I intentionally did not qualify the headline. This post is not just about whether I like Costco or hate it.
I have been a Costco member for a number of years now. My initial impressions were ...
1. Costco stuff is expensive
2. Their membership policy is stupid
3. I hate their receipt-checking at the exit
4. I hate buying in bulk
5. They have yummm soft serve ice cream
Over the years, most of these initial impressions have held.
1. Costco stuff is expensive: I do not mean that you pay for the same thing more at Costco than at other stores. What I mean is that because they only carry select brands and select models of products of those select brands, you end up paying more for the item. For example, at my local Costco, they have a Black and Decker Toaster Over for just under $70. When I wanted to buy a Toaster Oven, I could find ones in other stores for as low as $20 (on sale) . Granted that the ones at other stores aren't as big (capacity) or have as many features as the one at Costco but for someone who will mostly just use it to toast a couple of slices of bread, that $20 unit will be more than adequate. If you're looking for the cheapest product in the market, Costco is not the place for you. If on the other hand, you're looking for more value for your money ... that's a different story.
2. Their membership policy is stupid: I know from reading news items about Costco's financial results that most of their profits come from the membership fees. But I strongly believe that they would sell more merchandise and make more money if they did away with the fees. Or at the very least, let everyone visit the store so that they can at least observe the deals that the store is offering compared to other stores. I hate this Direct Buy-ish mentality.
3. I hate their receipt-checking at the exit: One of my greatest pet-peeves at Costco is the person (or persons) standing at the exit using their marker on your receipt. They add zero value to anyone. The format of the store does not allow you to walk out without having made your way through the cash. So it is highly unlikely that someone can steal anything from the store. And more importantly the person tagging your receipt is not in a position to do anything but do just that ... tag your receipt. Most people walk out with their carts loaded like the store won't open tomorrow. So even if the receipt checker wanted to be diligent and check every item in your cart, they couldn't. I would much rather have those people at the cash so that the lineups don't get too long.
4. I hate buying in bulk: Some items aren't too bad in terms of the size that one must buy. But others can last years. I moved last year and made the mistake of buying their packing tape ... it came in a pack of 8 ... i still have 6 1/2 left. Same goes for soap, dental floss, pens etc. I shall never buy buns or baguettes because they normally have a best before date of the next day and there's no way I wanna eat all that bread in such a short time.
5. They have yummm soft serve ice cream: At $2.09 (after taxes) that's a nice treat.
Over the years I have also figured out what works best for me in terms of saving (and spending) money at Costco.
1. Buy on sale: Most items periodically go on sale at Costco. And they aren't always listed on the coupons that are handed out at the door. When buying at those sale prices, you will rarely find better deals elsewhere. So stock up on things like Craisins, paper towels, bathroom tissue, diapers, wipes, furnace filters, batteries, Brita filters, salsa, cereal, juices, Gatorade etc.
2. Walk the isles: As I mentioned above, a lot of items that are on sale are not mentioned in the coupon handouts. So if you know that you're going to need batteries soon, its worthwhile to walk through that isle even if you only came to pick up milk.
3. Don't be shy about returns: I hate returning items and therefore I used to weigh my purchase carefully before actually buying the item. This does not work well at Costco since what you see in the store today, may not be there tomorrow. And as Costco staff have repeatedly suggested to me ... if you see something that interests you, pick it up. You can always return it if you change your mind. So that is exactly what I do now. With their liberal return policy, I can easily return the item at a later date. If the price drops (as it often does) you can always get cash back or return and repurchase the item if you haven't used it yet.
4. Check the silent markdowns: On clothing items specifically, when they have only a limited amount of stock remaining or only limited sizes, the price gets marked down without any indication that it is on sale. So you can find clothing that would normally be priced at $29.97 is now available for $7. I have a pair of Dockers shorts, Tommy Hilfiger dress pants, fleece pull over, shoes etc that all cost me less than $10 each. The least I paid was probably $3.97 for a nice sweater.
5. Gifts: When looking for presents for kids or house warming events, Costco is often a good place to shop. Most toy (sets) offer good value at decent prices. The only disadvantage is that there is no concept of gift receipts. I wish they had a way to fix that.
6. Get the risk free Executive membership: Their Executive membership is a no-brainer. Instead of the $55 regular membership you pay $100 but that extra $45 is risk free. If over the course if the year you do not make enough purchases to get it back through the 2% cash back rebate, just walk over to the returns / membership counter and they will refund you the difference.
7. Pharmacy: I like the Costco Pharmacy simply because it has the lowest dispensing fees I have seen. Shoppers Drug Mart and the kind charge close to $10 or more for that same service. At Costco it is in the $3 range. This saves everyone money because drug plan expenses are rising every year. Plus they take about 20 mins to do the prescription and that's about the time I need to make my walk through the store.
8. Enjoy the samples: I try to sample as much stuff as I can. But I will rarely buy the item then and there. When they offer the samples, the items are at regular prices. If you like it, wait a couple of weeks and it will go on sale ... unless of course you need it right away.
That said, I would love it if they changed their policies a bit ... especially get rid of the fees and the receipt-checker.
Do you have any special tips to share?