If you’ve been reading my blog for a while you probably caught my two posts about price comparisons from April 2008 (part 1 and part 2). I decided to do a repeat of my comparison from last year, although I did make a few changes to the way I’ve presented the data in the spreadsheet. I’m hoping that the changes I made make it easier for people to see how all four stores compare to each other, so I’ve tried to highlight not only the best price but actually rank them from best to worst.
What did I compare?
My comparison is between Costco and 3 local grocery stores, HEB, Wal-Mart, and Randall’s (that’s Safeway). I compared 39 items that I buy, and figure that other people might buy frequently too. I tried to choose the leading brands or the store brands, mostly this depends on what Costco sells. I wanted to make sure that I was comparing like items. Of course, there are a couple of places that I’m pretty sure I’m not getting a direct comparison: premium vanilla ice cream, store brand apple juice, and fish. It’s also possible that the coffee at Costco is a better quality than the other store brands but I’m not sure since I don’t drink coffee at all. All prices in my comparison were gathered this week – all on Tuesday. I also want to point out a few things: a) I did not cherry pick items from Costco that I knew were cheaper than at other stores; b) I did not have my Costco prices with me when I went to the other stores; c) I want to reiterate that I compared store brands to store brands and name brands to the same name brand.
Here is the list of 39 items that I compared:
Where can you find the data?
You can check out all the data, including the original prices at all stores, in this lovely Google spreadsheet: http://spreadsheets.google.com/ccc?key=r2ybQh3eLt5FM4Z1_-NEU3Q.
So, what are my conclusions?
As you can pretty clearly see from the spreadsheet Costco has the best pricing on 30 of the 39 items. Which obviously makes them the clear winner in the price comparison competition. Sadly, there were 3 items that Costco actually had the worst price on: fresh chicken breasts, as well as their store brand coffees. In second place, was HEB with the best price for 6 of the items. Wal-Mart came in next with 3 items that offered the best price, however, they were second best price on the majority of items. And lastly, the place you don’t want to shop, is Randall’s. Randall’s was only best on one item, chicken breasts. And actually it was a tie with HEB, so kind of a hollow victory. Even though Costco did not have the best price for the vanilla ice cream or the store brand apple juice, my guess is that they actually offer the better value because their products are of higher quality. Also, I do feel that Costco seems to have better quality and nicer looking fresh fish in comparison with the offerings at regular grocery stores. However, this is kind of subjective as there’s not a real rating, like ‘choice’ or ‘prime’ as with steaks.
In response to some comments from my results last year, I decided that I would take all of my normalized pricing that I used for direct comparison and total it up for each store. Costco was also the clear winner here too, with a total of $128.06. That is $25.72 (about 17%) less than the closest competitor, HEB. HEB and Wal-Mart were fairly close though, despite the fact that HEB had more items that offered the best price. HEB had a total of $153.78 (20% more than Costco) and Wal-Mart came in at $156.90 (23% more than Costco); that’s just $3.12 difference between HEB and Wal-Mart. And poor Randall’s came in way behind with a total of $173.70 (36% more than Costco) Yikes! That’s a huge difference.
Once again, Costco was the very clear winner. However, I know some will comment about needing to buy a membership to shop at Costco. Of course, you can pretty easily see that it would not take long with the kinds of savings mentioned above to cover the $50.00 price of the standard membership. I would also encourage everyone to read my follow-up post to my comparison that I did last year, The post discusses the large quantities at Costco and where it is reasonable and where it is a potential issue. I have noticed that there are a lot of things you can buy in very large quantities at your local grocery store too. And really, for most non-perishable items, buying more isn’t a big issue (think laundry detergent) and is probably better.
Hopefully, this little comparison will shed some light on why I really do think Costco is a better deal for people. I don’t agree with all of the people that say you’ll actually end up spending more at Costco to save money. I think that’s a fairly ridiculous statement when you consider the results of this comparison.