Costco.co.uk Could Use Some Work

March 2nd, 2010 · 10 Comments

Costco.co.uk: it could be better

Costco.co.uk: it could be better

Okay, that might actually be sugar coating it…quite a bit. If you aren’t in the UK, then you’ve probably never looked at the website for Costco in the UK, but go ahead and do it. I’ll wait. Pathetic, isn’t it? And you know, the websites for Costco Japan, Korea, Taiwan, and Australia are similarly unfinished, it seems. There is some information on all the websites, obviously, but the thoroughness does not compare to what you find on the websites for the United States or Canada. And there definitely isn’t even a thought about ordering online. The websites don’t even have a good location finding tool.  I believe that the biggest reason people probably go to these websites is to find a location and some information, so why do they make it so hard for their customers and potential customers?

I’ll start with the worst part, the most unhelpful part: the location finding ‘tool’.  In all honesty, it’s not so much a tool as it is a list of locations around the UK.  So, if you don’t actually know which one is closest to you, most likely you still won’t even after looking at this list.  And they actually label the drop down: “Find your nearest warehouse”.  To me that is totally and completely misleading.  Finding my nearest location is actually what made me visit Costco.co.uk in the first place.  But I was really none the wiser after my visit.  I actually had to go to Costco.com to use their location finding tool to determine which UK location was indeed closest to me.  And I really don’t understand this.  Why don’t they use the same tool on all of the sites?  The tool on the main Costco.com can obviously handle finding the foreign addresses and determining distances for locations worldwide.  Other than that, I can’t imagine what the difficulty would be in using this same, useful, tool on all of the websites for other countries.  Because yes, they have the same issue on the Japan, Taiwan, and Korea websites too.  They have a list and for each location show the little map square (that you can’t zoom in or out on) that possibly, if you knew the area really well, you might be able to determine how close that is to you.  On the UK site they still have the list but the map you have to download!  The annoyance level of that is not even worth thinking about downloading the map.  Though, I am sure far more people would just use Google Maps, because I know I did.  Of course, with that method you have to look up each one and get directions to the chosen Costco location to find out how far it is from you.  And that is making people work just too hard to come visit your store.  In the end, it is best to just go to Costco.com (right from the start since you’ve read this).  At least the sites for the Asian Costco stores don’t claim this list will help you find your closest location.  And of course, Australia doesn’t suffer from this issue at all since they currently have the single location.

And at first I thought that maybe all of the sites were designed kind of independently, but after looking through them, I don’t actually think that’s true.  All of the Asian websites have the same exact look and feel, as well as the same types of information.  And while the UK website looks a little different, it does have the same basic information on its site; though far less of it for some reason.  Information, and certainly really in-depth or useful information, is kind of thin on the UK site; only slightly better on the Asian sites.  The UK site has a F.A.Q but it answers just 4 questions!  The F.A.Q. covers how many Costco locations there are, why they charge a membership fee, methods of payment, and whether or not your friends can use your card.  They don’t even mention the return or refund policy, for instance.   So, now I’m wondering, is it the same or different from the really great policies in the US.  Do they have a separate return policy for electronics here?  Don’t know.  From one of the homepage graphics I guess it is the same electronics return policy as in the US, and they also appear to offer the extended warranty and the technical help concierge line.  But to find out what these are really about you have to download a document.  Why don’t they just cover that in the F.A.Q?  Or maybe they could do it in both places.  For what it is worth, all of the other website have much larger F.A.Q.s  that all cover the same information and some of the good stuff you want to know, like why you have to show your receipt when you leave, hours of operation, and whether you can bring a friend with you when you shop or not.  And yes, there are NO customer support pages on this website (or any of the Asian or Australian sites either), not even a single link where you could pose a question that isn’t covered in the pitifully brief F.A.Q.

There’s also surprisingly little about membership, and you certainly aren’t buying or renewing it online.  Strangely, the UK seems to be the only bunch of Costco locations that does not offer a Gold Star Membership (for individuals – I’m thinking I’ll cover this in a totally separate post though), though I think they do but they just don’t talk about it on the website perhaps.  Their main demographic must be trades people though, since those are the only memberships they mention specifically.   Here at least they do tell you what documents you’ll need to supply to prove your business owner status, as well as a PDF of the application.  And shockingly, you can apparently email them to upgrade to an Executive Membership; though they probably just tell you to handle that at your local warehouse is my guess.  The only reason I think they have individual membership is because they talk about different opening hours for individuals.  Perhaps they could hide that more because it isn’t hard enough to figure out now.  And does the UK really not have a Costco co-branded credit card for use in their stores?  It seems that all of the other countries, except Australia, offer this so it seems odd that neither of these locations do.  Of course, Costco in Australia is new, but there are 21 locations here in the UK, so I’d have expected them to iron this out by now (especially since every other grocery store and retail store here seems to have a branded credit card).

And there are plenty of other areas where the UK site falls down: no information about what will be new in the warehouses this month, no new location information, no product notices or recalls listed, no information about upcoming holidays and holiday hours, no links to the Costco Connection (though this might be because it is so tailored to the US or Canada, I imagine), no rebate information, no links to the information about the photo contest, nothing about special events or roadshows (do they not do that here), no information on Costco stock, and no online employment application process for their stores.  However, all of the websites do seem to offer some level of online photo ordering.  I’ll have to take a longer look at the photo center websites to see if they are as full featured as they are in the US.

I realize that this is a bit of a rant, and kind of out of character for me with regards to my usual adoring posts about Costco.  But seriously, this is a problem that could easily be overcome with just a little bit of thought.  I realize that things like Customer Support email forms require someone on the back end to actually answer these questions, but it doesn’t have to be a whole fleet of people, just a few would make this a useful addition to these Costco websites.  And the location finding is almost laughable, in that ‘jokes on you’ kind of way, because there is certainly no need to have a problem in this area.  Costco has already put together the tool to find locations, all around the world, they just need to roll it out to these other Costco websites.  That has got to be the easiest fix of all the poor design and information decisions, really.  Most of the other holes are simply about presenting information that I assume they have, or have access to at least, but for some reason they just don’t convey to visitors to their sites.  They shouldn’t make it so difficult for customers and potential customers to find information.  I’m really surprised by this because it seems so counter to the usual way that Costco operates, I mean, they are all about outstanding customer service.  These websites are just letting them down.

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10 Responses so far ↓

  1. 1 Costco UK Website Gets a Makeover | Addicted To Costco! // 2012.01.24 at 11:13 am

    […] you’ve been reading my blog for the last couple of years, you might have caught my previous post about the Costco UK website.  It wasn’t very complimentary.  Of course, the website deserved it since there […]

  2. 2 david // 2011.11.24 at 11:45 am

    Just noticed, the UK website has been revamped – better than it was before, but still on the basic side i feel!

  3. 3 vicky-jo // 2010.05.16 at 5:16 am

    Colleen, having nearly every US business on the web does not mean that users have a better experience. I have used US, UK and European websites; generally with some of the smaller independent US sites lacking in error checking, confirmation and information; for example I tried booking accommodation online with an independent hotelier, I didn’t receive a confirmation page or email, so had to email them asking to confirm the booking, only to be told it wasn’t on their system, that I should try again and if the online transaction failed to call them up, fortunately the 2nd attempt went though. I attempted to make a booking with a large hotel chain, while they had a special offer on the website, it appeared that you couldn’t book 2 rooms, I then contacted them via email, and the customer service was dreadful (which surprised me, because I am used to US customer service being better than the UK), they were slow to respond and didn’t seem to know anything about the offer, in fact I never got a proper response from them, consequently I didn’t book my accommodation with them. When it came to booking tours, I found that while contact details were on websites, booking online was not possible. I have found with some retailers information on shipping to be lacking.

    Sites like Amazon are seem to be consistent globally (I have purchased from the UK and German sites, and have viewed the US site); for online grocery shopping the major retailers have good sites, booking train, air and coach travel is easy either through the vendor or through a 3rd party. There are number of smaller independent sites for specialist purchases.

    How are you finding using the internet and interacting with UK companies a challenge daily?

    I have seen good and bad examples of websites in both the UK and the US, the Costco UK website is one of those bad examples. I do think the design of sites varies quite a lot between the UK and US, this does not mean a loss of functionality, but quite often has been carried out to improve the user experience and is perhaps reflective of cultural differences; for example I have found several US guesthouse/small hotel sites which feature music, but find this rarely, if at all with UK sites.

  4. 4 colleen // 2010.05.15 at 11:58 am

    As an American living in the UK since summer of ’09 I FULLY agree with Gerry that the entire UK is at LEAST 10 years behind the US in terms of websites. It is a UK thing, not just a Costco thing- although Costco Execs in the US should definitely make a few trips across the pond to see how things here are run. They could use some US training on customer service, too. Unless you have experienced living in the US and seeing how amazingly web accessible nearly EVERY business is on the internet, a UK resident would not have any idea what they are missing. I find this a challenge daily.

  5. 5 Kimberly // 2010.03.09 at 1:58 am

    If you get a membership, of any kind, in one country it is honored in the others. So, once you join in the US as a Gold Star member, your membership is good at any of the Costco locations around the world.

  6. 6 C Fangerow // 2010.03.08 at 11:09 pm

    I am thinking about becoming a USA Gold Star member but I live part time in the UK. Do you happen to know if Costco UK allows Gold Star members access to the UK stores?

  7. 7 Kimberly // 2010.03.08 at 2:26 am

    I agree with Vicky-Jo, the UK is certainly not lagging behind in ecommerce, it’s just Costco really. All of the other retailers and super markets here have very nice websites that you can order on and get tons of good information from too. So, you would think that Costco could at least have a nice, clean design with lots of good, current information and enough of it to give people a full understanding of their warehouses. They should at the very least have a real tool for finding your nearest warehouse and full information on the different classes of membership, including the different hours. Then they could work on adding other pieces of information and eventually work their way into a full ecommerce site. You don’t have to do it all over night, but you do need to update it once in a while.

    And I agree, it does reflect badly on Costco as a whole since it is is a representation of their brand in these various countries.

  8. 8 vicky-jo // 2010.03.07 at 11:53 pm

    Gerry – The UK is not remotely behind the US as far as web retail is concerned. What are you basing your statement on?

    I agree with the author, the Costco UK website is appalling. I recently enquired with their member services team what the difference was between individual and trade membership was, they didn’t even bother to mention the difference in retail hours in the email, what they did say about the individual membership was that it was restricted to certain groups; pretty much this covered current or retired public sector workers, airline and financial services, and anyone qualified in a range of professions many of whom would probably be self employed and eligible for trade membership.

    Something I found particularly confusing about the ‘Find your nearest warehouse’ drop down list was the inclusion of ‘Home Office’. I did wonder if this was perhaps a specialist warehouse dedicated to office and stationary products (a Costco version of Staples); as this is what I was after I called the number, from the ACD prompts it was clear this was the number for the HEAD Office.

    Looking at the metadata for the site it appears is was created in Office 2000, it indicates it was Word, but it could be FrontPage, either option would be very wrong. The metadata also indicates that the pages have not been updated since December 2003 (by the now IT Director)!

    It reflects badly on Costco that the build and information quality of the costco.co.uk site is so poor; that there is no online ordering option, as they lag far behind other retailers in the UK (despite Gerry’s misinformation about eCommerce over here) and that the individual membership is so restricted. Given the warehouses aren’t that accessible by public transport (if you have to get a bus from a train or tube stop I consider it a bit of a schlep) you’d think they want to promote themselves a bit better by making people aware what they sell and making some, if not all of it available to order online.

    There are items on costco.com I would like to order, which I know the have previously had in stock in the UK warehouses and are no longer available, though the UK staff I have spoken to on the phone have been helpful when I’ve made enquiries. I should also add that the item numbers on the US site don’t seem to tally with those used in the UK (when given to staff to stock check over the phone), though this could be due to the item no longer being available in the UK; so although they do sometimes stock the same items, it doesn’t sound like there’s homogeny with their systems. One other thing I did notice about the US site (aside from not shipping internationally) is how the product id which forms part of the query string is not the same as the item number. e.g. Prodid=11134074 for Item # 112865

  9. 9 Gerry // 2010.03.03 at 1:48 pm

    The entire UK is about ten years behind US as far as web retail, etc. is concerned.

  10. 10 Jacqueline // 2010.03.02 at 11:48 am

    I agree, their website is useless. I had trouble finding my nearest Costco at first. They do offer three different memberships, individual, trade and executive.

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