I Shopped at Sam’s Club Today. Is That Okay?

sams-club10 years ago I experienced a defining moment with one of my roommates at the time. We’ll call him “Sid.”

Sid and I were driving to Sam’s Club to stock up on the types of things 22 year-old men stock up on: meat, toilet paper, pasta, and beer. Sid’s parents were Sam’s Club members, and he was still on their family plan or something like that.

We pulled into the Sam’s Club parking lot…and that’s when it happened. Instead of getting out of the car, we just sat there for a minute looking at the megastore.

Sid said, “What the hell are we doing here?”

I agreed. “Let’s get out of here.”

We turned around and drove to the local grocery store instead.

I’m not quite sure what prompted that moment or how we even knew what each other was talking about. Maybe we had been talking about the Walton family or the way Sam’s Club treated their employees or the idea the Walmart and Sam’s Club had decimated local stores around the country.

Whatever it was, it reached a critical mass in that parking lot, and we were done with Sam’s Club. I haven’t been there in 10 years. I’ve been to Walmart exactly 2 times during that span–once for socks that I felt guilty buying because they were so damn cheap (socks should not be that cheap!) and once because I was with someone else who needed to get something there.

However, my workplace is a Sam’s Club member. We’re a nonprofit, so we try to exercise good stewardship by spending as little as possible on the things we need, so we go to Sam’s Club. And thus today I found myself there with a coworker looking for a specific item.

While we were there, I discovered this about Sam’s Club: It makes you feel like this is your one chance to get all the things you need. I don’t think that’s just because I haven’t been there in so long. I think the store is structured to invoke that feeling.

Because of that, though I didn’t intend to buy anything, I did purchase a set of 3 non-stick frying pans that have been on my list for a while.

I’m glad I have the frying pans. I will put them to good use. But I don’t know how I feel about buying them from Sam’s Club. A big part of that is lack of information–I honestly don’t know how to feel about Sam’s Club and Walmart now. They employ a lot of people, but do they treat those employees fairly now? Are they a generous company? I admire efficient capitalism, but it’s also important to me that everyone touched by the company are treated fairly. Is that the case for everyone that impacts the Sam’s Club supply chain? The farmers, the truckers, the factory workers?

I don’t know these answers, but I thought some readers might. And maybe you have some opinions to share about Sam’s Club and Walmart. I’d love to hear them in the comments.

9 thoughts on “I Shopped at Sam’s Club Today. Is That Okay?”

  1. As someone who just investigated the pros and cons of joining a megastore, I completely agree with you that the stores are structured that way. They are super interesting and the mentality there can suck you in, majorly. Much like Pinterest, they provide solutions/answers to problems that didn’t exist.

    That being said, we joined Costco and I am a fan. I go in there with a pretty specific list of things I have vetted as being “better” than purchasing elsewhere. This falls into either 1) way cheaper, 2) way less packaging (there are some items where bulk reduces packaging waste, but many items in these stores are individually wrapped and then also bundled together, bleck!) or 3) more local. I can buy Washington apples and Michigan blueberries at Costco, almost all produce is from the US. I cannot say the same for Schnucks, which is my closest option. I shop at the Tower Grove Farmer’s Market and Local Harvest when I can, but Costco for the rest for the 3 reasons above.

    Lastly, Costco definitely treats their workers FAR better than Sams Club (both good pay and benefits, just look for reviews of the company on indeed.com), which leads to better consumer experience. They also seem to have more high quality products across the board, like organic choices (so not as cheap sometimes).

    These are my thoughts!

    • Thanks so much for your thoughts, Emma. It’s awesome that Costco supports so many American farmers and companies, and I hadn’t thought about the benefits of effective bulk packaging. Good call.

  2. This feels like you’re baiting me… I’ll go ahead and bite though.

    The most recent data that I’ve read comes from Steven Greenhouse (he’s the NY Times writer on labor and the workplace). He wrote a book called “The Big Squeeze” in 2008 that has some pretty significant examinations of Sam’s Club and Costco. While it’s getting on 5 years, I don’t know that much has changed.

    Costco workers on average earn 70% more than the average full-time Wal-Mart worker and 40 % more than the average Sam’s Club worker. I honestly don’t know if Wal-Mart/Sam’s Club has gotten “better” although I don’t have any current data to back that up. This is just domestic labor, international labor conditions are often a nightmare.

    Like Emma, we’ve chosen to shop at Costco for many of the same reasons. I’m impressed with their business model and the vision of Costco CEO James Sinegal. I don’t think Costco is perfect, but they are committed to the fair treatment of their employees and suppliers. I was pleasantly surprised to discover I can purchase fair trade coffee, sugar, and quinoa at Costco as well as responsibly/sustainably sourced chocolate. As a household of two (soon to be three) this is all we really need in bulk.

    I’m glad you’re asking yourself this question, it’s an important one!

    • Ha ha…I should have titled this post, “Cynthia, I Shopped at Sam’s Club Today. Is That Okay?” 🙂

      Those differences between Sam’s Club and Costco are huge! I lump those two stores together in my mind, but it sounds like they have completely different approaches to running a business. Especially when it comes to quinoa.

  3. The Hubster worked at Sam’s Club as a night stock guy a few years ago after getting laid off so I only know about this one particular aspect of the company, and in one particular store. He really enjoyed it. He was paid fairly for the job (stock doesn’t really make much in any company) and was treated well. He and his fellow employees wee respected, even as the low guys on the totem pole. All employees got a free Sam’s Club membership, which was very helpful. So at least at his store, in his dept, they treated their employees very well.

  4. I enjoy Costco, but I don’t go to Walmart or Sam’s Club because they are always in disarray and it is overwhelming. Costco is overwhelming, too, but not in disarray. I definitely fall in to the “I need 19,000 rolls of toilet paper” trap. I mean, in my lifetime, I’m sure I will use that much toilet paper, but I need to learn that valuable lesson – I don’t need it all at once. I just can’t resist giant jars of peanuts, or their bakery – oh my gosh. Have you ever had a Costco bakery item? WELL worth it.

  5. I have nothing to add other than what was already said – shop at Costco. They show it’s possible to do the big-bulk store model without abusing the crap out of your employees. Yes, Wal-Mart has gotten marginally better in the past decade (largely through public shaming and well-deserved negative publicity), and individual cases will vary, but they’re still by and large terrible.


  6. Just wanted to add that vendors also suffer in these circumstances. Walmart, on top of being notorious for low wages, also forces vendors to cut their wholesale pricing, for little margin if any, to compete for space.

    One Walmart store, in DC, was featured on Youtube where a group of union staff protested for better wages.with a lively stomp routine.


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