If there’s one word that most accurately describes Costco, it’s big. Its stores are big; its products are big; it’s the second-biggest retailer in the world (after Walmart); and it sells more prime and choice beef, rotisserie chicken, organic foods, and wine than any other retailer. So yeah, it’s big. But even if you’re an Executive Member who knows exactly what time to arrive for that rotisserie-roasted fowl, we bet that there’s still a lot you didn’t know about this big-box chain.
Walking into the earliest Costcos really was like walking into a warehouse, as nearly every item was still inside its box, on a palette.
Membership was at 85 million in 2016, and by 2017 it had increased to 90.3 million.
Products come and go quite quickly, and a typical Costco sells a relatively small number of products — usually around 4,000, about the same number sold at most Trader Joe’s locations. In comparison, Walmart Supercenters stock about 140,000 products.
You’ve probably noticed that Costcos have some idiosyncrasies, and they’re primarily the result of trying to save as much money as possible, in order to keep prices low. For example, there aren’t any shopping bags so old merchandise boxes are used to pack up purchased items, and skylights allow for lights to be turned off on sunny days.
An Executive Membership ($120/year, as opposed to $60 for a regular one) will get you a lot more than just access to the store; Executive members can also receive home loans, check printing services, car insurance, and travel benefits.
Those pizzas are marvels of technology: First, balls of dough are lightly hand-stretched and run through a sheeter. Then, they’re spread out on a tray and docked for even cooking. The trays are then placed onto a machine that evenly applies sauce, cheese is added, and finally they’re baked. You can watch the whole process here.
You will rarely, if ever, notice a change in the prices at the Costco food court. Pizzas cost $1.99 per slice and $9.99 per pie, chicken bakes cost $2.99, and a hot dog and soda combo will always cost $1.50. In fact, the company switched from Coke to Pepsi fountain drinks in 2013 because Coca-Cola raised its prices.
Costco sells about 100 million hot dogs annually, which is four times more than what’s sold at Major League baseball ballparks all season. The low price is one of the reasons why so many sell, and the chain does everything in its power to keep the prices down. In 2013, they switched to selling all Pepsi products after Coca-Cola increased their prices, and in 2009, they switched from Hebrew National to Kirkland Signature (its private label brand) in order to avoid raising prices as well.
The three-pound (minimum) rotisserie chicken at Costco is always $4.99 across the board, which makes it the cheapest you’ll find anywhere. The closest competitor, Wal-Mart, sells theirs for a dollar more, and the chickens they use are smaller! Costco would rake in 30 to 40 million more dollars annually if they raised the price by a buck, but they’re sticking with it, and we’re grateful for that.
From 1987 to 1998, Costco’s headquarters was located in Kirkland, Washington, a Seattle suburb. Hence the name!
If you buy an expensive electronic product from Costco and can’t figure out how to actually make it work, just give them a call and they’ll help you out.
In October, Costco launched a service called CostcoGrocery, in which two-day delivery will be available for many non-refrigerated foods, with free delivery on orders over $75. They’re also partnered with InstaCart for same-day delivery of fresh food, with free delivery of orders over $35, plus a 10 percent service fee.
Costco is well-known for paying its employees well; non-supervisory hourly wages can be as high as $21, and 85 percent of employees have health insurance, as opposed to less than 50 percent at Target and Walmart.
Those magical people who stand at the end of Costco aisles, gently prodding you to sample some free food? Those folks (called “product demonstration employees”) don’t actually work for Costco; they’re primarily employed by companies named Warehouse Demo Services and Club Demonstration Services, and they’re usually paid less than Costco employees. Sad face.