It took us two weeks, and felt like at least 6 more than that, but we finally made it to Costco this weekend! We picked the one that is closest (according to Google Maps and obviously not the Costco.co.uk site) to our soon to be new flat; it’s the Chingford Costco. Eventually I’ll probably try to make it to a couple of the other Costco locations, just to compare them and see what the others are like. But it was like coming home and also totally foreign, all at the same time.
We decided to go on Sunday, because I figured that might be the best weekend day for my first UK driving experience. Traffic was pretty light when we left but had certainly gotten more aggressive on the way back. But obviously we survived and so did the Zipcar…phew. It took about 30 or 40 minutes to get there, however, I’m sure some of that was down to us completely not knowing where we were going and me driving like a timid 90 year old woman. I’ll do much better on the next trip, I am sure. Sadly, because I was paranoid about how long it would take and driving there in general, we got to Costco almost an hour before they opened at 11 am. But we weren’t alone in the parking lot, not by a long shot. There were people there even before we got there! And there was an absolute mob by the time the doors opened finally. Seriously, I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like it in the US, not even around the holidays. The Costco in Chingford also has underground parking, which is really nice for those rainy days. Though, it seemed to me that most everyone preferred the surface parking, even though it was really cold, of course it was a really sunny day. But then, I guess you couldn’t eagerly watch for them to open the doors from the underground parking.
I guess the first big difference is in the opening hours. In the US on Sunday and during the week Costco opens at 10 am and on Saturday they open at 9:30 am. Here, though, they open at 11 am on Sunday and 9:30 am on Saturday but they don’t open until Noon during the week (for individual members) and 10 am for trade members. And apparently, even if you are an Executive Member but have an individual membership, you are treated just like the Gold Star members; all trade members get better opening hours (Executive or Gold Star) than individual members. Though, I wonder how well they enforce that because they seem kind of lax about it in the US. Also, I wonder where we fall because our card says neither individual nor trade on it. I just wish they opened earlier on Sunday though because I think that would have helped alleviate some of the huge crowd but I’m sure they have a reason.
When we finally got to go into the store, and it took quite a while to funnel all of those people into the store, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. But similar to our stores, they have the same basic store layout with the fence and those items right there and then the electronics as the first section you see. Then there are the aisles of household items along the wall; clothing, shoes, books, DVDs and office supplies and health and beauty items were in the middle; the food was in the back and along the aisles on the far side of the store. The store was really similar to those in the US, though maybe not as big as some of them, which isn’t all that shocking. They have a similar selection of household and decorating items, though they certainly had far more major appliances than we have ever had in our Austin location. They didn’t seem to have much women’s clothing or men’s but more kid’s clothing, I think. The liquor is mixed in with the food but they seemed to have a nice selection, and apparently they can sell wine and spirits right in the store, no need for either to live in their own separate store which is the case in Texas. They had a really nice mix of fresh and frozen foods, as well as a good selection of packaged items. We took so long browsing through the rest of the store, that we didn’t get enough of a chance to look through the stuff in the middle, but that is what future trips are for, I guess.
There were several things that I can’t wait to try out though. While there is certainly overlap in some of the products available, there’s also a big, big difference in the sorts of items they sell here. The food section has of course all kinds of new and exciting things to try. You can really see the influence of Indian cooking on the items in the store, I thought, because amongst other things there were like 4 or 5 different varieties of basmati rice. Plus, there were big jugs of soups, sauces, and chutneys for making various items as home. Another nice difference was in the bread aisle you can get the usual sliced sandwich breads but they also have naan, pitas, chapatis, tortillas (which surprised me), crumpets (or English muffins, which didn’t surprise me) and these very cool ready to bake breads. The ready to bake stuff seems really great to me because it’s French bread mainly, and I’m not whipping that up myself at home but I can pop in the oven for an almost fresh, homemade bread feeling. They still had the Costco cakes and cupcakes, which made Dave happy. So, I guess I’ll eventually be trying to find room in my tiny freezer for some frozen cupcakes. They also had a great selection of fresh fruits and veggies, and the prices and quality both seemed as excellent as you expect from Costco. They certainly seemed to have a wider selection of pork and lamb cuts available (and I’m not even talking about the 5 or 6 different kinds of bacon you can buy). And the beef was amazing looking! It’s all from Scotland and the Aberdeen Angus cuts, in particular, looked mouthwateringly beautiful. Oh yes, and while we’re talking about great things from Scotland, they had some nice looking fresh salmon filets that we will certainly be buying in the future. But they also had a wide selection of smoked salmon. Yum!
There were so many things to see that I could ramble on all day probably. But I won’t. There were a couple of things that we were really glad to see there, like Ghiradelli Triple Chocolate Brownie mix. They have a lot of the same Kirkland Signature items too that we use all the time, though I didn’t see the liquid laundry detergent. And they have Bounce, which makes me very, very happy (laundry woes of non-soft clothing currently). Plus, there were a couple of things that we don’t buy all the time but will be picking up on our next visit (once we have moved to our permanent flat) including a set of 6 Global knives and a Dyson vacuum cleaner. Plus, they have German Black Forest ham! We totally fell in love with it when we were in Germany and you really can’t get it in the US, so I’m looking forward to trying that. Heck, we might even try out the haggis too!
All in all, it was a successful shopping trip to our first UK Costco. We did buy a few things, but that’s a separate post, and would have stayed to try out the food court but just ran out of time. Next time, I’m going to be sure to allow enough time to deal with the crowds of people and still get a hot dog and a soda.
Does anyone know if the coupon books in the UK are mailed out, or do you pick those up in the stores? We found one in our basket so we were curious about how to get one in the future.