checkout register. For a large or bulky item, you must wave over a Costco employee and have them use their hand scanner. Scanned items must remain on the side table, or the weight table while checking out.

If the weight of the items is more than the weight the table can bear, you must wave over an associate to help you out of that mess. You also must get their help to buy additional items not available until checkout, like ice.

Which store is trying to speed up the process?

As previously mentioned, the two stores are dealing with the checkout bottleneck in two very different ways. Costco continues to throw employees at the problem, hoping high customer service can alleviate the issue. They've tried things such as self-checkout, but it might be on the way out of their stores. Sam's Club, meanwhile, is utilizing as much technology as it can to improve the situation. 

In addition to the Sam’s Club scan and go checkout option, the warehouse store is speeding up departures, too. Like the Amazon Go stores, Sam’s Club is installing AI-powered devices that will be placed by the exits. Using computer vision, it scans carts to ensure all items have been purchased. The pilot program is currently underway at 10 Sam’s Club stores.

As for Costco, members are still bottlenecking the exit while waiting for a store associate to review their receipts. There is no word if this is planning to change any time soon. While you might save money while shopping at Costco, you might not be able to save that money very quickly.

Bottom line

Sam's Club is clearly the winner when it comes to paying and leaving the warehouse store. Their phone app turns every phone into a self-service checkout kiosk. Now, with the addition of an AI-powered computer vision system installed at the door, leaving the store is as fast as when you entered it.

There are constant comparisons between the two warehouse giants. It’s an pretty regular topic in the Reddit Costco and Sam’s Club communities. Commenters in both communities noted that gas prices and certain food items were the same at both stores. 

In the end, it comes down to where you want to shop. Is it at a store that makes shopping a breeze or a store that has anything you can imagine and lines that feel like they’re longer than Mondays?

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Author Details

PJ Gach PJ Gach is a professional writer who has over a decade of experience covering the fashion, beauty, and lifestyle beats. Her writing credits include Shop TODAY, GoBankingRates, SPY.com, Reader's Digest, The New York Post, Rolling Stone, and more.

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