1: It refuses to boost markups.
July 3, 2019 1:31 PM   Subscribe

Costco is one of the world’s largest retailers, boasting 770+ locations and 245,000 employees. Last year, it had more than $140B in sales. But unlike many of its counterparts on Fortune’s Global 500 list, Costco has risen to the top by flying in the face of traditional wisdom.
posted by Johnny Wallflower (128 comments total) 45 users marked this as a favorite
Almost the only thing I dislike about living in my city (really, just a big college town) is the lack of a Costco.

I'd kill for one close enough to drive to (the closest is at least 90 minutes, which, when you add the cost of gas and time, is just too far).
posted by oddman at 1:42 PM on July 3, 2019

I tell everyone that I have the solution to going to Costco and never spending more than about $200: go on a motorcycle.
posted by seanmpuckett at 1:43 PM on July 3, 2019 [34 favorites]

That said, when it's time to restock on 50lb boxes of cat litter and 48-can flats of cat food, we get a carshare and load the fucker up.
posted by seanmpuckett at 1:44 PM on July 3, 2019 [6 favorites]

I had a Costco membership for about 4 or 5 years before I owned a car. Renting a ZipCar and driving to Costco to stock up was still more economical than buying everything at the regular grocery store.

The "only in bulk" is mostly a joke, to be frank. The usual cereal is in twin packs instead of grocery store boxes, soda comes in packs of 36 instead of 12. It's more, but not so much more that it requires a basement or garage.
posted by explosion at 1:47 PM on July 3, 2019 [5 favorites]

I now live near Costco again so I've been thinking about it (Sam's Club is not the same thing.)

We still call in Price Club most of the time though.
posted by bongo_x at 1:49 PM on July 3, 2019 [4 favorites]

Costco is so massive that when they switched their credit cards away from American Express, it actually hurt Berkshire Hathaway, since Warren is a big investor.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 1:51 PM on July 3, 2019 [10 favorites]

ZipCar took away their car that had been parked a block from my front door a while back, and I let my Costco subscription lapse (and actively canceled the ZipCar subscription, because hmph. Car2Go has closer options now.)

Today I finally got around to installing the hitch for a cargo trailer for my bicycle, so I think I'm going back to Costco next week!
posted by asperity at 1:52 PM on July 3, 2019 [7 favorites]

One of the best things about being employed was the moment when I was grousing to my mother about the family not being Costco members anymore. She sarcastically said- well *you* could join now. I don’t think she was expecting my enthusiastic response in the affirmative. I have many happy childhood memories of shopping in a Costco- which is weird I know. When I do join up I’ll make sure to hug a giant teddy bear for olds times sake.
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 1:57 PM on July 3, 2019 [10 favorites]

I had the pleasure of hearing Jim Senegal speak at Costco HQ a few times; you could tell that company culture stemmed from his beliefs and values. Very frank and the article covers a lot of what he discussed during his talk; he wouldn’t reveal the secret of the $1.50 hot dog though.
posted by WedgedPiano at 1:58 PM on July 3, 2019 [2 favorites]

Somewhat relevant: Vancouver has an interesting Costco downtown. It's underneath 4 condo towers and right next to a rapid transit station, it's really convenient even without a car (bring a granny cart!). Are there any other "urban Costcos" like this out there?
posted by ripley_ at 2:00 PM on July 3, 2019 [12 favorites]

We shared a Costco membership with friends through most of grad school, which was both useful and dangerous.

These days, we dodge the temptation of gigantic quantities of things we only kinda need by using Instacart to buy stuff from them - even with the delivery fee and a good tip for the Instacart shopper, it's less dangerous to our wallets... and they're the best way to buy large quantities of baking supplies in a single shot.
posted by Making You Bored For Science at 2:01 PM on July 3, 2019

If you've got a deep freezer, the meat, eggs and milk alone will pay for your membership.
posted by Reyturner at 2:02 PM on July 3, 2019 [3 favorites]

Their super cheap roast chicken means more to me than the fast food they serve up in the front. They are bigger and far less salty than most grocery store chickens. They can't be very useful to not middle class or above shoppers though, unless they team up to get a membership. The gas is usually a deal too, though you might have to wait for it.
posted by Bee'sWing at 2:13 PM on July 3, 2019 [5 favorites]


apparently costco sells other things as well, a risky dilution of the core market of CHIIIIIICKEN BAAAAAKE but they pull it off
posted by FatherDagon at 2:15 PM on July 3, 2019 [20 favorites]

he wouldn’t reveal the secret of the $1.50 hot dog though

I'm not sure I want that secret revealed.
posted by asperity at 2:19 PM on July 3, 2019 [24 favorites]

The money we saved on hearing aids from Costco compared to buying a set from my husband's ENT paid for the membership for 30 years. One of them broke right before the 3-year warranty was up. Costco gave my husband a loaner pair and shipped them both for refurbishment. They lasted another two years. He just got fitted for a new set. And we both go to Costco for eyeglasses. And string cheese, pimento cheese, vodka...
posted by narancia at 2:25 PM on July 3, 2019 [17 favorites]

Isn’t the rumor that Costco basically loses money on all the fast food but they make up for it by getting you in the door to drop hundreds on groceries?

I love Costco. Strolling around with a $2.49 pint glass of frozen yogurt is the bomb.
posted by Zephyrial at 2:27 PM on July 3, 2019 [5 favorites]

he wouldn’t reveal the secret of the $1.50 hot dog though

Senegal: Next question, please.

Intrepid reporter: Just a follow-up question about the $1.50 hotdog - can you confirm or deny that it is made of meat?

Senegal: (uncomfortably long pause) .......yes.
posted by allegedly at 2:30 PM on July 3, 2019 [13 favorites]

Did you know that Sarah Taber praises CostCo's food safety measures!
posted by foxfirefey at 2:31 PM on July 3, 2019 [12 favorites]

I thought the secret of the $1.50 hot dog was that you were thinking about it the entire time you wound through the bowels of Costco; and the end result was a net positive purchase compared to early stores that did not have a food court?
posted by nickggully at 2:34 PM on July 3, 2019 [3 favorites]

Isn’t the rumor that Costco basically loses money on all the fast food but they make up for it by getting you in the door to drop hundreds on groceries?

I don't know about the rumor but they're probably not "losing" money in the sense of actual costs being less than the sale price. Hot dogs, frozen yogurt, pizza, and soda are all notoriously cheap, high-markup items. And they are not especially labor-intensive items to make and serve out of a window, either.

Unlike a regular restaurant, though, they don't have to pay rent—so arguably there's an opportunity cost of the floor space in their stores, although I think it's pretty minimal—so all they need to do is cover the food cost and the labor to serve it.

I don't know anybody who goes to Costco for the food—maybe in more urban locations, but my local one is a real pain-in-the-ass to get to, park at, etc., so it's not something you do casually on the way home from work, unless you're a masochist—but it certainly keeps you from cutting short your shopping trip because you're getting hungry. And that has the secondary effect of encouraging you to buy ALL THE THINGS you need at Costco, because if you're not making another stop for food, well, you might as well get everything, eat, and then head straight home... at least that is the dominant logic every time I go there.

And that's how you end up with a year's supply of table salt in one fell swoop. Wasn't gonna stop at Giant just for fucking salt, c'mon.
posted by Kadin2048 at 2:37 PM on July 3, 2019 [4 favorites]

Costco pizza rules. We have one near me at work and I'm there almost once a week for a rotisserie chicken, bananas and eggs.
posted by sleeping bear at 2:38 PM on July 3, 2019 [4 favorites]

I feel overwhelmed when I step into Costco. Most recently I've only accompanied siblings in on errands, I doubt I have been in a Costco store more than 3-4 times over the past several years. There's just so much.. stuff.

I live in a small town and the hour and a bit it takes to drive to the nearest metro area and access Costco is one reason I will likely never be a big Costco shopper. That, and I'm okay with paying the higher prices for less selection at the local supermarket. They hire a lot of kids and I support that.

Plus I am not buying for a family, so I can get away with that.
posted by elkevelvet at 2:42 PM on July 3, 2019 [2 favorites]

If I haven't eaten recently enough, I will nearly always stop at the food court for a hot dog or a slice of pizza first, because that $1.50 will save me a hundred dollars in not buying a cart full of random snack food. Shopping hungry is bad for me.
posted by asperity at 2:44 PM on July 3, 2019 [5 favorites]

They're one of the few ways to get meat primals. If you want to cut your own meat, which is a bit cheaper, they're a great option for DIY meat prep. They're also a decent source of farmed fish, which comes in handy for the large smoked fish batches I do over the holidays.

But the gas pays for our membership.
posted by bonehead at 2:45 PM on July 3, 2019 [4 favorites]

i love costco. we have one that is very convenient as part of the regular weekend shopping run, and it's also right on the way to/from work. i can get gas in the morning when there's no line, and rotisserie chicken on the way home for dinner.
i also love reading stories like this (thanks johnny wallflower!) because i always seem to know that costco is a solid place to spend my money, but then i wonder if that's still true, and always glad to hear that it is. kind of the opposite situation of chick-fil-a (hashtagnoderail).
posted by rude.boy at 2:46 PM on July 3, 2019 [1 favorite]

I am possibly the last person in the US to have never been in a Costco. It’s a shameful thing, I know.
posted by Thorzdad at 2:48 PM on July 3, 2019 [6 favorites]

I appreciate that Costco treats its employees well, but it sounds from the article that they muscle their suppliers as much as any other large retailer.
posted by splitpeasoup at 2:49 PM on July 3, 2019 [2 favorites]

As someone who was underwhelmed by his grandmother's worship of her Sam's Club membership (she took me shopping several times and they either didn't have what I wanted or what I found barely counted as a "deal"), but all the positive feedback in this thread is making me rethink avoiding a Costco membership.
posted by AzraelBrown at 2:57 PM on July 3, 2019

I used to work at an office with a Costco about as close as most fast food options, and at least once a week someone would go around the office collecting cash (I think at whole-pie prices a slice was like 1.40, but it was traditional to pay 1.50) around 11am, call in the order for however many pizzas they could buy with the cash collected, and go pick them up. It was generally cheaper - and as good if not better - than most local delivery options.

Critical to this routine, though, is that this was a SoCal Costco with the food court outside and a spot right next to it where one could momentarily park without causing disruption. Nobody would have ever volunteered if you had to park and go inside to pick up the order.
posted by Lyn Never at 3:00 PM on July 3, 2019

I found Sam's Club to be an annoying place to shop. Cluttered, slow checkout, exhausting. When I read that Costco was coming to town I could not wait. Then I found out that the store was going to be only 3 miles away. I dumped Sam's as fast as I could, and have never had to look back.
posted by Midnight Skulker at 3:01 PM on July 3, 2019 [2 favorites]

Being in Utah (big families!) Costco shopping is always an insane chore, but it's worth it for big stock-up-the-freezer runs. They always seem to be a positive corporate culture in the environment which is a rarity. I just wish ours sold alcohol.
posted by msbutah at 3:05 PM on July 3, 2019 [1 favorite]

Best meat in town, bar none. And in the SF Bay Area, that's saying something.
posted by ergomatic at 3:06 PM on July 3, 2019 [4 favorites]

I tell everyone that I have the solution to going to Costco and never spending more than about $200: go on a motorcycle.

Bah. I live 1500 metres away from a Costco and I walk there.

Ever since that incident with the four-pack of grand pianos, I have to restrain myself.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 3:25 PM on July 3, 2019 [49 favorites]

I still vividly remember talking to industry analysts on the phone while they earnestly explained that Costco was hurting capitalism because the company's primary obligation should be to return as large a profit as possible to shareholders, and the way Costco treated employees -- fair wages, benefits -- was taking money out of the pockets of investors. When I got a Costco exec on the phone, he explained that it was more important to the company to keep employee turnover low because the knowledge and motivation long-term employees brought to a job were better for the company and its customers.

For that reason, I am always going to be a fan of Costco: They're pissing off the right people.
posted by sobell at 3:27 PM on July 3, 2019 [131 favorites]

Somewhat relevant: Vancouver has an interesting Costco downtown. It's underneath 4 condo towers and right next to a rapid transit station, it's really convenient even without a car (bring a granny cart!). Are there any other "urban Costcos" like this out there?
There’s one in the DC area right next to the Pentagon City metro station. I got some odd looks one time getting onto the subway with a couple of gigantic packages of M&Ms when my wife had her biology class doing a color-based simulation of antibiotic-driven bacterial selection — apparently I do look like the kind of guy who might pick up a 20 pound snack for the ride home.
posted by adamsc at 3:35 PM on July 3, 2019 [6 favorites]

For those who haven't been to a Costco - they will let you in without a membership to look around. You just can't buy anything from the store without a membership card (maybe you can from the food court? I can't recall them asking for a card there but it's been a while since I have been).

It used to be very worthwhile for computer stuff back in the day when computer stuff cost real money.
posted by srboisvert at 3:36 PM on July 3, 2019 [1 favorite]

For those who haven't been to a Costco - they will let you in without a membership to look around. You just can't buy anything from the store without a membership card (maybe you can from the food court? I can't recall them asking for a card there but it's been a while since I have been).

You can use the food court and the pharmacy without a costco membership (and their pharmacy tends to be cheaper than Target/CVS/Walgreens).
posted by dinty_moore at 3:43 PM on July 3, 2019 [1 favorite]

99% sure anyone can go to the food court. Same with the pharmacies, which I believe is due to state laws. And if you have a gift card I think that's enough to get you in even without a membership.
posted by reductiondesign at 3:44 PM on July 3, 2019 [2 favorites]

"That'll be $789."

The thing is, if I buy at my local corner grocer, I'm not paying a membership fee to be tempted with whole beef tenderloins and giant boxes of mixed dried mushrooms.
posted by bonobothegreat at 3:48 PM on July 3, 2019 [3 favorites]

Are there any reasons why Costco wouldn't work so well in other countries?
posted by Foci for Analysis at 3:53 PM on July 3, 2019

I generally love Costco for all the reasons above, but I generally come home failing to have purchased at least one item on my list because of their “here today gone tomorrow!” inventory style. I’m sure that’s part of their financial success but damn is it frustrating.

I also I just went there today, this afternoon, on July 3, the day before July 4, and that was very bad. Do not recommend.
posted by obfuscation at 4:04 PM on July 3, 2019 [6 favorites]

Another Costco tip: in California and any other states prohibiting "alcohol clubs" you can buy booze without a membership, they just make you fill out a form.

Foci for Analysis: Are there any reasons why Costco wouldn't work so well in other countries?

There are also Costcos in Canada, UK, Mexico, Korea, Taiwan, Japan, Australia, and Iceland, and I hear memberships are international.
posted by JauntyFedora at 4:05 PM on July 3, 2019 [5 favorites]

They are World wide:

"As of March 2019 Costco has 770 warehouses worldwide "
posted by aleph at 4:07 PM on July 3, 2019

We upgraded to the Executive Membership, which in theory costs more money than the regular membership, but actually saves us money because of the 2% reward on Costco purchases.

We spend a ton of money at Costco, however, so "saves" is probably not exactly the right word. While we avoid impulse purchases, I know that we buy more beef and salmon than we would ordinarily, just because it's so cheap.

Costco's vending machine by the food court sells bottled water for 25 cents. The ATM doesn't charge a fee. You can buy stamps for (very slightly) less than you could at the Post Office. You can get $100 worth of Peet's Coffee gift cards for $80.

Rumors that they sell dollar bills for 95 cents are, sadly, just rumors.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 4:08 PM on July 3, 2019 [9 favorites]

I used to work for a company that went through becoming certified as a vendor and selling a product at Costco. That experience is what pushed me to become a member, despite being a single person who lives in an apartment.

My company manufactured our products in China, and we'd sold to other big box stores like Home Depot and Walmart, but Costco's process was completely different. Other major retailers require the factories that their vendors use to be audited, but it's usually a single time, and the product nor the factory is ever audited again. With Costco, you can't pass an audit: you can only qualify for a year.

And it's not just a single audit. They test the physical product; they audit the manufacturing process on site at the factory; they audit the safety of the factory; and they audit the human resources of the factory, meeting with employees privately. My company didn't pass the first time. And because you have to qualify each year, there's no point in making easy fixes to pass an audit. You have to actually make the changes they ask for, because they are coming back!

Plus, during the vendor training, they fed us like kings on the best Costco food! The money I save on my prescription at Costco pays for my membership, but I've heard their contact lens program is even better. I just haven't tried it yet.
posted by gladly at 4:20 PM on July 3, 2019 [100 favorites]

If you've got a deep freezer, the meat, eggs and milk alone will pay for your membership.

Wait, you freeze your eggs? You can do that??
posted by number9dream at 4:22 PM on July 3, 2019 [5 favorites]

Costco in Japan was amazing when I was there (2002-2005) because you could get foreign staples at much better prices than the foreign grocery stores. It was a bit out of the way but I would go by train and there'd be a shuttle bus from the station. And then I'd pay something like $5 to have my shopping delivered to my place the next morning. They've since opened one pretty close to my in-laws' place which means I have to get them a souvenir other than maple syrup because the stuff at Costco costs almost the same as it does here in Canada.

When I was there in 2015 they were selling wagyu in the meat department.

Memberships are international. I know for a while it was cheaper for us to have a Japanese membership than a Canadian one, although we've since let our membership lapse.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 4:23 PM on July 3, 2019 [1 favorite]

The argument about keeping investors happy first has always seemed so weird to me. Like, over what time scale? If parenting meant giving my kids what they demanded on a minute-to-minute basis, they'd be illiterate, malnourished with severe tooth decay, and probably part of some YouTube cult.
posted by condour75 at 4:29 PM on July 3, 2019 [74 favorites]

I’ve been a member here in Japan since just about the time they first opened, and yes, the memberships are worldwide. I’ve used my Japanese membership cards in Chicago and Hawaii without a problem.

I buy cases of meat from Costco for making sausage. A couple years back, I went to Foodex here, which is a trade show for the food industry. I was asking the various meat importers and local producers about their stuff, and prices, and more than one vendor asked me where I was currently getting meat, and when I said Costco, they basically said they couldn’t compete with Costco prices, and that, in bulk, Costco sold the best quality for the lowest price, and I should stick with them.

One of the things I like most about going there, though, is how friendly the people are. In Japan, chatting with the checkout people just doesn’t really happen like back in the Midwest, except at Costco. When I’m making sausage and bacon, or doing a food event, I’ll get meat by the case, and it’s regular enough that the meat counter people know me, and have asked about my orders, and what I do, which is pretty rare. Over the last 19 years, I’ve been there often enough that I can chat with the person checking receipts, and such, and that’s a solid positive to me.

A lot of foreigners here complain about how much better it used to be, and it’s true, to some extent. When they first opened, what they carried was really similar to an American Costco. The thing is, if they’d kept that up, they might not have lasted in Japan. Over the years, I’ve seen what they do, and I respect the hell out of it. If they have something that doesn’t sell, they don’t order any more of it, full stop. Sometimes that sucks for me, but I’ve seen them adapt and change, and I think that’s pretty remarkable, aside from the fact that you can’t get brisket at Japanese Costco. That kind of sucks.
posted by Ghidorah at 4:32 PM on July 3, 2019 [15 favorites]

We converted to the Cult of Costco this year. My co-workers had raved about it, and bowties spouse had been thinking we should join for ethical reasons. I was agog at the SIZE of everything the first time we went, but it turns out one of those enormous packs of toilet paper will still fit under a sink just fine, broken down.

We also did the Executive membership this year, because we booked two vacations through the Costco travel service. We saved a bundle, and I'm hoping we'll have a tidy sum in store credit next year. Also: chicken bakes.
posted by bowtiesarecool at 4:41 PM on July 3, 2019 [2 favorites]

Yes, you can freeze eggs. It's especially convenient if you use recipes that use a lot of whites or yolks by themselves and you wind up with extra. You can freeze them in an ice cube tray like you would with broth, herbs, etc.
posted by blnkfrnk at 4:44 PM on July 3, 2019 [3 favorites]

Coffee. My wife and I go through about a pound a week. I did the math and the discount we get for buying it at Costco pays for our membership, plus some more. Obviously that’s not the only thing we buy there, but it would work out in our favor even if it were. Cheese is another thing that’s at a huge discount over buying the same thing at a regular grocery.
posted by adamrice at 4:45 PM on July 3, 2019 [3 favorites]

The only places I could think of where Costco wouldn't work would be where there wasn't car culture - but given next day shipping in Japan, I'm only left with cultural differences, but again it looks like the Japanese branches adjusted also.

Even where it might not make economic/ real estate sense to put up a warehouse, adding robot shelf pickers could conceivably make it work.
posted by porpoise at 4:50 PM on July 3, 2019

Arrgh. I *want* to love Costco, given their (relatively) enlightened policies as mentioned above. But I am a single person who lives alone in a small space, and during the year that I had a membership, I almost never actually bought anything there -- I'd go, wander around trying to find things (I could never make sense of the layout), recoil in shock at the minimum size available of whatever I wanted, and finally push my way through the crowds to the exit, reeling from overwhelm.

And yet, this thread is tempting me to give it another shot -- especially because the NE Portland Costco is the closest grocery store to my new apartment, literally just a mile away. [Ponder, ponder . . .]
posted by Kat Allison at 5:04 PM on July 3, 2019 [2 favorites]

Underbed storage for bulk paper and toiletry purchases, breaking down larger packages and freezing the lot, and splitting cases with friends and neighbors is how my membership works for me in similar straits. And when I can't get to the store during its less-busy weekday morning hours, I've used two-day shipping for non-perishable stuff.
posted by Iris Gambol at 5:15 PM on July 3, 2019 [3 favorites]

2007 was a bizarre year for me in a lot of ways, but most relevant to this discussion was that I worked in a semi-vacant office, in a suburban office park that happened to be a few hundred yards from a Costco.

This meant that I could stroll over to the warehouse whenever I felt like it and avoid the ruthless gladiator pit known as the Costco parking lot. It was a strange feeling to be able to waltz in and *not* buy a small nation's worth of groceries, but instead buy a single 6-pack of dental floss or razor blades as needed. Or I would wander over for a casual cheap lunch and *that's it*. I'll tell you, walking out of a Costco with no receipt in your hand is a feeling everyone should experience at least once.

I was able to do things like get my eyes checked and get new tires for my car, ordered my Xmas photo cards like a month in advance (a feat that has never been replicated). It was a strangely blissful and efficient existence.

All these years later, this Costco is still the closest one to me, but the experience is radically different. Now, I look at a trip to the store as akin to war. I plan my initial entry, attack the weak points based on my knowledge of the battlefield, and aim for an early exit without significant wounds.

Dear Costco, we'll always have 2007.
posted by jeremias at 5:18 PM on July 3, 2019 [18 favorites]

I joined Costco years ago. When I stopped having a car, I lucked into having Zip car come to town and have cars right near where I lived. Once I moved further away from central Denver, Zip car became problematic. However, Costco introduced delivery. It was a little more costly, but when I compared that to how much it cost regular with Zip car, It ended up being about the same. I still love Costco, and for the last 2 months I've had a car to use (unfortunately, it's going away soon.) I prefer going to Costco than delivery but you get what you get.
posted by evilDoug at 5:26 PM on July 3, 2019 [1 favorite]

The biggest problem with Costco is the serving size of the cheddar/caramel popcorn is one bag, and the bag at Costco is enormous.

They've also stopped carrying as many Blu-Rays as they once did, but maybe nobody buys them anymore. I remember the day I found they had every box set of Babylon 5 on sale, and I picked them all up in one go.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 5:37 PM on July 3, 2019 [2 favorites]

Like bongo_x, I remember when Costco was still Price Club and it took me like ten years to stop calling it that.

It's always been my parents' favorite place to shop and when I look back on my childhood, it's just one long ass never ending Costco trip. I feel like we went there every three days.

One of my family members now works there. Yes, Costco does have better pay and benefits than most retail chains, but depending on the store, there are dramatic variations in how it manages its employees. My family member transferred from one Costco location to another in the next town over, and it was almost like working for a different company. Very toxic, very punitive, very political. Not that we should be surprised that a retail chain has a shitty work culture. I just say this as a data (anecdata) point to dispel some of the myths surrounding Costco as an employer.
posted by nightrecordings at 5:54 PM on July 3, 2019 [3 favorites]

Costco furniture is also much better at their price point than competitors like Hom or Slumberland. I bought the Broadmoore sleigh bed and dresser for my guest room, and goddamn is that a nice set. Cedar-lined drawers with smooth drawer guides, sturdy construction, just looks super nice. $600 for the queen bed and $300 for the nightstand. I’mma buy another for when I finally replace my own bed.

They also had a kitchen island I really wanted, and a fantastic living room chair, but I couldn’t make the budget work when they were available. That’s the down side: if you see a piece of furniture you like, you better buy it because they might never carry it again. :(
posted by Autumnheart at 5:56 PM on July 3, 2019

I think Costco is the only thing MeFi agrees on?
posted by seanmpuckett at 5:59 PM on July 3, 2019 [8 favorites]

I think Costco is the only thing MeFi agrees on?

I mean, I don't love how Costco is helping fast fashion stay on life support by being the secondary market where brands can sell off unwanted goods at low prices.

But no ethical consumption under capitalism, etc.
posted by sobell at 6:07 PM on July 3, 2019 [7 favorites]

The one black-hat move you can pin to Costco's back is their $upport of the 2011 State Liquor Store closure initiative, a blatant cash-grab that, contrary to all the propaganda, raised liquor prices after its implementation and put a lotta people out of work. Shame, Costco, Shame!
posted by tspae at 6:28 PM on July 3, 2019 [5 favorites]

I could never make sense of the layout

You start at the font corner and go up and down every single aisle.
We drive an hour and a half to ours every other month because we live in the boondocks and it's totally worth the shlep at that frequency, but the checkout is, for a retired couple, plain terrifying.
"Costco run or a used car honey?"
posted by Alter Cocker at 6:35 PM on July 3, 2019

If you’re not a football fan and you want to basically have the entire store to yourself, go to Costco on Super Bowl Sunday.
posted by Autumnheart at 6:41 PM on July 3, 2019 [15 favorites]

> I am possibly the last person in the US to have never been in a Costco. It’s a shameful thing, I know.

My parents live a hundred miles from the nearest Costco, so last year when I was visiting them we took a two hour drive to Cleveland for dinner with one of my siblings, and afterwards I suggested we stop at the Costco on the east side to gas up for the return trip, and incidentally have a look inside and stretch our legs. Dad opted to nap in the car so I gave my mother a mini-tour of the Costco, where she got to try samples of cheese, buy a crate of bone broth and a large pack of gluten-free ramen noodles so that she could continue to make the ramen* I cooked for them once, and a big container of berries. She had a fun time, there isn't really anything like that where they live. And that's how Mom visited Costco for the first time in 2018.

*(This is the ramen recipe. Note that it is not gluten-free by default, but Kikkoman makes a decent GF soy sauce, so with that and GF noodles you can manage a pretty good adaptation.)
posted by ardgedee at 6:42 PM on July 3, 2019 [4 favorites]

Also I've been to the Costco in Seoul. It was unlike any Costco in the US in that it was a multistory building with massive escalator-like devices for hauling shopping carts between floors, and people freely trying on shoes and clothing in the store. I ended up not buying anything (no real use for a package of toilet paper the size of my luggage) but it was interesting to see that otherwise, most things were pretty familiar, down to the Kirkland-branded food imported from the US.
posted by ardgedee at 6:46 PM on July 3, 2019 [2 favorites]

Also trying to figure out what rule of retailing gets broken by figuring out what the customer wants and actually selling it to them - but I'm getting old.
posted by Alter Cocker at 6:57 PM on July 3, 2019 [5 favorites]

Iam possibly the last person in the US to have never been in a Costco. It’s a shameful thing, I know.

I have never seen a Costco or Chick-fil-a in real life. Such is my provincial life.
posted by riruro at 7:25 PM on July 3, 2019 [2 favorites]

If it's true that they basically break even on actual sales and make their profit on membership fees, then arguably what the membership fee is buying is justification to believe that I'm not getting scammed. Huh.
posted by clew at 9:07 PM on July 3, 2019

Well that and their continued existence?

I was just at Costco today actually, it's always fun though today was a little busy. My favorite gin (tanqueray) was on sale for 17 bucks a handle if I bought 2. That's pretty insane given that it's priced at 32 bucks at BevMo.
posted by Carillon at 9:23 PM on July 3, 2019 [1 favorite]

I love our Costco threads!

My membership there is kind of symbolic these days, because I'm now single and have my kid half-time, so I just don't go through those giant packs of toilet paper as fast anymore and my apartment has less storage. I can't store as much food anymore either, before it goes bad anyway.

But I still love to go and sit on all the furniture and look at the holiday stuff when it goes up and leave with a giant bag of cheese sticks (love them) and a roast chicken and oh yeah, do they still carry that My Mochi ice cream, that stuff was awesome...
posted by emjaybee at 9:33 PM on July 3, 2019

If you’re not a football fan and you want to basically have the entire store to yourself, go to Costco on Super Bowl Sunday.

This is highly regional advice. I went to my local Costco in the Seattle area while the Seahawks were in the Super Bowl thinking I'd be able to hear literal crickets as I wended my lonely way down the aisles. It turned out the entire Indian immigrant community had the same idea and they all came with the entire extended family, grandparents, little kids, everyone. It was just as bad as a regular Sunday, maybe worse because there were so many kids underfoot.

I've been to Costco in Taiwan a few times. It's enormous, multiple stories with cart escalators, so packed you can barely walk. Lots of Taiwanese don't own cars so they just get a cab or Uber to pick them up when they're done. There was a line of taxis out front like at the airport.
posted by potrzebie at 9:42 PM on July 3, 2019 [8 favorites]

I am possibly the last person in the US to have never been in a Costco. It’s a shameful thing, I know.

I haven't either, although I suppose due to this thread I'll probably go and check one out. Living alone I doubt it's for me, even with the tips people have suggested here, but it can't hurt to look.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 9:52 PM on July 3, 2019

Uk person here. I have never been to a Costco and this article made me curious to do so: we have one here in Edinburgh. But … not so fast. You need to be a member, of course, but they are not going to let just anybody pay them money to join and then more money to shop with them. You have to be one of the select few: you work for an employer in a particular sector or you are a professional in a particular field. If I didn’t happen to have my own company I would have been out of luck. Do other countries have these same, strange restrictions?
posted by rongorongo at 9:55 PM on July 3, 2019 [1 favorite]

I believe most of the old school membership shopping places originally had restrictions on who could join in the U.S., like credit unions did (do?). That was decades ago though.
posted by bongo_x at 10:02 PM on July 3, 2019

Costco is the place for basic men's socks, tshirts, etc.
posted by bongo_x at 10:04 PM on July 3, 2019

Wow, rongorongo. No such restrictions in the US.
posted by Iris Gambol at 10:07 PM on July 3, 2019 [1 favorite]

Modern economics:

The principal thing Costco sells is memberships.

Just like:

The principal thing Macdonalds sells is franchises.

The principal thing Facebook sells is attention.

However I do like that fuck-the-shareholders attitude of Costco's CEO. It's kind of the attitude old-school American capitalism had from that golden postwar era through 1978 or so, when Reaganism and that fuck-the-workers tenet took hold of the economy.

On a lighter note: Lunch at Costco: the Broadway Musical
posted by morspin at 10:28 PM on July 3, 2019 [2 favorites]

My in-laws LOVE Costco. So much so that on the hot, sweltering days where they live, they go there just to 'get their steps in' (they love their fitbits) walking up and down the aisles in air-conditioned comfort.
posted by atlantica at 11:11 PM on July 3, 2019 [2 favorites]

Normally I would be suspect of such down-home goodness from such a large corporation. But this doesn’t come off disingenuous at all. Refreshing even!

I wonder what the behavioral economists make of Costco.
posted by OlivesAndTurkishCoffee at 12:04 AM on July 4, 2019

So, on the computer terminals at the customer service desks in the US are running tallies of the revenue of each Costco worldwide. Each Korean Costco was clocking in at $1 million a day. I was impressed that they were able to track the revenue that quickly worldwide on their database system.

It is sad to say that the Costco in Sydney or Lidcombe if you wish to get particular, is [sound of sad trombone] a pale imitation of what is available in the US. Membership is international so my US-based card does fine getting me into the store. It is mobbed there every time I have ever gone and you must have fortitude to drive, park and shop. For some reason, a lot of Kirkland brands are not available in Australia so the land of cheap vitamins is not available. The best way to do Costco is to share your shopping with friends so you can break things down and have a chance of storing all your goods.
posted by jadepearl at 12:38 AM on July 4, 2019

I have four kids so I love Costco a lot -- the executive membership always ends up being nearly free after the 2% kickbacks, which, yeah. I try not to do the math on that.

But anyway I am here to contribute the super important piece of information I learned from my checker last week, namely: there's apparently a cover band somewhere around here called Panic at the Costco.
posted by gerstle at 1:26 AM on July 4, 2019 [5 favorites]

Two things about Costco:

Their Kirkland toilet paper is apparently the last full-width product available in the US, and it's good quality. All the name-brand paper rolls were suddenly narrowed by a half-inch, all at the same time, a few years ago. Like no one would notice.

Costco's salmon is farm-raised, which requires dyeing it so it has that red color. Otherwise, it would be gray, and nobody wants to buy that.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 5:28 AM on July 4, 2019

One of the cleverest tricks Costco pulls is this: there's a lot to know about Costco. How to sign up. How to find the best stuff. How to strategize your purchasing routine. How to store all that stuff once you've brought it home.

But, it's a manageable level of learning. It doesn't feel like you're having to deal with a bureaucratic maze. You feel accomplishment, not exhaustion. Suddenly, you're a Costco expert, and you're ready to share your newfound skills with your friends.

Congratulations, you've just become a brand advocate.
posted by gimonca at 5:29 AM on July 4, 2019 [11 favorites]

sobell: But no ethical consumption under capitalism, etc.

Counterpoint, mefi's own John Leavitt talks ethical consumption under capitalism @ Drunk Educate
posted by mikelieman at 5:49 AM on July 4, 2019 [3 favorites]

I like Costco (and need to go there this weekend). But the place I'm in right now doesn't have (or have space for) a chest freezer, which really limits what I get.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:32 AM on July 4, 2019 [1 favorite]

Thorzdad: "I am possibly the last person in the US to have never been in a Costco. It’s a shameful thing, I know."

Me neither. We have a few fairly close but I get kind of phobic about big crowded stores and I've never forced myself to go.
posted by octothorpe at 6:46 AM on July 4, 2019 [2 favorites]

Congratulations, you've just become a brand advocate.

After a long-time lurking, I just finally paid for my MeFi membership, with my eagerness to share my eagerness about Costco as the final factor.

The username is a joke. I feel like my enthusiasm for Costco is totally rational, not blind faith. I love the feeling above is that in buying a Costco membership is really buying the right to not get ripped off.

Before I go farther I should note that I own some stock in Costco, and I want to know who these shareholders are who are demand Costco increase their margins. I own stock in Costco specially of how the treat their customers and employees and already make a great profit. The stock price is doing great, and you knew what your were buying. Maybe just hedge funds who care about nothing but short-term profit, or maybe other rich people who fear a successful business model that doesn't include abusing employees and taking advantage of customers?

Collectively, we probably spend close to 10% of our household income at Costco. This is about 75% of our grocery shopping, 40% of clothes, 30% of everything else. 90% of gas.

We live in a major metro with 3 Costco within 10 miles.

For the single people on here, you can probably find a couple of things you need to buy regularly to justify the cost of membership. My family was Price Club members for part of my childhood, but I first got my own Membership to buy party supplies in college. IE red cups and lots of things to but in them. If you drink a decent amount of wine or liquor, that pays for itself (although you can technically get this without a membership in some places). Even when I was single, I could go through cases of canned soup, and vitamins and OTC allergy medicine paid for the membership too.

Nowadays, I don't understand how any family of 3 or more with a store nearby doesn't have a membership. Diapers and kids clothes are impossible to beat. In addition to all of our regular shopping, we probably have a least one big ticket purchase per year. New tires, a TV, furniture, appliance.

I am pretty good about impulse buys, but we certainly look to Costco first for anything we need. Even when the price is similar at Best Buy (for a TV) or home depot (for a dishwasher), I go with Costco for the great customer service.

I had an economics professor who liked to joke about the time he went to Costco to buy some sugar and butter to bake cookies, and ended up with a Grand Piano. Of course, he had been thinking about getting one, but the price he saw when he walked in the door was too good to pass up. I later met a friend who's family owns a piano store actually did the Costco sales in our region. She said Costco accounted for a big part of their business and that they had a great relationship with the regional management. Although squeezing pennies out of suppliers is a bit of a concern, I think Costco is doing it with long term loyalty to those suppliers.
posted by CostcoCultist at 6:47 AM on July 4, 2019 [15 favorites]

he wouldn’t reveal the secret of the $1.50 hot dog though

Senegal: Next question, please.

Intrepid reporter: Just a follow-up question about the $1.50 hotdog - can you confirm or deny that it is made of meat?

Senegal: (uncomfortably long pause) .......yes.

Yesterday's "crime a day" tweet: '21 USC §676, 9 CFR §§381.1 & 319.180(b) make it a federal crime to sell hotdogs "with variety meats" if they contain a domesticated bird's sex glands'

Posted for comedy purposes, as I think they say the hot dogs are "all beef", but that was quite a coincidence.
posted by ArgentCorvid at 7:06 AM on July 4, 2019 [1 favorite]

Of course Costco makes a profit on sales. Stuff is cheaper at Costco because they are a wholesaler, meaning there are fewer-to-no distributors between the producer and Costco. The membership fee is pretty likely to be a profit center but basically Costco is managing to sell things cheaply because they get it cheaper, and some of that revenue goes towards things like providing their employees better compensation.
posted by ardgedee at 7:16 AM on July 4, 2019 [2 favorites]

I guess the only thing that kind of frosts me about Costco is how in general they're selling upmarket goods for generic goods prices. I'd ... I'd like the generic goods at unbeatable prices.

Like "organic" shit. I'll buy the 2KG bag of frozen wild blueberries at the FreshCo for $10 instead of the 1.5KG bag of organic frozen wild blueberries for $14 at Costco because IDGAF about organic. Cocoa powder is the same thing: it's organic at Costco, and costs more than the stuff at Bulk Barn. There's no non-organic option at Costco, which I'd buy instead if they had it.

Also, Costco commodity cheese (the Kirkland 1kg slabs) is almost never a good deal. First off, you can get it cheaper than the typical $1/100g during any sale at a local grocery, in more vorieties. Secondly, I think more than 50% of the Kirkland cheese bricks have molded over within two weeks. We never get that with e.g. Cracker Barrel or Black Diamond cheese bricks even if they're open for a month.

Like, you can't get cheap ice cream at Costco. It's 1.5L buckets of admittedly GOOD Kawartha Dairy. But that's still over $6. If you want'd just regular old Chapman's Premium or even just the standard 2L brick, nope -- you cannot has from Costco. But wait for a $2 sale at your local grocer and stock up.

Health & Beauty products are very similar. Upmarket stuff at downmarket prices. Except honestly I want downmarket stuff at shockingly low prices. OK that said we still buy a lot of preserved meats (sausage, ham, etc) there because it is almost always cheaper than elsewhere.

They know their market, sure. Middle-class and up people who want name brands at prices they won't get in WalMart or whatever. But, you know, some people are not really there. And so we haunt the flyers still, week to week.
posted by seanmpuckett at 7:49 AM on July 4, 2019 [5 favorites]

We have not only the executive membership but the credit card, because I'm the sort of person who'll do the math and figure out that over the course of the year we'd do a little better than break even on fees just from the benefits of the card. And we don't even own a car. If you own a car and live near a Costco, you should have a membership and a credit card because the price and benefits on gas are excellent. When we travel we usually figure out where all the Costco locations are so we can fill up the rental car there. On one trip last year we bought a take-and-bake pizza and a bottle of wine for dinner. That was our entire purchase, aside from gas, and it was cheaper than going out.

Aside from breaking even on the fees with the credit card, the rest of our Costco shopping comes down to what we can store and use up before it goes bad. Paper products, canned food, and liquor? Definitely. Lunch meat and cheese? Usually. Produce? Sometimes. We can get through Brussels sprouts easily enough in roasting season, and the enormous bag of limes in daiquiri season, but mushrooms are sometimes a race and we just can't do tomatoes or potatoes in Costco quantities. Or even half, if we split it with my sister-in-law (gives side-eye to some sweet potatoes that got lost in the pantry). We bought our new microwave from Costco because everybody had the same price but they doubled the warranty.

We're usually good about not buying too much extra crap, but we still spend about $300 every trip (not counting the weird road trip stops). So I guess our membership is mutually beneficial, but only because we do the math and we stop buying the things we'd end up throwing out.
posted by fedward at 9:01 AM on July 4, 2019 [1 favorite]

I'm a person who still prints photos to put in frames and photo albums. Costco prints the best quality photos of all the other retail places. Target, Walgreens, CVS - I've printed photos at all of them and they are *garbage*. The ones I print at Costco generally look as good printed as they do on my screen. Love Costco.
posted by triggerfinger at 9:12 AM on July 4, 2019 [3 favorites]

seanmpuckett: Maybe what you want isn't Costco, but BJs or maybe Sams Club. Sams Club is basically "Walmart but in bulk". It's Walmart's house brands, in quantity, cheap.

Those other stores exist—in the same areas, even (where I live now there's all 3 within driving distance)—because they serve different market niches. A lot of business owners shop BJs and Sams, and aren't interested in the branding or organic labeling or other 'upmarket' signifiers at Costco, they just want cheap [whatever]. (And then there's Restaurant Depot, where you can get giant 5-gallon buckets of Worlds Cheapest Hydrogenated Fryer-Filler at disturbingly low prices.)

Costco is absolutely aimed at the upper-middle class consumer who wants the 'surprisingly high quality' product, and they expend a significant amount of effort identifying high-quality products in an effort to achieve that 'surprise'—for the price. There's a pretty good CNBC documentary about Costco, which Google tells me is titled The Costco Craze: Inside The Warehouse Giant, which I think is on Netflix (or it was? ugh Netflix), if you are curious about how they do product selection. It's pretty impressive, actually, and they take their house branding seriously. Where Walmart is notorious for turning the thumbscrews on its suppliers to drive down prices quarter after quarter, Costco seems to pick a pricepoint and then pick an item based on the highest quality that can be achieved for that price.

I think you'd have to be dumber than a bag of rocks to sign on as a Walmart supplier, but Costco seems like a reasonable company to do business with. I got the impression from the documentary, anyway, that they aren't out to fuck their suppliers unless quality drops, in which case... well, that's just self-inflicted.

And yeah Costco's photofinishing is pretty top-drawer for a local place. You can really only do better IMO if you're interested in sending out to Adorama or Mpix.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:21 AM on July 4, 2019 [4 favorites]

> he wouldn’t reveal the secret of the $1.50 hot dog though

The hot dog did not cost $1.50 to sell to you.
posted by lkc at 9:39 AM on July 4, 2019 [1 favorite]

I'm not a big Costco fan, but about 2 years ago I used their car-buying program to buy the car I wanted, and it's the first time in my life of car-buying that I didn't feel like a total idiot at the end of the process.

I also like their milk, just because the plastic bottles are enough of a better shape than the standard grocery store gallons. I don't understand why no one else uses those.
posted by still_wears_a_hat at 10:53 AM on July 4, 2019 [1 favorite]

Where Walmart is notorious for turning the thumbscrews on its suppliers to drive down prices quarter after quarter, Costco seems to pick a pricepoint and then pick an item based on the highest quality that can be achieved for that price.

This checks out from people I know who've sold to Costco. Costco doesn't have a bad rep with them -- nothing like, say, Amazon. And if you've ever bought a grill (or anything else with a model number that you might order replacement parts for), it might've taken some extra googling to learn that the extra letter or number at the end of the model was a Costco-specific designation.

I like Costco produce a lot. Costco brown eggs have, regrettably, become my gold standard. I know little about nutrition and nothing particularly about egg nutrition, but the fact that I have to smash through the shell and vigorously stir the egg to break yolk makes them seem a lot healthier than the flimsy white grocery store eggs that I grew up with. The fresh baked bread is good. The intimidating bins of salad greens are good. Medium-to-hard cheeses are also a great buy, because the quality is solid and even if you don't eat it quick enough you can slice off the mold and it'll keep for ages after.

...argh, gimonca wasn't wrong about accidentally becoming a brand advocate. Well, plenty of you have praised the pizza. I'm happy to correct you there: the pizza is bad, folks.
posted by grandiloquiet at 11:10 AM on July 4, 2019 [1 favorite]

I'm not a fan of their prepared foods, generally. I find them all quite strongly artificially flavoured. They all taste "off" to me. Their baking is all very industrial too. Neither are bad, just ordinary, not really setting them apart.

One thing I've always found puzzling is that their pet supplies are subpar, especially for cats. I get that it's not their core product, but some odd choices for offerings there.

Still, those are pretty minor quibbles. We just avoid those products.
posted by bonehead at 11:56 AM on July 4, 2019

Costco in NYC is where all the good produce is hiding. If you moved here from California or you do a lot of home canning (check and check) Costco is where it’s at for fruit.
posted by blnkfrnk at 12:33 PM on July 4, 2019 [1 favorite]

Yeah I find their pet stuff to be not that great. And they stopped selling GF noodles a few years ago, which was disappointing. They are definitely not always cheaper, and their home goods are aimed at people with bigger homes, larger closets, for sure. My kiddo did not like their baby formula when he was an infant. And the book selection is pretty much airport bookstore remainders.

There, now I have criticized them. Definitely not perfect. Definitely worth questioning if bulk buying makes people overconsume.
posted by emjaybee at 12:40 PM on July 4, 2019

Like others, we’ve been Executive members for years, and it always pays for itself. Last year, when we remodeled the kitchen, I got one of their credit cards as well, then bought custom cabinets for a bit more than bog-standard big-box; these are nice, dovetailed, solid wood drawers, all wood/ plywood construction, etc. the rebate from the cc and membership paid for our sink, faucet, and some of our drawer pulls.
I’ve always been a huge fan of them, particularly for the utter disdain they have for “the street”. Quarter over quarter results? Meh, we have a five year plan, and we’re executing to that, thanks.
posted by dbmcd at 12:41 PM on July 4, 2019 [1 favorite]

I have heard people describe Costco as "improving their quality of consumption" You can find cheaper things elsewhere, but not at the same quality. Case in point 1 pound of organic spinach for the price you'd pay for 1 pound of non organic. Or a $10 bottle of wine that would be $15 anywhere else.

For those longing for large portions of the cheapest stuff, look for a Costco Business Center. There are only a few the the biggest cities, but you'll find no crowds and 25 or 50 pound sacks of non-organic beans, rice, or any other staple you can think of.
posted by CostcoCultist at 1:48 PM on July 4, 2019

My main problem with costco is they just use oodles of packaging - huge packages of "single serve" items. It's such a plastic fiesta in there sometimes.

Also their cat litter is so ridiculously dusty that we don't buy it anymore even though it's SUCH a good price and also doesn't have a weird smell like some others.

It's worth maintaining a membership for us for frozen berries, dishwasher/laundry soap, eggs, printer paper, and taquitos.

Also we got this HUGE, gorgeous industrial workbench there that we use as a kitchen island for UNDER $400 CANADIAN DOLLARS.
posted by euphoria066 at 2:17 PM on July 4, 2019 [1 favorite]

MetaFilter: illiterate, malnourished with severe tooth decay, and probably part of some YouTube cult.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 2:38 PM on July 4, 2019

One thing I do like about Costco is, around here at least, it's not just for certain economic classes. They're a daily and generous donor to our food bank, something I've seen first as a client then later as a volunteer. Plus the stuff they donate isn't usually the almost-moldy crates of fruit like we can get sometimes from other places, it's good stuff if a bit weird. In fact from the volunteer side they're famous for having odd things for us sometimes, like a recliner or a 3-d Game of Thrones board game. And one time, an entire pallet of Diet Coke right before the Superbowl. That was well-received.
posted by traveler_ at 2:49 PM on July 4, 2019 [9 favorites]

I'd ... I'd like the generic goods at unbeatable prices.

You might like Aldi.

Also, Costco commodity cheese (the Kirkland 1kg slabs) is almost never a good deal.

We haven't shopped at Costco in a few years, but we still complain at the grocery store at how expensive cheese is. We end up buying generic grocery store cheese and paying more than we paid for good cheese at Costco. Cheese is actually one of the main things we miss.

Coffee and dog food were also staples.
posted by bongo_x at 2:52 PM on July 4, 2019

Aldi is amazing and in some ways also parallels Costco in turning customers into de facto "brand advocates" through their slightly odd slot-machine-like way of stocking items. There are whole Reddit forums dedicated to Aldi products, and food blogs dedicated to recipes you can make with only ingredients found at Aldi—some of the "feed a family of 4 for $10" variety, others are sorta budget-gourmet, at least one I found concentrated solely on Aldi pizzas.

Personally my favorite thing about Aldi is seeing how a $0.25 deposit on a cart puts an immediate, screeching halt to some of the most obnoxious parking-lot behaviors of abandoning carts everywhere. It's stunning, just going between Aldi and the Giant next door: the same fucking people who are total animals in the Giant lot, just letting their cart roll away to hit whatever, turn into goddamn tea-sipping examples of high civilization when a measly quarter is at stake. Hotter than hell? No problem, people put those fucking carts back. Raining sideways? Sure, no worries. Hail the size of golfballs? I've yet to see it, but I have absolute confidence that, in order to get their quarter back, people will walk through hail and then some to put them back in the cart return.

It's a Freakonomics-style social experiment disguised as a grocery store.
posted by Kadin2048 at 3:17 PM on July 4, 2019 [16 favorites]

One thing I've always found puzzling is that their pet supplies are subpar, especially for cats.

That's been my experience. I relied on their reputation for quality and bought a huge bag of Kirkland cat food. The cat wouldn't eat it at all. I wound up donating it to a shelter.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 6:00 PM on July 4, 2019

The place costco shines in pet stuff is the incidentals: If you have a doggo who likes to deconstruct toys, buying a pretty decent pack of three toys for a few bucks means you feel ok about doggo having fun than if you spent $20 for the same (or worse quality) toys at the local pet store. Or dog beds, $20 for a big, high quality bed is a good deal.

You do have to leap on anything which you see and might want, though. If they ever have assortments of drill bits again, jesus, I'm buying out the store. I think it was $20 or $30 for several hundred dollars worth of bits if bought at your local store. Not great quality tooling, but as "throw-aways", especially in sizes that are a pain to sharpen? Yessir.
posted by maxwelton at 6:39 PM on July 4, 2019

I have to recommend against the Kirkland cat kibble also. My cats got fatter on it.

We now give them the Satori chicken kibble we get from the online Costco store. Much better quality and their weight normalized fairly quickly.

(We free feed kibble, put down good wet food from PetValu for breakfast and supplement with Friskies wet [from Costco] during the day. )
posted by seanmpuckett at 7:09 PM on July 4, 2019

We have a BJ's Warehouse membership because the closest Costco is at least an hour away. If (when) I move back to Durham, I'm definitely getting a Costco membership again. The gas prices alone pay for the membership. My in-laws got their hearing aids through Costco, and I drove them up there (< 2 hours) to get them serviced and replaced. The tech was so nice to my crazy old mother in-law, I'll always be grateful. I don't know if I'll ever have storage for the giant cat litter and toilet paper stuff, but the other services are valuable. (Propane tank refills at BJs are about half the cost of swapping tanks at the local grocery or drug store.)

Sam's Club is off the table, fuck those Walmart fucks.
posted by corvikate at 7:22 AM on July 5, 2019 [2 favorites]

Costco has had enough serious fatal dog food/treat incidents that that's one thing I will never buy from them again. Their dog beds are phenomenal, though.

Most years I end up on the bubble about whether to renew my membership. I need new tires, though, so this may be a re-up year.
posted by Lyn Never at 7:53 AM on July 5, 2019

I always, always wonder what the catch is with Costco. People upthread have hinted that there are a few—worker compensation may be good but depending on the location, work environment may not be, for example—but there's no real SOYLENT GREEN IS PEOPLE revelation so far. Even the questions about whether they're squeezing suppliers don't seem to have answers as terrible as Fast Company's piece on Walmart's suppliers from 2003. That potential criticism in particular is hard to get good data on, though.

You need to be a member, of course, but they are not going to let just anybody pay them money to join and then more money to shop with them. You have to be one of the select few: you work for an employer in a particular sector or you are a professional in a particular field. If I didn’t happen to have my own company I would have been out of luck. Do other countries have these same, strange restrictions?

Back when the Costcos in Canada were Price Clubs, I believe you couldn't just buy a membership as a rando; you had to be a business owner or buyer of some sort. My dad, owning and operating his own business at the time, was one such person, so we got to experience the joys of Price Club before most.

The location we always went to is still there decades later as a Costco, and still looks basically the same. I have dumb fond memories of that place, like the time my parents bought me a Panasonic sports walkman and I busted it by dropping it on the floor repeatedly to demonstrate how strong it was (protip: don't do that), and Costco took it back and gave us a replacement no questions asked. It's the place my mom would buy store-counter boxes of Hershey's Cookies and Cream bars, which in hindsight is an impossibly generous thing for your mom to just buy on a regular basis for her kids. I'm pretty sure we bought a 100-CD changer from a Costco once, and I had that thing for close to a decade.

Honestly, I think Costco is to my childhood what Sears might've been to the previous generation.
posted by chrominance at 9:50 AM on July 5, 2019

Are there any other "urban Costcos" like this out there?

There’s one in the DC area right next to the Pentagon City metro station.

I was also going to bring up the same location - although I find, despite my best intentions, I often take the metro there and then end up needing to take a car2go or uber/lyft back. I've found that the trick to taking big groceries in a rideshare without pissing off the driver is to have them all unloaded onto the sidewalk before you even call the car, make sure they're consolidated well so that you can load and unload them quickly (blue ikea bags are the best for costco-sized items), and of course tip appropriately. It's totally doable.

I've been to other costcos in urban areas, but none of them are quite as transit-accessible as pentagon city, unfortunately. I worry that this location ultimately won't survive Amazon's whole neighborhood takeover, either.
posted by mosst at 11:16 AM on July 5, 2019

We are in a remote area and well north of the nearest interstate so the nearest US Costco stores are either Billings or Fargo, each about a six hour drive. When we stock up at Costco we STOCK UP. And this distance makes frozen goods impossible and while we can do refrigerated, it makes us nervous. And stuff like rotisserie chicken, forget it. My wife bought one for a friend without a membership while we were staying in the Twin Cities. Said friend says she still dreams about that chicken.

Just a couple weeks ago we got news that Costco filed permits to build a gas station in Bismarck and this week the local media developed the competence to read the fine print to see a 160,000 sq foot warehouse listed as well. That's a three hour drive. I can do that. The Family Truckster is old but it can hold a cooler for frozen and one for refrigerated, along with just about everything other than furniture. And yes, we will have rotisserie chicken.
posted by Ber at 1:08 PM on July 5, 2019 [2 favorites]

Perspective is reading about people driving hours to go to Costco, when we quit going because it was 45 minutes away.
posted by bongo_x at 1:23 PM on July 5, 2019 [4 favorites]

The Pentagon City Costco predates the BRACing of all the Crystal City government offices, which decimated that area, and Amazon is going to take years to bring the total daytime population back up to where it was prior to the Great Government Exodus. So I think its odds of sticking around are pretty good.

The only risk to it that I can see is that the surface parking lot will get built on (which is honestly not unreasonable; big surface parking lots in urban areas are an affront to decency) and the garage might not be big enough for the number of people who get to Costco via car. OTOH, there are a bunch of other Costco locations you can get to via car, and only one that you can easily get to via Metro... so one hopes they'd keep it even if the available parking decreases.

Supposedly the DC Costco locations have Kirkland brand liquor, which is reportedly excellent for the price—naturally Virginia with its ABC monopoly doesn't allow them to sell it here. If they had Metro access and the Costco liquor store, that'd be really a sweet combination...
posted by Kadin2048 at 1:42 PM on July 5, 2019

the DC Costco locations have Kirkland brand liquor, which is reportedly excellent for the price

I'm pretty sure there is only one Costco in DC proper, but I can confirm the other aspects :-) Nice source for xmas trees too
posted by exogenous at 5:12 PM on July 5, 2019 [1 favorite]

Supposedly the DC Costco locations have Kirkland brand liquor, which is reportedly excellent for the price
Yes — the single-malt I picked up was quite a decent deal, and the rum was popular a couple summers back. The selection there goes pretty high-end (~$2,800 cognac, decidedly not Kirkland) and it was eye-opening seeing the shopping carts people had the week before New Years and realizing that our total would be a fraction of the tax on the two guys behind us in line.
posted by adamsc at 5:57 PM on July 5, 2019

I'm pretty sure there is only one Costco in DC proper

Two if you count CWC WDC LLC, the wholly-owned subsidiary that owns and operates the gas station. But that one doesn't sell liquor of any sort, because gas stations can't sell liquor in DC (and places that sell liquor can't sell gas, hence the workaround).

We bought a Côtes du Rhône last year that was outstanding for the price; this year's version was disappointing in comparison. I don't think we've bought anything higher proof than wine though.
posted by fedward at 9:25 PM on July 5, 2019

Their own-label beer is only so-so; in their western stores it's brewed by Gordon Biersch and falls squarely into GB's usual niche of "perfectly adequate contract brews."

Their craft beer selection varies strongly store-by-store, and doesn't even exist in some stores; I assume they have local buyers, or at least local section managers, deciding what to put on the shelf. Always at least 20% cheaper than supermarket/bottleshop prices; much more so if it sits around long enough to pick up a discounted-to-clear .97 price tag. One year I picked up a bunch of St. Bernardus Christmas on January 2nd for $3.97 a bottle; good times.
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 11:03 PM on July 5, 2019

I assume they have local buyers, or at least local section managers, deciding what to put on the shelf

I'm pretty sure this is true. In DC they've had whiskey from Catoctin Creek (VA) and Pikesville (MD) and I feel like I've seen some other local products as well.
posted by fedward at 10:13 AM on July 6, 2019

I've also heard the Costcos in Honolulu have cool local products, although I didn't investigate while I was there. I assume there's a certain degree of store-specific control or purchasing.

Also, for DC-area MeFites, the Costco in Wheaton (MD) is metro-accessible, and is in the Wheaton Mall if you decide to combine errands. No gas station, though.
posted by bowtiesarecool at 11:36 AM on July 6, 2019 [1 favorite]

I took a break from my field (IT Management) for a few years after my job was eliminated in a workforce reduction and some family drama happened. I got a job at Costco (Sacramento, California) to stay busy. After 20 years of sitting at a desk my Fitbit thought it had been stolen. They put me in sales, which meant helping people with electronics and jewelry. I walked 3-8 miles per 4-8 hour shifts. My feet fell off numerous times. Then when the seasonal work was done I was hired as Front End. This means I packed people’s carts, folded clothes, and acted as personal shopper for blind and disabled customers. Some days I collected carts in the lot - 14 miles during one 8 hour shift. It is hard work. But the people I worked with were amazing, funny, kind and welcoming. Things I learned: you have muscles in your back that make you want to die after folding clothes for 3 straight hours. All cardboard is collected, compacted and recycled in bales. All garbage is sorted by hand. Christmas gift baskets are marked down to stupid low prices before they are gone. Members steal, and the loss prevention guys are always present. Some people get pissy for having to show a card when they enter or a receipt when they leave. Costco charges employees for attending holiday parties. Managers and supervisors play favorites. There is a list in the break room showing how long everyone has worked there and if you’re at the bottom of it good luck asking for The same day off each week. The employees stay two hours (at least) after closing to fold and clean.

It’s a solid place to work if you’re 20. You can make a career out of it at that age. I loved working the door, and worked with a guy in his 60s who had a million dollars worth of stock options. But it’s brutal. You are a cog for so long, and if you walk in with skills and experience they’ll still start you at the bottom. Also was trained in membership for a week and discovered they care more about up selling to the executive membership than getting members the right membership for their spending, which soured me a bit. Exec can be well worth it if you spend enough. But they didn’t like it when I told ppl it wouldn’t be worth it. Uh. AMA. :)
posted by routergirl at 4:02 AM on July 7, 2019 [8 favorites]

If you live in the Seattle area, it may be worth going to the Issaquah store next to corporate HQ. The store gets used as testing area - they were selling $100,000 grand pianos one day I visited, one of the floor demo sale events, I guess.

Or you could go to the Southcenter store, housed in a building more appropriate for the Boeing plant, as it is the size of an airplane hangar. They were selling sides of lamb the last time I was there.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 11:37 AM on July 10, 2019

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