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5 Major Differences Between Costco and Walmart Right Now

The competition between Costco and Walmart continues to heat up.

Walmart and Costco remain two of the most popular retailers in the world. Both companies continue to be well known for low prices, select items, and unique offerings. Walmart's origins date back to 1962 and now operates over 5,000 total stores, while Costco runs over 800 warehouses worldwide. The competition reached new heights in recent years with many comparing the widespread presence of Walmart to the rapid growth of Costco.

By now, most of us know that Costco sells bulk items with annual membership fees while Walmart doesn't, but we've discovered some lesser-known facts that really set these retailers apart. While stores possess distinctive qualities of their own, here are some of the key differences between the grocery store giants.

 6 Things You'll See at Costco This Year

Costco Has Food Courts…Walmart has Restaurants

Walmart McDonald's

The beloved Costco food court allows members to frequent the counter for some post-shopping treats. Between the $1.50 hot dogs, pizza, and the onion crank, these beloved menu offerings remain fan favorites across its warehouses.

Walmart operates a bit differently. Depending on which side of the store you enter, you'll likely be greeted by a restaurant housed right inside once you enter or exit. Fast-food chains like Wendy'sFrutta Bowls, Saladworks, and even the fast-casual Mediterranean chain Shawarma Press have entered the Walmart space and occupy space inside its stores.

Kirkland Brand has a Wider Selection

Kirkland brand

We're all familiar with Walmart's line of Great Value products, which includes a number of food and cleaning items. Many consumers don't seem to mind the generic label because it's often cheaper than name-brand products. Some shoppers on Reddit prefer Great Value over its name-brand competitor. User u/fs0115 explains that "Great value ice cream. Cheaper, can't tell the difference…Can say the same for their juices, breads, chips, cookies, etc. Just about everything."

Kirkland Signature, Costco's exclusive brand of products, seemingly offers more to its members than Walmart with an expansive selection of household, grocery, and personal care products. But not only that, Costco offers Kirkland Signature sunglasses, mattresses, and even hoodies with the Kirkland Signature logo on full display! For months, members of Reddit have raved about the merch and posted about scoring their new hoodies on the site.

Self Checkout: Walmart Has the Upper Hand

walmart self checkout

Walmart seeks to undergo a major overhaul to replace its traditional conveyor belt registers with more self-checkout stations. In a 2020 experimental store design, one Fayetteville, Ark. supercenter got rid of all its lanes. The company website explained that the switch is intended to make checking out less complicated. The machines—which are equipped with green lights that show which machine is available—are in an effort to speed up the checkout process, and the new installations don't appear to be slowing down any time soon.

Costco hasn't fully caught up to the self-checkout wave yet. While there are still individual checkout stations, the number of them compared to Walmart is unmatched. Self-scan stations were apparently short-lived, according to Reddit, and most were discontinued "due to inventory loss." Many of the responses indicated that the self-scan feature wasn't in most stores, but one commenter who experienced it noted that they enjoyed it. "I miss that! It was great while it lasted," wrote u/uniqueme1. However, in another thread, one user who appears to be an employee claimed that "self check out is terrible," primarily because of the inefficiency. "The machines are overly sensitive, they lock up for no reason constantly…At my store, self checkout gets backed up more than regular lines." This feature is still available in some Costco warehouses.

Free Store Samples are Distributed Differently

store samples

Let's face it—everyone loves free samples. But Costco has taken it to another level to entice customers. Most members expect to see free sample areas stationed throughout the warehouse, especially on a Saturday. Some of the best samples, according to Reddit, include Lindt chocolate, pumpkin cheesecake, and even prime rib! Members will encounter a Costco employee serving samples, and it's definitely one of the selling points of the warehouse.

Walmart is taking a different approach to offering samples with its Freeosk system. The exchange is fully automated and is described by blog site Inspiring Savings as "freebie vending machines," where a freeosk will dole out samples (no human required). Shoppers can also use an app to order freebies to get delivered to the house.

Employee Experience Might be Better at Costco


About 1.6 million employees work for Walmart, for a total of 2.3 million global associates. Meanwhile, Costco has significantly fewer employees, with just 189,000 in the U.S. and a total of 288,000 employees worldwide. Walmart's minimum wage is around $12 an hour, but last year Costco raised its minimum wage to $17 an hour.

The warehouse is also reported to have a relatively low turnover rate, meaning that many of the employees stay with the company and promote from within. According to Investopedia, "most workers are covered by the company's benefits plan which includes a 401(k), health insurance, dental insurance, drug plan, vision care, and others."

For more info, here are 5 Major Differences Between Costco and BJ's Right Now.

Alex Perry
Alex Perry is a writer with Eat This, Not That! She graduated with a master's degree in broadcast journalism from Northwestern University, where she experienced all the amazing things Chicago has to offer. Read more about Alex