I compared Costco and BJ's, and despite higher prices Costco has a better shopping experience

I compared Costco and BJ's, and despite higher prices Costco has a better shopping experience


I’m a Costco member, so I visited BJ’s to see how the two chains compare.

Shoppers leave a BJ’s store in Alexandria, Virginia

Reuters/Kevin Lamarque


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

Costco storefront in Mount Prospect, Illinois.

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Costco has over 500 stores across the US, while BJ’s has about half as many, located on the East Coast.

Shoppers leave Costco in Fairfax, Virginia, January 7, 2010.   REUTERS/Larry Downing



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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 membership



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Costco has far higher sales than other membership clubs, reporting $192 billion in the 2021 fiscal year.

Shopping carts at Costco in Fairfax, Virginia, January 7, 2010.   REUTERS/Larry Downing

Shopping carts at Costco in Fairfax, Virginia

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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.

BJ's tour



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I visited both stores to see how they really compare.

bj's shopper



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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.

Costco membership card



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You could outfit an entire home from the appliances in Costco, including washing machines, dryers, refrigerators, dishwashers, and more.

Costco tour Rochester NY



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Then, we finally made our way to the food. Brand name snacks mostly made up the center displays, sitting on pallets.

Costco tour Rochester NY



Mary Meisenzahl/Insider


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.

Costco tour Rochester NY



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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.

Rochester Costco photo tour



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Back out in the main warehouse, we found the bakery with fresh and packaged goods.

Costco tour Rochester NY



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Fresh baked goods are displayed right in front of the kitchen.

Rochester Costco photo tour



Mary Meisenzahl/Insider


You can also buy custom cakes and order them in store.

Rochester Costco photo tour



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The rest of the back wall next to the bakery is a deli and meat counter.

Rochester Costco photo tour



Mary Meisenzahl/Insider


This is where you can find the chain’s famous $5 rotisserie chickens.

Rochester Costco photo tour



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A few aisles of refrigerated shelves hold cheeses, butter, and all different kinds of dips and spreads.

Rochester Costco photo tour



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Costco is also known for its prepared foods, like taco kits or other meals, which are located in this section and rotate regularly.

Costco kosher



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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.

Rochester Costco photo tour



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The remaining aisles on the far side of the store are dedicated to freezers with entrees and desserts, and pantry goods in bulk.

Rochester Costco photo tour



Mary Meisenzahl/Insider


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 tour



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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.

BJ's tour



Mary Meisenzahl/Insider




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