The gastropod shell influences important aspects of the hermit crab's life; however, the shells are commonly a limited resource. Therefore, different hermit crab species that coexist in intertidal areas are commonly involved in intraspecific and interspecific competition for shells. We assess if differences in shell preference, exploitation ability, or competition by interference can explain the partitioning of shells between the coexisting species Calcinus californiensis and Clibanarius albidigitus. Clibanarius preferred shells of Nerita funiculata among the six gastropod shells tested, while Calcinus did not establish a hierarchy in shell preference. Therefore, the preference for gastropod shell species does not seem to diminish the competition for shells in the wild. Clibanarius identified and attended to chemical cues signalling potential sites of available shells (chemical cues of dead gastropods); Calcinus did not respond to these cues (competition by exploitation). However, Calcinus was more successful in obtaining a new shell by interspecific shell fighting than Clibanarius. Consequently, the use of better quality shells (intact shells) by Calcinus in the wild can be explained by its greater fighting ability compared with Clibanarius. The bias in shell distributions through dominance by shell fighting, more than by exploitation ability, has also been suggested for other hermit crab species of these genera.