Why Do I Shop at Costco?

November 5th, 2014 · 16 Comments

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.


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16 Responses so far ↓

  1. 1 Bill // 2014.11.06 at 12:04 pm

    The produce at Costco is great. Much better value and quality than a super market. I shop at Costco in NY, NJ, and FL. I love the Honey Crisp Apples.
    Also, as far as gift cards go, I think you can give them to a non member. Maybe Kim knows, or just ask next time you go to Costco.

  2. 2 Jerry // 2014.11.06 at 8:08 am

    The only thing I don’t buy regularly at Costco is Produce. In the NY Metro market, they can’t match the #1 Supermarket on quality and price.

  3. 3 sandyRED // 2014.11.05 at 9:17 pm

    I’m an older single female – and I shop at Costco every 5 weeks. I stock up on at least different types of breads, eggs, rotisserie chicken (I give some to my dog); bananas ($1.32 for a bunch); case of water; Kirkland detergent; paper napkins; Kirkland toilet paper – on and on. I buy I just purchased Opfi-Free Xpres to clean my contact lenses – it comes in a 2-pack, 16 ozs. each). Other stores sell 12 ozs. I always use several coupons that they mail to me. A few weeks ago, I saved almost $25. Last week, my 30 year old Sanyo tv died — and, of course, I ordered a 40″ Samsung flat screen tv from Costco.com. I got the 2-year warranty from Costco and an additional 3 year warranty thru Square Trade. When I went to order this tv on-line on Nov. 2nd, there was a $50 discount. A few years ago, I ordered on-line bronze color (brass) handles and knobs for all my kitchen/bathroom cabinets. Costco’s GREAT customer service, LOW prices, and quality products. It’s the reason I’ve been shopping at Costco for 20 years.

  4. 4 Bill // 2014.11.05 at 7:09 pm

    Just read your article, and thought I’d chime in. I’m single, and Costco is the only place I shop. I have the American Express Costco Card and I get 2 checks a year, one from Amex, and one from Costco which more than pays for my membership, also no annual fee from American Express. Also I get annoyed when I read an article what not to buy at Costco. They forget that Costco also has coupons which is when I buy some things like Charmin TP, Bounty paper towels, paper plates, zip lock bags, Kirkland detergent, toothpaste, etc. I don’t waste my time comparison shopping because I’m confident I’m getting the best deals at Costco. I laugh when people say Christmas Shopping is difficult, and they go to many stores. For me it’s easy. Everything at Costco. And if I run out of ideas, Costco gift cards makes everyone happy.

    • 5 Greg // 2014.11.05 at 7:30 pm

      Do Costco gift cards have to be given to Costco members, or are they like a guest pass for a non-member holder who may be unfamiliar to go in and give it a try?

    • 6 Bev Carney // 2014.11.06 at 8:10 am

      You can give a gift card to anyone but they can’t use it unless they join. YOu can buy a gift membership though. We did that and it worked out well.

      • 7 Greg // 2014.11.06 at 9:04 am

        Thanks Bev. Was curious about that, but am a bit disappointed that it’s not a “trial membership” and think it would be a good idea if Costco ran it as such. More people can check it out.

        I’m not the type to pay for anyone’s membership to anything. I’ll gladly give someone a sample, and let them decide what they think is worthwhile for themselves.

  5. 9 Snoskred // 2014.11.05 at 5:59 pm

    I would like to mention that all purchases you make are stored on the computer, so if you need to return an item they have a record of your buying it, which is handy if you sometimes lose your receipt.

    I myself have never returned anything but one time I thought I had paid the membership fee when we shopped because our card was about to expire. Turns out we hadn’t, which is fine, but while the employee was looking for it I got to see the computer system and all my receipts were electronically saved there.

    I have heard the exchange policy is incredible, but I have never once had occasion to return anything myself.

  6. 10 Amy // 2014.11.05 at 4:37 pm

    We’re a two person family too (well, plus three cats) and the litter savings really does justify the cost of executive membership for us – 42 pounds of scoopable for less than $12. We also eat a lot of salmon, and the wild-caught Alaskan salmon burgers are very inexpensive. I just went to Costco today, in fact: also picked up shredded cheese, guacamole, Kerrygold butter, burgers, frozen broccoli, big containers of organic lettuce, bone-in/skin-on chicken thighs, and the ever popular rotisserie chicken.

  7. 11 Sidra // 2014.11.05 at 2:49 pm

    This alone is worth the membership cost to me

    “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.”

  8. 12 Greg // 2014.11.05 at 2:37 pm

    Am pretty much the same but as a single guy I almost can’t justify the exec membership. There may be years here or there where I can get the 2% money back to make it worthwhile, but unless I am planning a major purchase I don’t bother. The “get your money back if it’s not worthwhile” aspect of it is a bit of a pain too because I did it once and somehow they had me completely cancelling my old account and doing a new one and that was a pain.

    Just on the staple products, however, I can easily recoup the standard fee in a month based upon regular savings (coupons are a bonus). If you have a cat … just one … poop-sand savings alone will pay back the membership. Savings on most everything else I buy there add up too, bigtime. Add to that the stores are clean, decent and fun, the employees are always courteous, helpful and happy, the aisles are wide and fun to maneuver, and I’ll even go so far as to say the membership fee mostly discourages the type of customer that irritate me at regular stores (yes that sounds bad, but IMHO if you don’t get irritated at enormous loud families blocking aisles or whatever then you are a better person than I).

    Now, I’ll go on to say that there are times when I shop Costco but don’t buy there. My dad, for example, needs new tires this month and wanted to buy at Costco. They have the correct fitment, but the only brand/style they have is premium and so the price is also (about $1200 total for all 4). Costco’s price is better than Discount Tire on that exact same tire, but Discount offers about 15 tires that fit, and there is one brand/style they have that I know is really good for his needs and the total is about $800. On things like selection is where I tend to skip Costco, but for the most part their selection is quite adequate for 95% of the items I shop there and when they have anything I can cross-shop apples to apples, Costco comes out on top or so close to it that I just go there anyway.

    Forgot to mention – best exchange policy in the business too.

  9. 13 Bill // 2014.11.05 at 2:35 pm

    You forgot to mention the Costco cash back rewards that further offset the cost of the membership. We also have an Executive membership; the extra cost as compared to a regular membership is $55. But each August we receive a cash back coupon which just about covers that extra $55. (Some years a bit more, some a bit less.) That brings our actual cost of the membership down to the remaining $55.

    But there’s more: the American Express card that comes with the Executive membership returns a cash reward annually also. We have a couple of other cash back credit cards, but the Amex one is more generous in several categories (travel, dining, gasoline), giving us something like $40 – 50 per year in additional savings. So the out-of-pocket cost of our membership now is down around $10 – 20. It doesn’t take much in the way of savings to cover that.

  10. 14 Lohnny // 2014.11.05 at 1:31 pm

    I love Costco! I agree they have the best prices for quality products. I am also an executive member and even though the closest Costco to me is 3.5 hours away, my husband and I average a visit once/month so we stock up when we go! If I need something like k-cups for my keurig, I can always order it online and have it shipped if I don’t have a visit planned. Cost is online prices always includes shipping. Now if Costco will just build a store closer to me I would be in heaven!!

  11. 15 Kelly in Oregon // 2014.11.05 at 11:00 am

    I’m a huge Costco fan also, and we are only a 2 person family. We still find plenty to buy there every week! I personally wouldn’t count prescription savings into my Costco “savings”, because you don’t need to have membership to use the pharmacy at Costco.

    • 16 ro // 2014.11.05 at 10:00 pm

      No, you don’t need a membership to get prescriptions but you do get a different price if you are a member.

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