Shopping At Costco: The Good And The Ugly

There is no such thing as a perfect store and even Costco has its own flaws. Is it worth it to have a Costco Membership?

The big question is “Does the disadvantages bother you so much that could convince you not to shop there?”

Overall, the biggest appeal of Costco is the huge savings and the biggest turn off is the crowd and this is due to the huge membership base. However, shopping is a personal preference and people have their own pet peeves when it comes to it. While some do not want to go through the crowd, you can still see a lot of people willing to do otherwise.

A perfect example would be the Black Friday crowd. Other people are willing to go in line, put up tents and wait in the cold for at least three hours so they can be the first one to get in the door and avail of the huge savings while others would rather pay for a higher price instead of dealing with the crowd.

I believe shopping at Costco works the same way. Here’s a closer look at the advantages and the disadvantages of shopping at Costco.

The Good

Wholesale Prices and Discount Services

As mentioned before, wholesale prices and low costs are the main attraction of Costco. If you are using non-perishable items on a monthly basis, buying quantities in bulk is a great way to save money. Most items that we purchase at Costco are household and personal effect items such as soaps, paper towels, toothpaste, detergents, deodorant, to, shampoo, paper products, bottled water, juices,  school and office supplies, etc. We’ve also purchased big  ticket items such as refrigerators, vacuums, and other electronics.

I like the fact that when we buy tires at Costco, we can shop inside the store while waiting for our car to be finished . We’ve also taken advantage of the various Costco gift cards which we use not just as a gift to someone but for personal as well.  You can save as much as 20%. on purchase mostly to restaurants such as Elephant Bar, California Pizza Kitchen, Ruby’s Diner, Coffee Bean & Tea Leaves, See’s Candy, Jamba Juice, etc. Lastly, Costco also offers other discounted services such as insurance, travel, car shopping, banking, merchant services, investing, and other financial services.

For those who complain about the cost of  Costco Membership, $55 is just a drop in the bucket for all the potential savings that you’ll get. Some members actually get the cost of the membership back in the form of the 2% rebate offered by the Executive membership. In fact, just this year, our rebate is around $137, which pays for the $110 Executive Membership and some change. However, if people do not shop there a lot, I can see why people would have some problems paying for it.

Additional Offers, Instant Rebate and Coupons

On top of the wholesale prices, Costco also offers instant rebate and coupons. What I like about Costco is you do not have to cut the coupons. If you only use one coupon, it will automatically ring-up the other items with coupon discounts even if you do not hand out the coupon for that particular item. It really saves time and hassle. As for me, the coupon book is just list of items with current discounts or rebates that you can take look at.

Excellent Return Policy

With regards to the membership fees, they will refund your membership in full if you are not fully satisfied. When it comes to your purchases, they guarantee customer satisfaction on every product they sell with a full refund. Certain items such as televisions, projectors, computers, cameras, camcorders, iPOD / MP3 players and cellular phones must be returned within 90 days of purchase for a refund.

The Ugly

Bulk shopping may cost you more in some cases

It is hard if the family does not have the discipline to budget their utilization. Once they see that they have a lot in stock, the tendency is to use everything in a week even if the stock is good for three weeks. This would probably apply more on food purchases. The other bad thing about buying in bulk is if products have an expiration date and you did not fully consume the products. Often times we ended up throwing stuff (such as food products, medicines, multivitamins) away because the items have already expired.

Costco only takes American Express

I carry all three main credit cards so I do not have a problem with this. However, a couple of times, I get stuck in a line where the person in front of me did not have enough cash and wanted to find out if they can use their VISA and/or MasterCard. It is an inconvenience to a lot of shoppers since not everybody carries the American Express card.

However, if you order online through Costco.com, you can actually use your Visa and Master Card to make your purchases.

No express check-out for items

I think Costco can have a big argument on this since they really are a wholesale store selling in stuff in bulk. But times have changed and they sell single items as well. At times I see people carrying just a couple of items such as a cheesecake or rotisserie chicken and yet they have to wait in line along with the people who have their full carts. Although you can see a few considerate people to let you go first, other customers just do not care.

Too Crowded and Long Lines

One thing I hate about Costco is that it is always too crowded and the line is always long when you get to the cash register. They also do not have an express line so if you are just buying one item, forget it. As a wholesale store, Costco seems, in my opinion, to discourage people from buying few items. They probably want you to buy a lot so you can feel that waiting in line is well worth your time. In addition, parking is ridiculously bad especially on the older Costco stores.

In Costco’s defense, I can see how they have made improvements as the new store in our area now has three lanes that has self-check out counters. In addition, they also have staff who scans your items before you even go to the register that speeds up the process as well.

Membership Renewal

A couple of years ago, my sister-in-law, who rarely goes to Costco decided to let the membership expired. However when she tried to renew it about six months from the previous expiration date, Costco was charging her for the whole year, which means that if she paid that time, it would only be good for just six months.

For example, if your card expired on June 2008 and you did not renew it until January 2009, the expiration date for that card does not reset to January 2010 but it would expire on the original sign up month of June. So in this case, it would actually expire on June 2009, thus, only giving you six months of membership benefits.

I’m not sure if this is the case or if they have changed their policy already but this happened just a couple of years ago. I believe that around 2008 or 2009, Costco was involved in a class action lawsuit with regards to renewal of membership policy and they ended up settling the case.

Update Changes on Renewal Policy:

Since that class action lawsuit, Costco has changed their policy on the Costco membership renewals. If you renew your membership within two months after your membership expired, the effective start date of the renewal will be retroactive to the expiration date. On the other hand, if you renew your membership after two months from the expiration date, the new effective date will be the renewal date. This  will extend the use of your membership for at least two months  especially if you have not used your card after the expiration date.

Conclusion

In spite of all the headaches at buying at Costco, we continually do so because personally, the savings that Costco can bring more than outweigh all the disadvantages.

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