10 Things You Should Know Before Shopping at Sam’s Club for the First Time

I’m a Champagne girl without a Champagne budget, so I put in the time to find the best value on groceries and other household staples. And one of my favorite places to shop for bargains is Sam’s Club, the membership-only retail warehouse that was opened by Walmart nearly 40 years ago.

I initially joined Sam’s to keep work expenses down. As a recipe developer, I often need large quantities of staples for recipe and product testing, and the warehouse’s low prices mean I can have a stash of budget-friendly ingredients on hand. The more I shopped at the club, though, the more I started stocking up on items for my own household — and I love the fact that I can save both time and money by shopping in one place. 

Over the years, I’ve picked up some tips, tricks, and advice for shopping at Sam’s. If you’re a first-timer, here’s what you need to know.

Anyone can walk in and buy a hot dog or pretzel at the club’s café, or even liquor in the store, but access to groceries (and other products and services) are for members only. Sam’s offers two yearly membership options: Club ($50 per year) and Plus ($110 per year). Both memberships include access to the warehouse’s products and services, Curbside Pickup (although there is a $4 fee for Club members), Instant Savings (more on that below), savings on gas, and the ability to apply for a Sam’s Club Mastercard (Club members get 1% cash back on purchases from Sam’s Club; Plus Members get 3%). On top of that, Plus Members get free shipping, additional pharmacy and optical discounts, and early-bird access to the store (starting at 8 a.m.).

2. Non-members can shop with a 24-hour guest pass.

If you’re interested in checking out your local Sam’s Club, but don’t necessarily want to hand over $50 or $110 without a trial run, you can sign up for a free 24-hour Guest Membership. Just note that a 10% service fee will be added to your purchase total. 

3. You’ll want to stock up on baking staples — especially during the holidays. 

The club carries a comprehensive inventory of both shelf-stable and perishable items, across both its private-label and brand-name products. It’s a great spot for stocking up on staples, such as butter, nuts, vanilla, olive oil, and cookie dough for holidays. I bake a lot of brownies and pound cakes throughout the year, and I always get butter, nuts, and vanilla at Sam’s. During the holiday season, I can even find 16-ounce bottles of vanilla here.

4. The rotisserie chickens rival the ones from other big-box retailers. 

The club has a good selection of poultry, fish, and meats. One of my faves is Sam’s Club Rotisserie Chickens, which you can get for $4.98 each. I’ve tried the rotisserie chicken from other box stores, and I find this one to be more flavorful and tender. The ingredient list credits Lawry’s seasoning, but I know they’ve added a secret touch! The juices from the chicken make a great base for gravy that requires little to no additional seasoning. The chickens are cooked in-club and are so in-demand that it’s worth waiting for the next batch of juicy birds to come out of the oven.  

5. The store’s frozen fish and fresh produce are not to be missed. 

My family is fond of salmon, and Sam’s sells both farm-raised and wild-caught frozen Atlantic salmon under the Maker’s Mark brand, the store’s private label.

Sam’s also carries a good selection of produce. I like the one-pound package of organic salad greens, which includes green and red leaf lettuce, arugula, and baby spinach. When they’re in season, Cara Cara oranges are always on my list.

6. The cheese selection is huge. 

Cheese is one of the items I buy regularly at Sam’s, and the club carries a vast selection of private-label and name-brand options, including Jarlsberg Swiss and Cabot. You’ll find 15-pound wheels of Parmesan, one- or two-pound logs of goat cheese, blocks of cheddar, and big bags of shredded cheddar, to name a few. And if you’re planning to make a charcuterie board, you can swing past the refrigerator cases and snack aisles to pick up the rest of your ingredients: cured meats, fancy crackers, nuts, and fruit.

7. You can skip the checkout line.

Instead of standing in long checkout lines, I like using Scan & Go in the Sam’s Club app. Simply scan each product’s barcode as you add them to your cart, pay for them directly in the app, then show your digital receipt to a club employee on the way out. (One note: This option isn’t available to shoppers with a Guest Membership.) Plus Members have the added benefit of then having items — say, a large TV — shipped for free.

8. In lieu of coupons, the club has an Instant Savings program.

It’s true: Sam’s Club does not accept coupons. Instead, the store has its own Instant Savings program, which features a rotation of deals and discounts each month on select products, including pantry staples, popular snacks, and frozen favorites. (Some are in-store only or have a limit on the number you can purchase, so be sure to check the details.) You can also use Ibotta, the free cash-back rewards web and mobile app, that will give you cash for everyday purchases when you’re shopping.

9. The prices are the same whether you’re shopping online or in-store.

You pay the same member’s-only price for purchases when shopping for groceries in the app, online, or at the club. As mentioned above, shipping is free for Plus Members (and estimated at checkout for Club Members). However, if you opt for Same-Day Delivery, you’ll be charged a delivery fee ($8 for Plus, $12 for Club) per order.

10. The products and services extend way beyond groceries.

The previous tips focus on grocery shopping, but keep in mind Sam’s also offers optical and pharmacy services, auto care with a tire and battery center, plus auto buying and rental. You’ll also find furniture, appliances, office supplies, photo processing, and custom photo gifts. But that’s not all — you’ll also want to check out the club’s travel and entertainment services, and home improvement and maintenance services too.

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