If you’re a fan of buying things in bulk, you’re probably familiar with Sam’s Club. The Walmart-owned store boasts savings for its members and includes some pretty great perks. But is this club and its membership fee really worth joining? Here’s a look at the untold truth of Sam’s Club.
Deal or no deal?
Most people go to Sam’s Club to save money. But whether or not you actually save money depends on what you’re buying — and how you buy it. According to the finance website Go Banking Rates, for instance, meat and fresh produce are usually available at a cheaper rate from your local grocery store. A bigger issue is those gigantic bulk deals. Sure, you theoretically save money, but only if you actually manage to use all that food before it goes bad. Shopping analyst Benjamin Glaser told Fox Business, the “the average family of four wastes about $1,800 a year throwing away food, including groceries that spoil before you eat them.” Plus, according to Brian Wansink, professor of consumer behavior at Cornell University, once you pay that membership fee, you’re likely to buy more stuff in order to justify it. If you’ve ever gone in to Sam’s Club looking for toilet paper and come out with a new Fitbit instead because it was on sale, that’s “justification mentality” at work — and this psychological phenomenon is what Sam’s Club counts on in order to make money. So even though Sam’s Club prices are 33 percent lower than most supermarket chains, you still may end up spending more money there if you’re not careful.
Breaking the code
Believe it or not, the price tags at Sam’s Club allegedly contain secret codes that can help you determine whether or not to buy something. According to Kyle James of Rather-Be-Shopping.com, a price ending in 1 means it’s a sale price, but it’s the letter on the top right of the shelf tag that you really need to pay attention to. If it’s an A or an N, that means it’s something they always carry and always try to have in stock. An S means it’s a seasonal item and might only be there for a short time, while a C means it’s a canceled item they’re going to get rid of, so it might go on clearance. But it’s the O you really need to watch out for. That means it’s a one-time buy, so once it’s gone, it’s gone. Stock up on this one if you find something you like, because it’s not coming back.
Walmart and Sam’s Club have typically been against worker’s unions and reportedly actively discourage employees from forming them. Leaked training materials show the tactics the company uses to squash any thoughts of unionizing. For example, when the meat department at a Texas Walmart unionized in 2000, Walmart responded by eliminating butchers entirely from 180 stores. And they have reason to worry that disgruntled employees might unionize. According to investment site The Motley Fool, Sam’s Club provides worse benefits and lower pay than their biggest rival. In fact, Costco has cut down on the products they offer in order to keep their workers happy while Sam’s Club has cut corners by laying off employees. “Tonight, a state agency is trying to help Sam’s Club employees who were laid off over the weekend — more than 11,000 workers from across the country were let go.”
In 2016, Sam’s Club gave their private brand, Member’s Mark, a complete makeover. Previously, the store had 21 separate private brands, which they combined into one in an attempt to standardize the line. They also announced plans to release hundreds of new products, while updating hundreds more, including regional offerings, such as Member’s Mark All Natural Pulled Pork, made with guidance from the Kansas City Barbecue Society. Perhaps their most popular offering, however, is their Member’s Mark wine, which costs only $7 a bottle but is reportedly pretty good. It’s proven popular enough that Sam’s Club announced plans to add other wines to their lineup, including Cabernet, prosecco, and champagne.
Membership has its privileges
Besides being able to buy 50 gallons of ketchup at once, there are other perks to being a Sam's Club member you may not be aware of. For instance, small business owners can get legal advice and help with payroll services, and even purchase insurance through Sam's Club for their employees. Individual members can also get help with their taxes, and accounting services are available for both individuals and small businesses. If you're not a member, though, there are still things you can do at Sam's Club. Both the liquor section and the pharmacy are open to non-members, as is the food court. So if you're looking for a swinging place for a romantic night out, what better place than inside your local discount warehouse?
The Sensory Lab
If you’re wondering how Sam’s decides which foods to sell, it turns out they have a group of up to 100 people who sample and rate different foods every single day. Called the Sensory Lab, this group of experts evaluated nearly 1700 items in 2012. According to The Recipe Girl, foods are rated on a 9-point scale for things like taste and texture, and if the food doesn’t score at least a 7, it doesn’t make it onto the shelves.
You don’t even have to get off the couch to get some seriously good deals from Sam’s Club, since they actually have their own online auction site. All you need to do is bid from the comfort of your own home, and cross your fingers that you win that pack of scented shower gel. Good luck!
Big in China
Sam’s Club is pretty popular in China. The country has several Sam’s Club locations, including one of the company’s top-selling locations, which is in Shenzhen. The store has become so influential that it’s changed how its members shop. Instead of shopping for fresh food daily, as many people in China typically do, members are now stocking up in bulk and visiting the store less than once a week.
Opened in Houston in 2009 as a test run, the Más Club’s main difference from other Sam’s Club locations was that it carried more items targeted at the area’s Latino community. But by 2014, the company realized the community would be better served by simply expanding product offerings in their traditional Sam’s Club locations, and Más Club was closed for good.
If you’ve noticed a difference in the food options you’re seeing at Sam’s Club, you’re not imagining it. According to Fortune, in 2016, Sam’s Club went after Costco by taking aim at another portion of the market: higher-income customers who generally head to the competition. They did this by starting to carry trendier foods, by installing teams of regional buyers to select local, gourmet, organic, and natural foods, and opening more stores in more affluent areas. Look out, Trader Joe’s…you’re next!