If you’re like me, you probably visit the same retail stores routinely.

You know what they offer and where you can get the best deal on all your heavy-rotation items.

In fact, many of us head to Walmart, Costco, and Canadian Tire when we need…just about anything. They’re tried and true.

But did you know there are times when you should pick one over the others?

I decided to try and answer the question of which retail store is best and when these retail giants should be getting my business.

Note: For the sake of this article, we will be ignoring Canadian Tire money and the Costco Business Membership rebate program for the sake of simplicity. Each offers its own benefits.

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Walmart

Walmart is one of the world’s largest retail companies…with good reason.

When they started selling groceries in their Canadian stores in 2006, they quickly became the go-to, one-stop shop for many. It’s hard to stick to your grocery list without adding in some extras.

With their slogan, “Save Money. Live Better”, their goal is to offer the best possible price every day of the year rather than limited-time sales:

Saving Canadians money has been our mission since we opened the first Walmart in Canada more than 20 years ago, and today we’re more committed than ever to that promise. We want to make it easy for customers to know they are getting the best value for their money, and finding everything they need, all under one roof. As part of that promise, we’ve worked to identify the products that customers buy most often such as bananas and paper towels with a visible “everyday low price” mark in store and online. Canadians can be sure they are always getting the lowest price on these items, day in and day out.

With a statement like that, surely they have the best prices in Canada, right?

Costco

You may go to Costco because they have great prices on bulk items, or maybe you love their rotisserie chicken.

You go in for one or two things, but end up buying a cart-full of other goods. Not to mention spoil your dinner with all those tasty samples.

In fact, Costco operates on this exact principle – the best prices. Their website states:

We are a membership warehouse club, dedicated to bringing our members the best possible prices on quality, brand-name merchandise… all designed to make your shopping experience a pleasurable one.” (Costco.ca)

They also claim to “keep costs down and pass the savings on to [their] members. [Their] large membership base and tremendous buying power, combined with [their] never-ending quest for efficiency, result in the lowest possible prices for our members.” (Costco.ca)

That promise, combined with a membership fee of at least $55, should make Costco the best place to shop for everything. You’re paying for the privilege to shop there, so they should have the best prices, right?

Related: Score Up To 2,000 Aeroplan Miles With A New Costco Membership

Canadian Tire

Although Canadian Tire doesn’t offer the same grocery options as Walmart and Canadian Tire, there’s a lot to be said for this Canadian retail giant.

Around since the 1930s, Canadian Tire is a household name. And with approximately 500 stores, there are actually more Canadian Tire locations in Canada than there are Walmart locations.

We are one of Canada’s most admired and trusted companies. With world-class owned brands and exciting market-leading merchandising strategies, we are continually innovating with purpose: to excite and serve Canadian customers from coast-to-coast.

Maybe it’s just me, but when I think about bargain hunting, Canadian Tire doesn’t always come to mind. Maybe this article will change my mind on that a little.

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Price comparisons

Let’s start with a simple item that people use every day.

The kitchen

Paper towel is a staple in my house, so I thought it would be a good jumping off point.

For this chart, I have compared the company brands, or the prices of the exact same product, as offered by each store. Costco has Kirkland, Walmart’s brand is Good Value, and Canadian Tire carries Frank.
Note: Prices could change at any point, so for the most up-to-date offers and promotions, be sure to visit these sites directly.

Item Costco Walmart Canadian Tire
Paper Towel – Company Brand Kirkland
$1.83 / roll
Great Value
$1.49 / roll
Frank
$1.24 / roll
Paper Towel – Bounty $2.04 / roll $2.63 / roll $1.66 / roll

The comparison seems simple – Canadian Tire has the best price for both brands of paper towel. But you and I know that it’s not that easy. Quality also needs to be considered.

Kirkland is better quality than both Great Value and Frank, so it might be worth spending a little more.

But Canadian Tire did have a better price for Bounty, which seems a little strange to me. After all, Walmart’s prices are supposed to be unbeatable, and you pay for a Costco membership to be sure that you’re getting the best price.

The garage

Now that we’ve gotten our feet wet, let’s compare some higher priced items – tools and tires specifically.

I’ll do my best to compare apples to apples, but each store may offer a slightly different brand, quality, or model.

Canadian Tire

Canadian Tire will have tires to fit your vehicle. They even carry car parts and do the repairs themselves. They also have a wide variety of brands. It’s in the name of their company, after all.

If you’re looking for a tool, there’s a good chance Canadian Tire carries it. They carry major brands with a reputation for high quality, like DeWalt, but also carry their own product line, which is decent in quality.

They have plenty of options for garage storage, from tool chests to shelving. There’s a reason Canadian Tire has been a strong retail name in Canada for years.

Costco

Costco also has a good selection of high-quality name brand tires. They stock the most common tire sizes and should have tires to fit your car (hopefully).

I did have an issue at Costco getting winter tires for my 2011 Dodge Journey three years ago, though. So, it might be best to plan a couple of months ahead and ask them if they can order in your size.

As for tools, Costco seems to only carry hand tools, but it varies. Certain items are only available for a limited time. Isn’t that part of the appeal, though? The best price, for a limited time.

Costco has great options for tool chests and garage storage.

Walmart

As for Walmart, although tire selection is limited, they do carry Goodyear. The exact model of tire will be different from most places, but the prices are quite competitive.

Although they have hand tools and a few power tools, they aren’t commonplace at Walmart, and the selection is nothing compared to Canadian Tire.

But let’s focus on tires for a second.

Getting as close as we can to the same brand and model, let’s compare tire prices for the most common vehicle in Canada, the Honda Civic.

Store Bridgestone Blizzak WS80 – price for 1 tire
Canadian Tire $120.99
Costco $179.99
Walmart $240.75

The verdict

Canadian Tire wins again. They are $59 less expensive than Costco. Walmart didn’t have the exact model for a proper price compare, but their Goodyear Ultra Grip was still $8 more expensive than Canadian Tire.

Even when comparing different brands, Canadian Tire has the edge.

The living room

Let’s start with Costco this time. A quick look around Costco will tell you they have everything needed for a home theatre. They stock top of the line televisions, whatever your budget might be.

They also carry a variety of furniture for living rooms – whether you want something simple, elegant, or for a man cave. Prices tend to start in the $1000 range and move upward.

Walmart also has a great selection in this department.

Their TVs are similar to those offered at Costco, but they lack the higher end products. Their furniture selection is wide but aimed at people on a budget. There’s nothing listed on their website for more than $1,000, with the odd exception. If you’re on a budget, Walmart might be your best bet.

Canadian Tire has some options for TVs but their furniture selection is limited. If you’re not a brand snob, then you can find a good, inexpensive TV here. But you can likely find a similar TV at Walmart.

Price Comparison

Store LG UK6300
Costco $593.99
Walmart $744
Canadian Tire $845.99

The verdict

In the living room, Costco is king.

On TV savings alone, you’ve made your membership money back. They have a better selection of furniture and TVs, and the quality is higher too.

Price matching

On a product by product basis, no store will beat all others on a consistent basis. But when you claim the best price, it gives people confidence to shop at your store.

Sometimes that confidence is false – you paid your membership, or you saw the Walmart commercial with the low price guarantee, so you assume your store of choice will always give you the best price.

It’s a false assumption.

Each store wants you to become a regular shopper and let your guard down. You’ll go to a single store and buy everything you need…

“The overarching idea is to get shoppers into the habit of picking up groceries and other staples from one preferred retailer. That retailer then wants you to keep shopping there – regardless of whether all the prices are actually good.” (Brad Tuttle, Money)

Comparison shopping and price matching is your best weapon against this tactic. Don’t let your guard down.

Both Walmart and Canadian Tire will price match, although Canadian Tire’s guarantee is “subject to store participation”, according to their website.

Costco, however, doesn’t price match. Despite paying for a membership, if you find a better price elsewhere, your Costco membership won’t help.

The price match trick – my personal story

I ran into this eight years ago when I was comparing prices on an LG TV. I went to three different stores, each had a few different models. I compared resolutions, contrast ratios, refresh rates, and prices.

At each store, there was an LG TV with identical features, but a different model number, and a different price. Would they match the price of the other store? No. Why? Different model.

A different model number means they are not required to price match, even if it’s almost the exact same item, because it isn’t a direct price comparison.

The weekly flyer

The weekly flyer is one of your best friends when it comes to shopping around and price matching. It’ll help you find the best price on just about anything, even if you think you have the stores figured out.

Walmart and Canadian Tire have weekly flyers, which could help you make decisions on a product that is offered in all stores.

So before you head out to your favourite retail giant, be sure to check out their flyers. You may save some money.

Saving big in bulk

A common belief is you always save when you buy in bulk.

But when we did the paper towel price comparison above, we found that roll-for-roll, Canadian Tire beat the bulk-giant Costco.

Let’s look at another comparison to see how Costco stacks up.

Coffee is the life-blood of productivity and it’s found in most homes. Curious where you should be buying your good, ol’ fashioned Timmie’s?

Store Tim Hortons Original Blend Fine Grind Coffee
Costco 1.36 kg (3 lb), 2-pack
$39.99 = $1.47/100g
Canadian Tire 930 g
$16.97 = $1.83/100g
Walmart 930 g
$16.97 = $1.83/100g

In this case, the bulk buying works. The coffee is cheaper at Costco…a lot cheaper.

Let’s try one more comparison just to be sure:

Store Ziploc Medium Freezer Bags
Costco 3 x 50 bags 2 pack = 300 bags
$21.59 = $0.07/bag
Canadian Tire 38 bags
$6.59 = $0.17/bag
Walmart 3 x 38 bags = 114 bags
$10.49 = $0.09/bag

Costco comes out on top again, showing that there’s merit to the membership after all. But they won’t always have the best price and they don’t price match. The key is to compare.

The return policy

Costco return policy

Without going into too much detail, Costco’s warranty is the best in the business. They “guarantee your satisfaction with every product we sell and will refund your purchase price, with the following exceptions:” (Costco.ca)

  1. Electronics – though they do extend the manufacturer’s warranty to two years from the date of purchase, with their concierge service.
  2. Diamonds.
  3. Cigarettes and alcohol.
  4. Products with limited usefulness – tires, etc.

Canadian Tire return policy

The return policy is as follows:

Unopened items, with a receipt, in original packaging and returned within 90 days of purchase will receive a refund to the original method of payment** or will receive an exchange. Items that are opened, damaged and/or not in resalable condition may not be eligible for a refund or exchange. Click on the tabs below for a list of exceptions and exclusions to our returns policy. (Canadian Tire, Returns Policy)

Walmart return policy

The return policy at Walmart is a little complicated. It is a basic 90-day policy with a few exceptions:

  • Within 14 days: Most small technology purchases like computers, wearable tech, and video games.
  • Within 30 days: Larger technology like TVs, and also mattresses.

There’s a long list of exceptions here.

The verdict

Both Walmart and Canadian Tire have fairly standard return policies and they warranty some purchases, but they just don’t compare to Costco.

Costco has the best warranty by far. You can return just about anything, with no questions asked.

You can even return your food if it isn’t up to your standards.

Earn rewards with store credit cards

Arming yourself with the right credit card is a great way to get even more out of these retail stores – and all 3 offer a store specific credit card.

Earning rewards and taking advantage of credit card insurance is a sure way to make shopping at Walmart, Costco, and Canadian Tire even more enjoyable.

I decided to compare each retailer’s store-specific cards to see if they’re worth it – or if I would be better off with a bank issued credit card instead.

Retail Giant Credit Card Best Alternative Apply Now
Walmart Walmart Rewards Mastercard Apply Now
Costco Capital One Costco Mastercard Apply Now
Canadian Tire Canadian Tire Triangle Mastercard , Apply Now

Related: The Superhero Credit Card Combination Your Wallet Needs

Walmart credit card

The will give you 1.25% back in Walmart money, plus 1% back on all other purchases.

It has no annual fee and will allow you to redeem your cash back on Walmart purchases either in store or online in $5 increments.

Although you won’t be given any additional insurance, you will earn a welcome bonus of up to $25 – $15 when you make 2 purchases in your first 30 days and $10 when you sign up for electronic statements.

But is this the best option out there?

The is also a no fee card, but will give you 1.25% cash back on all of your purchases. And you’re able to use your cash back on anything you want, not just Walmart purchases.

On top of that, this card will give you 2.5% on all your purchases for your first 3 months (up to $150 earned) – that’s $75 in bonus cash.

You’ll also be covered with purchase protection, extended warranty, and travel accident insurance, and you’ll have access to some pretty cool Amex Perks.

Get more details here:

Related: The Best Credit Card For Shopping At Walmart Canada

Added bonus: If the Walmart you frequent is a Walmart Supercentre, it’s considered a grocery store in the Mastercard network only. A card that gives more rewards on grocery purchases will help you earn even more at Walmart.

Costco credit card

Costco’s credit card is offered by Capital One and will give you:

  • 3% back on restaurant purchases,
  • 2% back on gas purchases,
  • 0.5% back on the first $3,000 spent on all other purchases, and
  • 1% back after that.

With a typical spend breakdown, you’re looking at a return of about 1.2% on all your purchases.

There’s a common misconception that you can only use a Costco Mastercard at Costco stores, but you can actually use any Mastercard there – so you don’t need to be limited by Costco’s no fee credit card with poor customer service.

If you want a card that’ll give you the best travel rewards possible at Costco, the has my vote.

Although it has an annual fee, the rewards and perks this card gives you make it worth it – plus, BMO is currently waving the annual fee for the first year.

You’ll get:

  • up to 3,000 bonus AIR MILES as a sign up bonus,
  • a companion flight rebate in your first year to use on an AIR MILES rewards flight,
  • a 15% discount on AIR MILES flights in North America, and
  • one of the best credit card insurance packages available in Canada.

Get all the details here:

Canadian Tire credit card

Although Canadian Tire offers 3 levels of the Triangle Mastercard, I’m going to look at the since it is available to everyone.

It gives you 4% back (including what you would earn using your basic membership card) in Canadian Tire money on all purchases (pre-tax amount) at Canadian Tire, Sport Chek, Mark’s, and Atmosphere, and 0.8% back on all other purchases.

On a typical spend, this works out to be a return of 0.92%, but if you shop at Canadian Tire a lot, this ratio increases. If this is the case for you, the Canadian Tire Triangle Mastercards are worth considering.

You’ll also have access to 12 months of no fee, no interest financing at Canadian Tire – which is a great benefit.

That being said, only earning 0.8% on your other purchases is disappointing. You could always pair it with the , for example, which will give you 2% back in up to 3 spending categories of your choice.

Earn 4% back at Canadian Tire, 2% back on on your 3 biggest spending categories, and 0.8% back on everything else – that’s a pretty great return for not paying an annual fee.

Get all the details here:

My final thoughts

While Canadian Tire, Costco, and Walmart all have their downfalls, they each have their strengths.

Canadian Tire does tools, tires, sports, and the outdoors better than the other two. Their prices are better most of the time, but it’s always a good idea to check the website before you go anywhere else.

Walmart has a price match guarantee that’s pretty sweet, but don’t let that stop you from doing your research.

Costco does bulk. But that’s not all. They do quality, great brands, and their warranty is by far the best.

In the end, I don’t think there’s a true winner – I won’t give one place all of my business. And they shouldn’t all of yours either. Because if you’re looking to save money, shopping around is key.

Saving money isn’t always easy, but with a little legwork, you can make it happen.

Related: Best Canadian Credit Cards of 2019

Let us know what you think

What are your favorite retail giants?

Do you prefer Costco, Canadian Tire, or Walmart?

Let us know your thoughts in the comments.