Warehouse Clubs Are Cold and Creepy
The savings at Costco don’t make up for its antiseptic, impersonal stores. Pro or con?
Pro: Not Worth the Alienation
Costco is the most soulless of shopping experiences. Sure, there are lots of people, but they’re rendered grim and colorless by the cavern’s anonymous expanses and sterile fluorescent lights. Costco (COST) could wipe the smiles off the Von Trapp Family Singers’ faces in the middle of My Favorite Things.
Of course, there’s also the well-publicized tendency of consumers to overbuy and get stuck with lifetime supplies of Windex at Costco or its counterparts, Sam’s Club (WMT) and BJ’s. Costco’s store brand, Kirkland, is especially depressing, because there’s no effort to liven up the packaging.
I once bought a super tall—maybe 40-oz.—bottle of Kirkland shampoo. The quality of the product itself seemed fine, but it creeped me out to see the big dull-colored bottle in my shower every day for a whole month. The pump dispenser seemed convenient, but it gave out after about 32 ounces. If you think getting ketchup out of a Heinz (HNZ) bottle is a challenge, try pounding on an attenuated plastic eyesore at 7 a.m. It’s no way to start the morning.
Not that I object to store brands in general. White Rose, offered by my local supermarket, Gristedes, at least has a little something to earn one’s affection. The four-stick boxes of margarine I purchase cost only $1.19 and come in semi-cheery red and yellow packages. Best of all, the size is the same as its big-name competitors’, so there’s no risk of oversupply.
Unless I decide to open my own prison cafeteria, I’m delighted to continue paying extra to shop at regular supermarkets and grocery stores, even the ones with rude cashiers. At least they have personalities.
Con: Delightful Economy
I’m drawn to Costco like a moth to flame. Despite the hideous buzzing fluorescent lights, the portions too large for a single person with no pantry space, and the limited brand choices, I’m happy to shop there. Why? For starters, my thrifty nature thrills to the savings. On almost every item I buy, I save 10% to 30% off what I’ve paid in grocery stores, drugstores, and even Target (TGT), which I’ve confirmed by comparing receipts.
A close second is the quality of the fresh food and the fact that Costco stocks some of my favorite brands. I’ve never felt good about saving money by buying inferior store brands. Costco’s Kirkland-brand coffee is from Starbucks (SBUX). I buy all my fresh fruit at Costco. And then there are the little one-off surprises: cheap gas, a $13 healthy boxwood shrub that’s still thriving a year later, a $10 shrimp appetizer tray.
Granted, I’ve learned the hard way that some things aren’t worth the savings because the quantities are ridiculous—like the two-pack of 32-oz. bottles of dishwasher detergent I’m still using two and a half years later, or the six-pack of toothpaste, which doesn’t keep so well. I can’t get everything I need at Costco, so I spread my shopping out across different types of stores, buying smaller quantities of some things when they’re on sale at the A&P or RiteAid. But that experience only confirms the value I’m getting on my Costco purchases.
Over the years, I’ve been guilty of some impulse purchases, but I’ll keep going back to Costco because it satisfies my urge to buy better-quality stuff for less than other stores’ prices for mediocre products.