The Best & Worst Deals at Warehouse Club Stores

October 23, 2009

man at club store

By Nicole Andriso:

Shopping at one of the big warehouse clubs is a little like going to Disney World – it’s a sensory overload of things that are bigger and better than they are anywhere else. As Americans, we are conditioned to believe that bigger is better, and in a warehouse club store, buying bigger products or products in bulk is also typically cheaper. Right?

Well, right and wrong. Some items purchased at the big warehouse stores (including Sam’s Club, BJ’s, Costco) are worth buying in bulk, but other products aren’t a deal at all. In fact, the same products could be purchased at a regular grocery store or merchandiser for a much cheaper price. This quandary got the Consumer Warning Network thinking about what constitutes the best and worst deals at warehouse stores. They might surprise you.

To Buy
According to an article in Smart Money magazine, the best items to buy at the warehouse stores include: alcohol, electronics, dairy products, meat and prescription medications.

Wine, liquor and beer prices can be 35% lower than supermarket prices, while high-quality, top-notch butcher cuts of meat are sold at supermarket prices. This means the consumer is getting a higher quality cut for the same price. Dairy products such as milk, butter and eggs are good deals, especially since those prices never fluctuate in the regular grocery stores. At the warehouse stores, these items are up to 20% cheaper all the time.

Prescription medications can cost more than 50% less than the regular pharmacy chains, and according to Smart Money, the prices sometimes even beat the $4 generics sold at Walmart. A perk of going to a warehouse store – often times non-members can get their prescriptions filled at the pharmacy or online.

Not to Buy
While some items are worth the savings for a $30-$40 per year membership fee, others clearly are not. These items include: designer clothing, frozen foods, paper goods and those random items you just don’t use in their entirety.

Many designers create clothing lines specific to warehouse stores. If a true fashionista wants to buy a discounted item, a better bet would be TJ Maxx or Marshalls. And unless you have multiple freezers, the warehouse store deals on frozen food aren’t so cool, either. Since the food is in bulk, the issue of storage comes into play for the consumer – does the average consumer have enough room in their freezer for a 5-count box of frozen pizzas? Most don’t.

Which leads us to the next worst buy at the warehouse store: those items that you just don’t ever fully use, or can’t use before it goes bad. Items like large bottles of sunscreen, large cans of tuna or 5 pounds of fruits or vegetables. Unless you have a large family or are purchasing these items for a party, the average consumer probably won’t eat or finish everything, nor will they get their money’s worth.

The Question
For consumers who still believe that bigger is always better and that warehouse club stores have the best deals, might want to reconsider. Ask yourself a few easy questions before putting anything in your oversized cart: Will you finish the item? How many people will use it? Can you get it cheaper elsewhere? Asking these simple questions will not only save you money, but will also prevent you from purchasing another gallon of mayonnaise that will just sit in your pantry.