Is Going to Start Using Intrusive Advertising?

June 16th, 2015 · 15 Comments

A few weeks ago I received an email from a frustrated shopper, Mike P. in Arizona.  He shared some news in his message that was shocking to me, and left me frustrated as well.  He told me that on a recent visit to the website he had been bombarded with an intrusive and most unwelcome advertisement for Olay while looking at restaurant gift cards.  I was floored that Costco would do this, quite frankly.  Here’s what Mike had to say in his email, including an image of the Olay ad:

Screen Capture of Olay ad at

Screen Capture of Olay ad at

I have been more and more disappointed by Costco’s changes recently. Not only are we losing American Express, the credit card vendor with customer service that equals Costco, but now their web division is using intrusive advertising. Not only are page results “Sponsored” now, but a huge banner dropped down from the top that took up 1/3 of my screen. Then it started playing video! This is the sort of advertisement one is more likely to find on an illicit website rather than a reputable one. Look at some competition – Best Buy, Amazon, Sam’s, and Walmart – none of them have video advertisements because they upset or infuriate shoppers. It is worse with Costco because I am a paying member, which should eliminate or reduce the need for Costco to put advertisements on their website. After all, my much cheaper memberships to news outlets reduce or eliminate ads. I am attaching a screen capture.

I can reproduce it in Internet Explorer as well as Firefox by going to, and typing “Restaurant gift” into the search box, and clicking “Gift Baskets & Gift Cards”. As if it isn’t bad enough that Costco is now advertising to their members, they are using some of the worst possible choices. For starters, on mouseover the advertisement at the top opens a huge black bar and starts a video. And at the bottom is another banner that is served by This advertisement company has been known to inject malware and viruses onto people’s computers — See this link for an example of when this happened:

I couldn’t agree with Mike more!  For those of you that aren’t aware (probably most of you), in my former life I was a usability consultant for software and websites.  I did that for more than 15 years, consulting for companies both big and small around the world.  When I see things like this happen to a website for a company that I respect, it makes me wonder who is offering them advice.  And why are they taking it?  As Mike points out, you pay for your Costco membership and that should mean an ad-free browsing space online, not just that you are a captive audience to hit with ads for things that aren’t even related to what you are shopping for in the first place. Serving up ads like this just makes me wonder if they do not understand their website visitors and couldn’t have used that information to extrapolate how poorly ads would be received.  Also, why not just stick with the sections for top sellers or what others viewed to get people to have a deeper interaction with the site and lead them to different products.  Or, use an Amazon style recommendation section to suggest things that might be of interest based on other purchases or things in the cart.  All of these options are less intrusive to site visitors, plus people feel like you are helping them with these suggestions, which is rarely something people feel about online advertising.

I have ads on my blog (over there in the right-hand column) to generate income to support my blog because it’s the only source of income I’ve got here.  But Costco clearly doesn’t have that situation with their ecommerce website, which certainly shouldn’t need to depend on ad revenue for generating income.  If you’re going to place an ad on your site, the very least you can do is make in not so intrusive and definitely don’t make it one of those annoying ads that takes over the browser and starts playing video without input from the shopper/reader/viewer.  There is nothing more annoying and off-putting than an ad (or a news story for that matter) that just starts playing video.  I, and most people on the Internet, want the control of deciding when and if I will play a video; I definitely don’t want to leave that up to some random website guy to decide.  There wouldn’t be so many plug-ins and extensions for browsers to stop ads and Flash if people didn’t get really ticked off about it.

To me, Costco running intrusive ads on their website is no different than if they made us all stop and listen to the Vitamix blender guy before we could do our shopping in the warehouse.  No one would be okay with that, and I have a hard time believing people are going to be really appreciative of pushy ads on their website either.

It has been a couple of weeks since Mike sent me his email and in that time I was trying to see if I could get the ads to display and under what circumstances.  It was my hope that they were running some type of an experiment on the site to see how the ads would be received and if it would lead to sales.  I use different browsers than Mike, Chrome and Safari, and did not get the same ad situation when I went to the restaurant gift card page, or any other pages for that matter.  I also did not get the little “recommended for you” sidebar that you can see in Mike’s screen capture.  I tried being logged in and not being logged in, but still didn’t get the ads.  I have tried this over several days too, just to make sure that nothing popped up.  Of course, I might not be able to trigger the ads since I’m a non-US visitor (obviously, my IP address indicates I’m coming from the UK).  But at this point I am hopeful that they were trying something out and have found that it just doesn’t work for them and isn’t the right step for the website.  Because it really, really isn’t.

Have you seen this type of unpleasant advertising cropping up on the website?  What do you think about this type of advertising in general and how would you feel seeing it on the Costco shopping websites?


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15 Responses so far ↓

  1. 1 Candace Johannes // 2015.06.23 at 12:55 pm

    I haven’t checked the website although I’m so used to seeing banners on every site I visit that I’d probably just ignore them if I saw them. As for the in-store promotions, they’ve been there ever since we started going to Costco. They aren’t intrusive at our store (Frisco, TX). I agree with Danica. You don’t have to stand and listen to anyone at all. We just walk on by anything that we aren’t in the market for. And they’re not there all the time. It’s not as if you’re going there and seeing the same people all the time. We come in the front door and sometimes there’s someone from Direct TV there. If you happen to say something he might ask if we’re interested but when we tell him we live in an apartment and are satisfied with what we have they just thank us. No big deal. I can’t remember anyone being overbearing ever at any Costco we’ve gone to. It’ll only bother you if you let it. If you don’t let it bother you then there’s really nothing to complain about. These people are just trying to sell their product and Costco is giving them the forum to do so. I have seen several third party sellers who have products I might like but again, being in an apartment we don’t need most of it. But I do know if we had a house and needed some of it, I’d sure go to Costco. To me it sounds like much ado about nothing.

  2. 2 fedya // 2015.06.18 at 1:44 pm

    I’m checking from the US and there is an ad banner on top, when you visit “Gift Baskets & Gift Cards” part of the website ( ). However the banner links to an inside product page.

  3. 3 sandyRED // 2015.06.17 at 5:41 pm

    I rec’d the Costco page today and clicked on the Acer 27″ tv – $179.99 after $20 off. Underneath the pic of the t.v., it says “Product details have been supplied by the manufacturer, and are hosted by a third party”. What is that about?

  4. 4 npbk // 2015.06.17 at 9:36 am

    On costco’s monthly coupon books there are advertisement as well. I don’t see why it’s a big deal with ads on Costco is not an NGO. By the way I never noticed ads on your blog, I guess I am just very used to ads on websites.

  5. 5 Alex // 2015.06.17 at 8:01 am

    Hey all,

    Could not replicate the results Mike got, I don’t even get a banner, but then again I’m in Canada so it’s possible this is by design. I can confirm that the website has no third-party advertising whatsoever.

    In reply to Rick, I would have to agree with most of his points; Costco is increasingly pushing their services for Executive Members, such as water delivery, water machines, Lennox and Hunter Douglas stuff, the list goes on. The good thing is that the reps for these companies are so apathetic, it’s kind of funny to look at. You know they make no sales.

    The Vitamix people with their microphones are just the worst.

    Nothing so far to change my opinion and love of Costco, but things they could work on.

    • 6 Kimberly // 2015.06.17 at 8:07 am

      Does anyone else feel like the annoying Vitamix people are like being subjected to a live performance of a late night infomercial? Ugh!

      • 7 danica // 2015.06.17 at 10:50 am

        NO! I LOVE THE VITAMIX DEMO’S! its not like you HAVE to stand there and listen, but when ever I go I always do just to get the free smoothies, and they always have a crowd of people loving it as well. :)

  6. 8 Bill // 2015.06.16 at 5:47 pm

    I also saw that big Olay ad that took up about 1/3 my screen about a week ago, and I remember I wasn’t too pleased to see it. I just checked, and now it’s a thin banner, but still I’d rather it not be there, or at least something that might interest me.

    • 9 Kimberly // 2015.06.17 at 4:14 am

      @Bill – Does the thinner banner play video and get all in your face about buying Olay? I wish they’d skip the banner thing though because those take up such valuable screen space and I’d rather have that for the things I am interested in seeing, not advertising junk.

  7. 10 Greg // 2015.06.16 at 4:27 pm

    Great topic, thanks Mike and Kimberly.

    I actually make a mental note of any product pushed by an intrusive ad, and make it a point to buy alternative. So in this case Olay products would be off my list if I am hit with an intrusive ad (I do use 2 lotions and their bath wash). Also, would pretty much steer clear of Costco’s site and reduce Costco purchasing if they start this. Yes, I have a good memory, for any advertisers reading this.

    Rick’s point on the kiosks near the front is also something I have noticed. When I’m coming thru an entrance, leave me the heck alone. Some vendor at Costco a few months ago started pitching me his trash right at the entrance maybe 5 seconds in – I kept walking without acknowledging and the guy made a smart-a** comment at me for doing so. Mind you this was at a time when Costco management (tire center, south Austin) had simply decided not to come thru on a service they agreed to perform and that I had prepaid when ordering, so needless to say it heightened my disgust at Costco’s recent behavior and poor customer relations decisions, which has only now started to subside.

    I understand Kimberly’s enthusiasm for Costco, but more and more they seem to not caring about the customer experience so much, and at least for me that is showing in how much less I spend there. Am sure they don’t care because I am just one customer, so to heck with me – that’s the vibe I get from Costco lately, anyway. Even their employees seem less happy than they used to.

    • 11 Kimberly // 2015.06.17 at 4:13 am

      @Greg – I like Costco but they’re not infallible and any individual warehouse is only as good as the management I think. My mom had serious customer service issues at one of the Costco locations by her until they got in some new management and then miraculously everything was back to the usual Costco standard of friendly and helpful. I think as they grow they are going to have to figure out how to make sure that the warehouses are being managed in the best way for customers and that is going to be harder and harder to do so they need a system that scales more effectively perhaps so stores like yours don’t fall through the cracks and lead to a growing number of unhappy members.

  8. 12 Mike P. // 2015.06.16 at 11:48 am

    Thanks for sharing my post! I wanted to provide an update that the “recommended” ads are gone (for now?), but I still get the Olay banner at the top and it is now linking to “”. So we know who is giving them the atrocious advice! It’s shameful and I hope a blog like yours garners some visibility.

    I didn’t even think about it, until reading your thoughts, about the fact that the advertising isn’t even related to my searches! On Amazon I might get a Samsung ad when looking for an HTC smartphone, but I never get a Gerber Baby food advertisement from the same search!

  9. 13 Rick Vanover // 2015.06.16 at 10:46 am

    On my Surface RT tablet running IE, it doesn’t show. HOWEVER, I’m also concerned about this as well as all of these factors:

    -The exterior of the warehouse has signage about “respecting member privacy” related to no flyers/soliciting
    -The “kiosk” vendors are getting too much in my opinion. There was a time that it was only the mobile phone services kiosk, and they are never “intrusive”
    -My warehouse now has kiosks before you even get in, in the space between the entrance and exit, there are water sales kiosks
    -The satellite TV vendor is too pitchy
    -There now are “brand sample” large table areas that are more pitchy in my opinion
    -The blender demo people are annoying (they have a microphone also)
    -Taking this now to, it’s a bit much

    • 14 b albert // 2015.06.17 at 5:35 am

      The vendors, especially the vita-mix ones, are annoying and I will do anything to avoid them.

  10. 15 Lisa Barrett // 2015.06.16 at 10:22 am

    I’m located in the States and just checked on my Galaxy tablet. The site performed as usual without any intrusive advertising. However, I do run the free version of Adblock Plus.

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