I get a lot of questions from people in email and I thought I should answer some of them here since I get them so frequently. The question I get asked most often, either in email or in person, is: “why do I shop at Costco?”. For some people they wonder this because they have never been to a Costco themselves, for others, they are curious how a family of two can get any value out of Costco. And of course, others just think paying to shop someplace is dumb and want to take the opportunity to point this out to me.
I’ve been shopping at Costco for so long that I really can’t imagine not shopping there. And at this point, I have a hard time even remembering how we first started to be lured into more and more shopping at Costco. Dave had shopped at Price Club/Price Costco when he lived in California, so he had some familiarity with the whole warehouse club shopping concept when we first went to Costco in Arizona. From that very first visit though, I was a bit hooked. They had really great prices on gas and it quickly became the only place that we would fill up our cars or motorcycles. Then we started to rely on Costco for office supplies for business stuff, and then more and more we went there for all of our groceries and sundries too. And of course, there are always things like towels, sheets, kitchen items, clothing and furniture that beckon you with their really great prices. Costco’s great prices for quality products is so seductive and you can get hooked without even realizing it.
Costco definitely appeals to my frugal side. I do a lot of price comparisons just so that I can keep an eye on how competitive Costco is with other stores, but to make sure that I’m not just blindly shopping at Costco assuming they are cheap when they might not be, as well. I wouldn’t keep shopping at Costco if it really weren’t such a good deal, but it is quite consistently the best deal on a wide variety of items. My smartphone has made checking up on Costco prices so much easier and quicker than it used to be, so I can check on things while I’m actually in Costco now. And I do it all the time. I price check at places like Amazon and Ocado (where I get grocery delivery from in London) or speciality stores for electronics or kitchen goods, wherever I think might have a better price really. There have been times when I have not gotten something at Costco because it was less expensive someplace else, but those are pretty rare occasions and usually it is because Ocado is having a sale on laundry detergent or something like that. I haven’t found electronics or kitchen items for less at other stores more than a couple of times though, and usually the difference isn’t enough to make the time of going to another store worth it. I always encourage everyone to do price comparisons, because it keeps you aware of fair prices, but also it makes sure that Costco keeps having competitive prices. But please, if you are going to do a price comparison, make sure you are actually comparing things that are the same. Nothing irritates me more than hearing from people who say I found X cheaper at some other store when X isn’t really at all the same as the product at Costco. It really is like comparing apples to oranges.
I’ve always said that shopping at Costco doesn’t necessarily make sense for everyone, but for me, it really does work out to be a savings, as well as an efficient use of my shopping time. I can get, and have gotten, everything at Costco from office supplies, to furniture, to food, to bathroom items. I love that I can get a new set of tires at the same place I can get contact lenses and a steak. I don’t like to spend a lot of time shopping, and really hate having to run all over the place to do my shopping, so Costco is the perfect solution for me. When we were in Austin, and lived five minutes from my Costco, I rarely went to other grocery stores and pretty much never went to Walmart or Target. And you know what, I got along just fine and never felt like we weren’t getting things we wanted. It doesn’t hurt that Costco has really great quality products that you can’t always find at other places, and if you do, they definitely aren’t going to be for the prices at Costco.
I don’t mind buying in bulk for a lot of things because I’m always going to use those things and can save a lot of money by going to Costco rather than buying more frequently at other retailers (like toilet paper or toothpaste, for example). I know this is something that people find hard to believe since we are a family of two. We almost never throw food out that we buy at Costco and if we do it is other factors, not because we bought too much. Over the years we have gotten a good feel for what we can get in bulk, and what would just not make sense for us to buy that way. I also make good use of my available storage space and am a big fan of using my freezer to extend the usefulness of my shopping at Costco.
Now, about that membership fee. I have an Executive membership, so I pay $110.00 per year to shop at Costco. Of course, I get 2% back on the things that I buy at Costco with that membership too. However, even if I didn’t get anything back, the membership fee is still something that I can get back easily in savings on just a couple of items. Buying glasses or contact lenses at Costco, as compared to an optical store someplace else, can easily cover the cost of membership. If I could still get my prescription medications at Costco (no pharmacies in the UK Costco stores, unfortunately) I could make up my membership fee that way too. However, there are always the little things that add up too, so I quickly cover the cost of my membership without even trying too hard. I don’t mind paying the membership fee because that helps Costco keep the prices down, so we all win in the end really. I think the people that say it is stupid to pay a membership fee to shop someplace don’t really understand how Costco works and how much better the prices are, and clearly they have never even bothered to check out a Costco store at all.
I should also add that I like that Costco treats their employees fairly. It’s nice to shop at a place that expects people to work hard, but gives them decent compensation for that work. The stores are clean and the employees checking customers out are friendly and efficient. I’ve rarely had a bad customer service experience at Costco, which I think is all down to the fact that Costco treats their employees well and they in turn treat the customers well.
So, to give you the condensed version, I shop at Costco because of the value that they offer me. That’s what got me in the first place, and that is what keeps me coming back. They aren’t just cheap, but they have the best prices on better brands and truly quality items. I love the prices and high quality products they offer at Costco, so I’ll keep shopping there until that changes.