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.
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.
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.