Costco Locations are Only as Good as Their Employees

October 24th, 2008 · 14 Comments

This makes me so sad to have to post about this, but I think I’ve got to do it.  My mom usually shops at the Costco located at 9350 Marshall Drive in Lenexa, Kansas.  However, she has recently decided, after many bad things going on there, to either shop at a different location (like the nicer one in Overland Park, KS) or horror of horrors, get rid of her Costco membership all together.  Now you know, for me this must be a shocking and sad thing, so I’m trying to convince her to keep her membership and just start shopping at the other location.  Of course, she doesn’t shop there all that often anymore since she stopped catering but still a couple of good trips a year can pay for the regular membership fee of $50.

So, you’re probably wondering what could have been so horrible that she doesn’t want to shop at the Lenexa location anymore.  Sadly, it isn’t just one thing; there are a host of issues with that store.  And, I’ve seen a lot of it with my own eyes when visiting her and we swing by this Costco.  Overall, this Costco location is kind of grungy looking, including some of the staff members, and the items aren’t shelved as tidily as at other locations.  It just looks shabby and not at all Costco-like. I think it might be a little on the small side too, but you can’t really change that at this point.  However, you can definitely clean it up.  But the real problem is with the people that staff the location; they are, to be blunt, rude and sloppy.  At the other Costco’s that I’ve been to the people are always very friendly and willing to help people find things or willing to take back items without giving the customer attitude, not so much the case at the Lenexa Costco.  I’ll highlight a couple of stories from my mom’s repertoire to give you a feel for this situation.

Last year, my mom ordered an HP notebook computer from because she had decided to finally get an Internet connection (she lives in a weird rural location where she can’t get cable or decent phone service, so this was a big deal).  She had already signed up to have the satellite-based Internet service installed before she purchased the computer, so she thought she was all good to go.  Well, things happen and it turned out that her Internet installation was all messed up and she had to actually cancel the service all together.  She had just gotten the notebook a week or two earlier, well within the 90-day return window for electronics and computers, so she decided to take it back to Costco since she no longer needed it.  Since she had only used it once to boot it up, just to make sure it worked, she put everything back in the original boxes it came in with all of the cords and manuals, as well and she took it back to the Lenexa Costco.  That’s when the bad stuff happens in this story.  The woman at the Customer Service desk was somewhere between surly and ridiculously rude with my mom when she was making the return.  My mom said she ripped apart the box, literally, ripped it.  No opening it or taking care, just ripping into it and throwing stuff around.  And then she turns to my mom and starts acting like she was trying to pull a quick one on Costco by doing something bad by returning the computer. She even had all of the original receipts and everything!  The Costco woman starts loudly complaining about how it doesn’t matter what shape the computer is in because they’ll never be able to sell it now and that it is just useless to them.  I have a hard time believing that they’ll just pitch any electronics or computer item that is returned to them though.  The overall feeling my mom had was that this woman was out of control and out of line, and acting that hateful to customers is not the way to keep your brand’s good reputation.  At this point I have to say, I was completely shocked.  I mean, I’ve seen people return giant televisions, computers, and even partially eaten food and get nothing but nice things from the Customer Service rep…even the people that don’t have the receipt or the original packaging.  This experience left my mom disgusted and not so thrilled with going back to Costco but she eventually went back and it was okay (maybe because she didn’t have anything to return).  And then, she decided to buy glasses there after I bought mine and had such a good experience.

The first time my mom asked someone about the pricing of glasses, with specifics of her prescription and other details, the person quoted her this absurdly high amount (it ended up being about twice what the glasses really were in the end).  But after looking around at other places and being persuaded by me, my mom decided to go to Costco to get her new glasses.  My mom said she had a kind of uneasy feeling about purchasing the glasses when she saw a very angry customer at the counter trying to get help and being ignored but she persevered.  The person in the optical department was not overly friendly or even that competent but my mom eventually got her order placed.  The optical person told her it would be 7 – 10 days until the glasses were available to be picked up. After a little over a week, and not hearing from them, she called the optical department and was told that they would be in in two days.  And then they told her it would be two more days.  And then they told her that they were being re-done because they weren’t perfect ‘and didn’t she want them to be perfect’.  Like she was buying them because she wanted to have glasses that she couldn’t see out of?  Every time she called there was a different excuse as to why they weren’t available.  And finally they were in, after well over two weeks.  So, she goes to pick them up and they’re rude to her about fitting the glasses.  As if that’s not part of their job or something.

After both of these episodes and then another one just yesterday (another surly person at the optical counter that would not help my mom), my mom had a chat with an assistant manager.  Sadly, he knew exactly who she was talking about when she told him the story about returning the computer.  Why is she still there if they know she is so horrible to customers?  And he claimed that they have a policy about dressing (shirts with collars) and grooming standards and how they staff is supposed to interact with customers.  He was very nice and very apologetic and was trying to convince my mom that he was working on the issues that she had encountered.  But, the real question is, will my mom decide to go back, go to the other store, or just quit Costco completely?

So, the take home message is that I love Costco but each Costco warehouse location is only as good as the staff that works there.  If they are being ignorant and rude to customers, no one will want to go there and shop and they’ll tarnish the brand.  Costco is known for their outstanding customer service and customer friendly policies, and hearing about stuff like this makes me sad and a little angry.  I want everyone to love to shop at Costco as much as I do, or at least respect them for their excellence in dealing with their customers.


Tags: Electronics · General · Health & Beauty Share

14 Responses so far ↓

  1. 1 g ron // 2009.01.16 at 6:27 pm

    I would agree with this statement.
    You have some really nice folks who enjoy their jobs and do their jobs. Unfortunately not all of us as costumers have a great day and can get set off at the least thing. These employees work so hard to try to make us happy.
    I appreciate them all from management down.

  2. 2 Rachel // 2009.01.16 at 3:56 pm

    I have found Costco to be wonderful. The employees and management always are willing to help me when I need it. I once has a tire that needed repair. I took it there to have it checked. They pulled a large nail out, and suggested I might get my tires replaced at some point in time as they are all worn. They never pushed me to do this. They cleaned the “fix a flat” out that someone mistakenly had me put in when it got flat and I waited too long to have this checked.
    I believe Costco is as big as they are because of their employees as well as their product.
    Thank you

  3. 3 Kimberly // 2009.01.08 at 9:45 am

    Wow, that sounds totally out of hand, Gene. I am really shocked, and more than a little sad, that a Costco manager would treat you that way. I can’t believe that they’d want to lose a customer over something that is so silly.

    And can I just say, I’ve taken pictures in Costco and I’ve seen lots of other people doing it too (as well as lots of blogs showing off Costco snaps) and I’ve never heard that it wasn’t allowed. I think I even took one or two right in front of the Costco employees without them saying a word. If they really feel so strongly that pictures shouldn’t be taken in their store, they should post that on a big sign.

  4. 4 GRN // 2009.01.07 at 1:18 pm

    I am reluctantly going to jump in with my comment about “Costco Locations are Only as Good as Their Employees.”

    This comment applies to the managment style of Costco in Wilmington, NC.

    I have a serious problem with the way management at this store handle essentially non-serious issues. Non-serious meaning, NOT theft, pilfering, etc.

    The situation: I had the Manager of this store in a nastly way essentially come AT me and accused me of trying to sell photos in their store. She nastily and with anger actually told me “she had had calls about ‘someone’ trying to sell their stuff in ‘her’ store–and now she could put a face to those complaints.” No actually corroboration. Just some customer complaint which I tried to pin down. She admitted she didn’t have the exact nature of these.

    She handled me in about as nasty and insensitive a way as one would least expect as a regualar customer in this store.

    She then threatened me with taking away my Costco card.

    WHY? she even approached me in this way is unclear. She then DEMANDED that I give her my card–so she could see information on my account. Came back, and told me, well you do about $150 each month here [More than I thought!].

    I felt, as a customer, that her style of coming AT me was inappropriate–to the so-called “Customer Service” claim Costco has. She also accused me of going around IN the store and trying to peddle my pictures.

    Let me set the scene of this Costco. Entry/exit has a large Photo section. People coming in and going out naturally look at large print outs of someone getting their work [e.g., my work]. In this Costco, the photo staff is superb. They work with you when your prints aren’t quite what you expect. Once they learn you actually do know something about photography, they work with you at a higher level.

    I have been a photographer for over 40 years, serious amateur photographer.

    So their expertise is welcome.

    In addition, other people having work done are there picking up their own work. So it is natural for them to see, or ask to see, what you just did. THAT is the nature of being in photography. Peer reveiw, other peoples review and reactions.

    In this single instance, I had created in a large format, the unusual collage of the triad of the Moon/Venus/Jupiter. And, the person next to me asked me if he could buy it. Cost to me was around $2.99 less tax. I said, OK, $5.

    What came down ON me the next few days and now weeks is unreal. At first I heard that someone in management was upset with me. So I asked to see this person, the Asst Manager. When I explained the quick evolution of what happened–his comment was “it could have been handled better.” No harm, no foul. I then knew their was some policy of not selling something IN Costco.

    Done. Over with. I can foreget this minor issue.

    Nope. A few days later THE Manager of the store comes over to me and berates me and angrily threatens me with something to do with trying to peddle and sell images. See above.

    She said I had been seen going around the store trying to sell my photos.

    Had she been less caustic, and better trained, she would have realized that when you pick up you images in their large Costco envelopes, and walk through the store to see what is new/available–and walk by and sample their food exhibits [which about every other person does]–you meet these Costco employees, other people within the store are next to you.

    Most of these employees are the nicest people I have ever met. They would often ask “what” the picture I carried looked like. So out it comes [most photographers are very willing to ‘show off’ their work to ‘anyone’ to get feedback].

    What I didn’t realize is that Costco actually pre-views their customers as theives first, and not to be handled with any sensitivity. So, if they follow you on thier surveillance cameras all through the store, they see ‘something’–and it in this Mangers and other Costco employees who watch the monitors–assume the worst.

    Now, I never even considered doing anything like selling anything IN Costco. And, at the Photo site in this store, there are many actual professionals that use their services–and, yes, hand out their cards to customers going by as they see their work being picked up.

    I don’t have such cards. I should.

    So to be accused in such an abrasive manner by this store Manager was way over the top.

    So, to be somehow linked to going around the store to say hello to the food demo people, sampling their stuff, as somehow nefarious–is over the top.

    So, I called the Regional Manager in Georgia about the insensivity of how this was handled. Usually, when one runs in to such bad management behavior–at least in most other places–the upper level management responds in some positive way.

    OK, done. Escalated this experience up to another level.


    Nope. I just happened to be at the Photo counter, always have my camera at the ready–and one of the [actually] friendlier Entry people who checks Costco membership–who was standing at the entrance [I am a few feet inside the door, at the Photo counter]–looks up and says hello–and I take aquick shot.

    Wow! On the other side of the entry/exit area, the exit guy yells through the chain mail fence, at ME and this Costco employee–NO ONE IS ALLOWED TO TAKE PHOTOS IN COSTCO. IT’S IN THE RULE BOOK.

    An example of handling things at Costco, Wilmington, NC–“as usual.”

    So, here it was, I am trying to leave behind what happened earlier, and another Costco employee criticized me.

    WHY?? This way??

    So, I E-Mail Costco, which is passed on to the Regional Manager I had just talked to about handling things more gentley, with sensitivity–and when we re-upped to rejoin Costco, our check was returned and I was told I was “banished” from ever coming IN TO Costco again.

    ALL, it seems because some Store Manger who got some bug in her bonnet–and decided to come after me for something way less than theft, or things like that.

    This raises the question, again:

    1) Does one need to take Costco For Idiots Membership Quiz to know every sub-rule when one joins?
    2) WHAT actually is the REAL attitude about upper Costco Management about ‘training’ their Managers in customer interaction?? NONE?
    3) Are not Customers who actually BUY and spend $$ in such places afforded even the most bare interpretation of “The Customer is Always Right?”–or at least a less pugnacious way of handling “infringement” of Costco RULES?

    In other places, at least one could register a complaint about what was offensive further up–so it wouldn’t happen again.

    4) WHY at all the over-reaction of such Management at ALL??
    5) In this day and age where any reasonable input of $$ in to a company, especially now, is $$ on the bottom line–WHY would Costco go so far as to be both offensive, and so full of themselves, that even a mere loss of an average of $150 per month is irrelevant.

    Maybe, Costco, Wilmington, NC knows it is the only “act” between here and RTP–so is arrogant–since other Costco’s aren’t nearby??

    With business’s and banks, all big–failing, what is the overall and upper management message Costco is sending? Slight offenses to questioning this stores “mangement” style is = NO membership.

    Costco must be making way more $$ than they need, or report, or something.

    These people need to be trained better.

    Costco needs to show a nicer side, at least here, of not watching every step a person takes, and then somehow thinking the worst of what comes in to the store.

    Costco needs to focus on actual material losses and concerns, not some invisible-to-a-member–RULES that are unknowingly broken.

    Costco needs to have a better program in place with its Management and Employees that show some sort of “CUSTOMER SENSIVITY”.

    None of which is apparent should one break some unclear RULE at the Wilmington, NC Costco.

    Result: I have joined Sam’s Club–which also is $10 less, and has name brands which Costco doesn’t have. Their Photo unit is also quite good–in fact more advanced than Costco’s. They have the capability of backing all their images as printed.

    I would be interested in whether other people have also encountered such behavior and Management-Customer interactions in their experiences. E-Mail below.

    Gene R. Nathans, PhD

    I hope the monitor for Costco HQ in Seattle is also following this comment. Apparently, based on the above blog, Costco has become too big for what it ‘started out to be’–or too rich and over confident making $$–in a world where $$ is getting in short supply to many of us.

  5. 5 estea // 2008.12.20 at 12:18 am

    wow, i just found this site by typing in “lenexa costco” just because i wanted to see if anyone had reviewed the store!

    i, too, preach the gospel of costco but the lenexa store needs some major mgt. changes. i will not go into detail here but my experience yesterday was the first bad one EVER at a costco store, and it was horrible. rude cashier, rude manager, rude service desk – oh, and fyi, the deli only takes cash or checks now, no cash cards. is there signage anywhere? nope. does the manager seem to care? nope. she didn’t look up from what she was working on at the desk when i asked when the deli payment policy had changed.

    i sent a calm, nice email to customer service today. hope somebody takes a look into the situation there.

    midtown costco is the best in the city, imo, plus they have great wine selection. friendliest employees, cleanest warehouse, fastest service. i won’t be going back to lenexa, but am most sad that my fabulous costco experience has been tainted by this store!

  6. 6 Clue // 2008.11.02 at 5:49 am

    Last weekend, I had a run in with a manager, totally out of the blue. I have wrist problems that had flared earlier that day and whcih got worse as I lifted things into the cart as I shopped. I finally got to the checkout, I moved the lighter weight items from the cart to the check out conveyor belt, but left the more moderately heavy items in the cart. A manager walked up, picked up a couple of items from my belt, dropped them back into the cart in clear disgust and says, “These items have to be put on the belt!” With that, she briskly stalked off and disappeared behind a heavy office door.

    Mortified, I looked at the cashier and said, “Gosh, there’s nothing like coming to Costco and getting chastised!” The cashier gave me a very sympathetic look, but didn’t say anything. “Is she like that to you guys too?” I asked. She glanced around nervously, bit her lip and softly said, “Ohhhhh yeah.”

    I paid for my items and then marched over tot hat big office door and knocked on it hard. Ms. manager appeared and I told her politely and firmly that I did not appreciate being taken to task that way, and especially in front of everyone. I then briefly explained my wrist issue.

    To her credit, the manager immediate;ly and sincerely apologized, without being either defensive or saccharine about it. I accepted he apology and then remembering the cashier, told I told the manager that I hoped that she apologizes as genuinely to her employees when she jumps on them too. Her jaw hit the floor, she went bright red in embarrassment and she just stammered and looked away. Clearly I had hit on a real issue!

    This is the first time I have ever had an issue with anyone at Costco and I truly hope it’s the last time too!

  7. 7 Stell // 2008.10.28 at 6:06 pm

    Well as an Overland Park citizen myself, I have to agree with your mom on the cleanliness of the store. However, I also just do not like this particular store, I do not like the location and just find it difficult to get to. I much prefer the store on main in Missouri, it is however convenient to my office and also sells alcohol beverages. The store on Main is always clean and everything is always in its place. It is located in the city and has had some safety issues, but as mentioned in previous posts, “Costco is only as good as…”

  8. 8 MCA // 2008.10.28 at 11:55 am

    Man! Talk about bizarre. I was just randomly cruising the website and found this site. I work at this Costco (Lenexa 349) and go out of my way to help people who come through. If you ever see the person !running! to go back and get you stuff that you’ve forgotten to put in your cart/couldn’t find, yeah, that would be me. Breaking the four minute mile for the customer. Well, as for some people looking grungy… I suppose I can’t disagree on that one… ha ha. This is hilarious. I really need to go see these sophisticates over at the OP store. They must be gods among men, can walk on water, etc. Don’t worry, if you ever come back in I still plan on being nice to you. 😉

  9. 9 Justin // 2008.10.27 at 10:37 am

    Delaware Costco also suffers from the same issues. I have a feeling it is about 60% the customer base and 40% employees though.

  10. 10 WasabiPeas // 2008.10.25 at 2:12 pm

    LIES ! ALL LIES !!! How dare you besmirch Costco! Maybe your Mom was confused and actually went into a BJ’s by mistake. 🙂

  11. 11 Kimberly // 2008.10.25 at 9:38 am

    Hey Dan, thanks for the outstanding comment/rebuttal.

    Of course, the store and employee appearance is totally subjective and really is the least of the issues that my mom or I would call out at this particular store. And honestly, my mom didn’t say that the store was grungy, that was my opinion from being there and comparing it to the other Costco locations that I’ve visited.

    I am more concerned with the rudeness of the people working there. If you don’t get a consistent level of polite and courteous behavior your store can get a bad reputation really quickly. My mom doesn’t go anywhere near as often as you do, so a couple of rude events can really taint her opinion because she doesn’t have such a wide array of information to compare it to. Also bad for Costco, is that she often takes different friends with her so they see the bad stuff and don’t want to get a membership or shop at that location again either.

    That said, I think the woman taking returns has obviously acted in an inappropriate fashion with enough other people that the assistant manager knew right who my mom was talking about without her giving a name or a description; he gave her the description and asked her to confirm if that sounded like the right woman.

    I’m glad to hear that the store has more good days than bad ones though. And I really appreciate you taking the time to write such a nice, well thought out comment to give another opinion.

  12. 12 Dan // 2008.10.24 at 6:12 pm


    First of all, I love reading your blog. I’m a huge Costco fan and truly enjoy shopping there. Seems I can rarely leave without spending at least $100.

    Oddly enough, the store I go to most often is the very one you just blogged about. Not only is it a bit closer in location to me than the Overland Park store, the Lenexa Costco also stocks 1% milk, whereas the OP store does not (pretty weird eh? Especially considering OP is a bit bigger store).

    I don’t want to discount your mom’s poor experiences, but I do want to say that in the last seven years (I started going when that location first opened in 2001) I haven’t had a single bad experience. I go usually around twice a month, most often on weekday evenings when it is not too crowded.

    I have never purchased eyeglasses there, so I cannot speak of the person(s) staffing that department but I have used the pharmacy, photo counter, food court, bakery, and tire center. I just don’t think I have ever encountered any rude or confrontational employees. On the contrary, they have ranged between cordial to downright friendly. I see very little turnover (a testament to how well Costco treats their staff) and there are a couple of people working there I remember from 2001.

    I have also returned various things over the years (though it is rare)– including food that spoiled before the expiration date, clothing, electronics, and unwanted products. I have never, ever been hassled for a return. I’ve never bought or returned a computer or other big ticket electronic item there though, so maybe that’s a factor?

    In addition, I haven’t seen any cleanliness issues at this store at all. Actually all three of the Costco stores I’ve been to in the KC area have all looked very much the same. Employees dress casually but I haven’t seen anyone I would call “grungy”.

    I am all for calling out a store when it fails in putting the customer first, and it seems obvious that this location has done that in your mother’s case. But I did feel compelled to share my experience also because it has been so different. I have no idea why your mom was treated so poorly, but hopefully the manager can make it right. And maybe some of your other readers have shopped this location also and can share their experiences. It’s entirely possible that they do have problems with their employees, but my seven year history of visiting that store has not borne that out.

    For the record, I have absolutely no ties to Costco (though with the recent free fall of the stock markets I may become a shareholder!) or this particular location, and I’m not trying to cast doubt on your mom’s bad experiences. I just wanted to share mine in contrast.

    Keep up the great blog! I love reading about what other people are buying at Costco.

  13. 13 Kimberly // 2008.10.24 at 4:24 pm

    That’s exactly what I told my mom she should do after the crazy return lady. But she gave her the benefit of the doubt that maybe she was just having a bad day; we all have them. However, I was glad that she did finally talk to the manager after seeing that things were bad in all different areas of the store.

    My mom did want me to mention that the assistant manager was very nice, as was one of the women in the bakery. So, there’s hope that things will turn around there.

  14. 14 Rickie Miyake // 2008.10.24 at 3:53 pm

    Costco is my favorite store but management makes a HUGE difference in any operation. The ones I normally visit are fine but a few weeks ago I went to one in Signal Hill, CA and it was subpar in every category, if you ask me. That said, I feel what your mom should have done was to write a letter of complaint to the corporate office to voice her displeasure. If we say nothing about it, then we have only ourselves to blame.

    Of course you may ask if I complained about Signal Hill and no, I didn’t because I only went once and maybe it was a bad day for them. But if you go somewhere several times and get treated poorly several times, it is time to complain.

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