Sam’s Club vs. Costco: How Do Their Customers Compare? A Case Study in Social Media Insights

Oct 18, 2016 | Insights

If you’re looking to buy caskets in bulk, well, you are one who truly prepares for the worst. Otherwise, we are very, very sorry

In the above image (click on it to enlarge if legibility is lacking) you are seeing side by side charts, comparing the similar — yet different in some notable ways — lists of the top 10 social media influencers for Sam’s Club and Costco.

The companies being compared are, if you’re unfamiliar, membership only warehouse discount chains. The former is named after Sam Walton; creator of one of America’s greatest fortunes, and founder of the parent company of the “club” in question, Walmart.

Costco’s history dates back to 1976, and a San Diego based company called Price Club. Price, in a stroke of extraordinary convenience given the double meaning, was actually the surname of that chain’s founder, who from the 50s to the 80s also ran a chain of discount department stores called FedMart.

Costco itself was founded in Seattle in 1983, but merged with Price Club in the early 90s. For a few years they operated under both names, with all membership privileges interchangeable whatever the branding of a specific location. But by 1997, all locations officially and exclusively were branded Costco.

Costco is not only the largest membership-only wholesale warehouse club in the U.S., after the aforementioned Walmart it is the world’s second largest retailer.

Costco also has a reputation for a higher than normal degree of worker satisfaction among its staff. In the job ranking site Glassdoor’s annual survey of the best companies to work for, it has been for many years running the highest rated retailer.

On average, Costco’s workers earn $20 an hour or more, and at least 88% of its staff has its health insurance provided by the company. Company CEO Craig Jelinek — an outspoken advocate for a higher national minimum wage — also seems to be popular, as CEOs go, himself receiving a 95% approval rating from his employees on Glassdoor.

While Walmart-proper is a competitor, naturally — as the number one retailer has every intention of staying there and is all too aware of number two always — they compete with Costco in a more direct fashion as well, via their 400 American, and 250 international, members only wholesale warehouses, branded as Sam’s Club (Costco has a little over 700 locations globally).

At some point many years prior to the Costco merger, Sam Walton made an offer to the above mentioned Price Club.

According to a 2003, Fortune Magazine interview with Price Club founder, Sol Price, Walmart’s Sam Walton came to check out Price Club, interested in possibly merging it with Sam’s Club, in much the way that Price would later do with Costco.

Price said that during the visit, Walton credited FedMart with originating the business model Walmart emulated to such improbable success (regarding the below quote, the chain was back then branded “Wal-Mart”).

He came out to look at a Price Club, and he was very complimentary. He spent all this time telling me how impressed he’d been with Fed-Mart and how he’d never have all these Wal-Marts and be worth $700 million without that model. “I owe it all to you,” he said. “I told him, ‘Then don’t you think I’m entitled to a finder’s fee?’”

As Price Club and Costco merged the year after Walton died, he never suffered the insult of a business which turned down an offer from him later going into business with the competition. We’re sure, though, that someone at Walmart HQ was less than thrilled by the news.

But, we’re not here to give you a history lesson. We’re not even here to compare these wholesalers in terms of the savings they offer. However, the Passionate Penny Pincher site — a name that our findings suggest, unsurprisingly perhaps, would describe the fans of both stores — did just that, and you can see it for yourself by clicking here.

We’re here to compare statistics, specifically relating to the social media audiences for each of these chains.

Let’s start with the pair of lists we used to open this entry. If you’re reading this at all, chances are you know what’s meant by “social influencer,” or “social media influencer.” But, in brief, it means an individual who has a large following on social media, who updates frequently, possibly communicates directly with his or her audience, has content that is frequently and widely shared, and so forth. They could be a celebrity or notable in the greater world at large, or they could be one of those creatures whose sphere of notoriety is primarily the realm of social media itself.

The above lists are not sorted according to percentages or raw numbers. These are not necessarily the influencers with the most followers among the Sam’s Club and/or Costco social media audiences.

We’ll explain in a way that will aid you henceforth in reading the vast majority of charts found on the StatSocial web platform. On the site itself, they’re more sightly, as these have been edited so they’ll work in the format of this blog entry.


Caveats aside, the way the data is presented is the percentage in the top line, in blue, is the actual percentage of the social media audience being analyzed, in this case fans of Sam’s Club, who are also fans of the corresponding line item. In this case, if we are to focus on the first place finisher, that would be Crystal Paine.

We’d never heard of Ms. Paine until now, but it turns out she’s an author, blogger, and fairly popular social media figure, whose website and online handle is @MoneySavingMom. A natural to find favor among the members of a wholesaling warehouse store.

A modest 2.71% of the Sam’s Club audience are fans of Ms. Paine, but that’s where the grey line comes in. That number represents the number of average social media users who are fans of the corresponding line item. In this case, a well beyond modest 0.12%.

And that leads us to our third metric, the number on the far right. The multiple metric. One of our favorite StatSocial metrics. The multiple tells you, at-a-glance, to what degree those who are part of one social media audience also being members of another either exceeds, fails to meet, or is in line with the average social media user.

This number in the grey bar is our baseline. All of our calculations are made using it, unless otherwise noted or requested.

Anyway, this may sound confusing to some, but it’s actually straightforward. Still using the above to illustrate, the portion of Sam’s Club’s audience who are members of Ms. Paine’s social media audience — represented in the blue bar — are so to a degree that exceeds the average (represented in the grey bar) by 23.4 times .

Raw numbers and percentages are extremely important to a marketer, but they can only tell you so much. You need to view the data through assorted lenses to get the full story.

You can learn a lot more about the heart and soul of an audience by learning of those interests that are unique to it. Sorting your data by multiple can often provide a perspective that would be hidden if only dealing with the raw numbers. One of StatSocial’s primary goals is to lift the veil on a social media audience as fully as possible, so you don’t miss a single detail.

We aim to tell you not just the places from where the audience originates, and what portion is what sex, and what ages they are and in what proportion — although you better believe we tell you all that stuff — but we also tell you what and who they like and dislike, from baseball teams to brands of mustard. And thanks to our partnership with IBM Watson and our integration of their awesome Personality Insights tool, can even tell you what kind of people they are (angry, generous, etc.).

The multiple metric is one of our most invaluable tools in getting to what makes an audience unique. And when viewed through its lens, your entire narrative can change in a single mouse click.

Anyway, to illustrate a little more what we mean.

Here are the top five influencers for Sam’s Club, when sorted by percentage.


Ellen has 63 million followers on Twitter. The President, 78 million. Jimmy Fallon, 43 million and so forth. Therefore, when it comes to these social media titans, it could be argued that the most insightful thing you can gain from this kind of list is not where the items on it rank, but what that metric on the far right — (sing it with us now) the multiple metric — says; also visually represented by the length of the blue percentage bar, for those too busy to read three or four numbers.

Sam’s Club’s audience is one and a half times more likely than the average social media user to be a fan of Ellen’s. Whereas, when it comes to the president, they’re what we would call under-indexed*, meaning the Sam’s Club audience is ever-so-slightly less likely than the average social media user to be a fan of the president.

(*As we didn’t explain above: When the baseline average fails to be met, it is represented by the multiple being in red as opposed to green, and the blue percentage bar failing to at least meet the graph’s dotted line.)

And in the interest of equal time, and to further illustrate our point, here are the top five influencers for Costco when sorted by percentage.


Slightly different order, and perhaps most tellingly Ms. Winfrey has been supplanted by a certain Mr. Trump. She is, for the record, number 6, and the Costco audience is twice as likely to be her fan than the average social media user; so her multiple among this crowd is slightly larger than The Donald’s.

On the other hand, The Donald is number 6 on the Sam’s Club list, with a multiple slightly below one and a half times.

Since we’ve inadvertently brought the Republican nominee for president into this, it’s now only fair that we address the other side of the aisle. Well, with Costco, as we can see the President is slightly over-indexed (although statistically basically right on target with the average), it’s unsurprising to see this result.


Whereas with Sam’s Club, well, Mr. Walton was never precisely known for his liberal views. But with a subsidiary brand of the number one retailer in the world, you’d expect some diversity of opinion. If it means anything, Mr. Trump’s opposition did make Sam’s Club’s top 50.


But ouch, is she under-indexed. Sam’s Club, it would seem, is not so much Hillary’s club. On the other hand, unless it were for a campaign stop, we doubt The Donald would be caught in a Sam’s Club; in fairness, though, we suspect the same is probably true of Secretary Clinton.

Both influencer lists at this entry’s top show an interest in food and cooking, with 6 of the influencers on the Sam’s Club list being chefs or food writers/bloggers. Four of the influencers on Costco’s list are explicitly food related.

With Eric Schmidt, Tim Cook, Melinda Gates, and Warren Buffet on the Costco list and Dr. Oz, Rachael Ray, Paula Deen, and Suze Orman on the Sam’s Club list, some differences between the audiences are revealed. However, with Bobby Flay, Martha Stewart, Ree Drummond, and Emeril Lagasse (who, it must be noted, tops Costco’s list) on both lists, one needn’t squint to find common ground.

When it comes to this matter of politics we clumsily danced around earlier, Costco is comfortably more Democrat than Sam’s Club, but the audiences of both are decidedly more Republican than the average.





The simple truth is, America’s cities are mostly blue, whereas the rest of America is largely red (if you get our meaning). Both chains tend to reside outside of our nation’s city centers, and bluntly appeal to a clientele who does the same.

Politics aside, we detect a diversity in the Costco audience perhaps not as evident when analyzing Sam’s Club. What we mean is that the common ground may be found among like people, but Costco also has a portion of their membership differently inclined — in terms of lifestyle, tastes, and ideology, etc. — from Sam’s Club’s more philosophically unified clientele.

Let’s review the top television shows among the two chains. We’re going to sort these, again, by multiple as it’s the only way to really gain meaningful insight. CNN Breaking News, for example, tops both chains’ lists when sorted by percentage. With 43 million followers on Twitter alone, it tops the TV lists, when sorted by percentage, for a vast many — perhaps even a majority of all American social media audiences we have indexed. In a general way, both stores’ top 10 lists are populated by shows with massive social media audiences when sorted by percentage.

A difference some might find telling amongst the Tonight Show, Ellen Degeneres Show, Sportscenter, etc. lists both chains share, would be that Neil deGrasse Tyson and Seth MacFarlane’s attempt to relaunch Carl Sagan’s brilliant early-80s PBS series Cosmos is on the Costco list (although under-indexed against the average with a multiple of merely 0.89x), and Duck Dynasty, with a multiple that finds it right in line with the average, is on the Sam’s Club list.

But let’s look at their respective top 10 TV shows when sorted by multiple.

SAM’S CLUB — TOP 10 TV SHOWS (by multiple)


Extreme Couponing seems precisely the sort of show that would find vastly larger than average favor with this audience (20-times larger, in fact). We’d imagine that both the producers of that TLC property, and perhaps even the folks over at Sam’s Club would find that interesting.

We will say that given the high number of food related personalities on the influencers list, we expected more food related shows here. But only two made the cut.

Two home renovation shows, however, This Old House and the vastly more obscure Property Brothers (a Canadian program shown on HGTV here in the states) made the list. Home improvement items — manly things like power tools and workbenches — certainly are to be found among Sam’s Club’s inventory, and with the shows being over-indexed to the degree they are, again we could see marketers on either end of those equations finding those metrics interesting.

Sesame Street is there, suggesting that a portion of Sam’s Club’s membership is made up of small children. Or much more likely, a portion of their membership — perhaps a sizable one — consists of young couples with small children (57% of their social media audience is between 25 and 44, so that makes a lot of sense), where saving every penny counts.

And Wheel of Fortune is there just to remind us that it’s never going away.

Now we’ll move on to Costco where the diversity theory tossed out earlier seems perhaps less evident. With this list, it’s difficult to detect too radical a difference in ethos.

COSTCO — TOP 10 TV SHOWS (by multiple)


Same top two shows, but swapped, and with smaller multiples. But still, the makers of Extreme Couponing and BBQ Pitmasters might find this interesting. The former suggests they’re reaching their desired audience, the latter, well… It’s not as though both chains don’t sell a rich and varied selection of BBQ equipment.

We’re not certain of what qualifies one as a “BBQ Pitmaster,” but by the looks of these three gentlemen, we have little doubt they make the cut

Again, we find the same two home restoration shows. One a perennial, the other lesser known. But we’re certain they’d not consider their placement on these lists bad news. Again, it indicates that they’re reaching their desired audiences.

THIS OLD BLOGGER: Some will shrug with confusion, and others will join me in feeling confused and humbled to learn that This Old House’s original host, Bob Vila, the man synonymous with the show (whose name may even have been above the title at one point), left the show in 1989. Just let that sink in.

There is one show here of which we weren’t aware. Sporting Dog Adventures TV. It’s real, as clicking it’s underlined name will reveal. It may be on one of the streaming services, but its primary channel, the hunting based Pursuit Channel is something of which this New Yorker just became aware today. This is not to say it’s not carried by our local cable providers. I’d just never heard of it. The customers of Costco have heard of it, however, and to a degree exceeding the average by three and three quarters.

The only dramatic, fictional series on either of the lists appears in the form of TNT’s now canceled revival of the late-70s/early-80s prime-time soap opera phenomenon, Dallas.

But Shark Tank — for which this audience is three times more likely than the average to have affinity — brings us back a bit to the Eric Schmidts and Tim Cooks, etc., who appeared on the Costco influencers list, differentiating them most noticeably from Sam’s Club. But it most especially ties in with Costco’s number two influencer, home shopping mogul, and regular “shark” Lori Greiner.

Do we detect an entrepreneurial streak? As we don’t want this entry to become War and Peace, we’ll leave the question alone for the time being. But we will draw attention to the fact that threads and hints found in one assortment of statistics can easily and often quickly be pursued and investigated (we promise you, we have the data), revealing secrets and truths about your social media audience — or perhaps that of your competition — that you would never in a million years be able to find out using any other platform.

Let’s close with lists that would likely be of interest specifically to he marketers at Sam’s Club and Costco. Let’s look at the top 10 retailers among the audiences of each chain.

SAM’S CLUB — TOP 10 RETAILERS (by multiple)


Well, ain’t that a kick in the head? Walmart’s even after Kmart.

Nice to see the Sam’s Club crowd do not turn their back on the high end. The Donald, after all, is in their top five influencers by percentage.

But this gang is seven times more likely to be fans of Lord & Taylor than the average social media schmo. Sure, they buy in bulk, and they like a bargain. But every so often, a fella needs a $900 clutch purse. What’s he gonna do, pick one up at 7–11?

COSTCO — TOP 10 RETAILERS (by multiple)


The Costco crowd is smart. Kids today are rough and tumble, but you don’t have a bottomless purse with which to buy them new clothes. While they’ll still outgrow them too fast, at least the apparel items will be in one piece to be handed down, or donated to Goodwill, when the day comes.

What are we talking about? Why SearsToughskins of course.

Not just resistant to tearing, and easily cleaned with Windex and a Handi Wipe, their indestructible blend of polymers and state of the art fiberglass mean that thanks to Toughskins your child could survive virtually any disaster, natural or other.

Just pray you don’t need ’em in “Husky,” or get junior to put down the Twinkies starting today. The shop assistant pretends to be supportive, but you know better. And who needs that trauma?

Junior’s bulk could be an asset, though, out on the gridiron that is your backyard. And Sears always has just the fall wardrobe for those brisk afternoons.


Okay, we believe our work is done here. For now. But as always, we beg you bookmark this blog, as insights galore are always just around the corner. Now click the links below and learn more about us. We’re kind of awesome, and those links support that assertion.

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