A couple of years ago I made my husband crazy talking about Costco. I had just read a very good—and rather unexpected—article in Good Housekeeping or something about Costco, whose author made very astute remarks about the risks and rewards of Costco shopping. According to Barry Schwartz, Costco and Trader Joe’s are two of the places where shoppers report the highest satisfaction. But not me. I come back from Costco with very mixed feelings—elated by my purchase of huge, 5-dollar rotisserie chickens, but unsure about the two pairs of $12 Hanna Andersson jammies and downright irritated at myself for buying the 3 pounds of raisins. That article, plus another piece in Real Simple about Christmas shopping, helped me recognize a couple of clever tricks Costco employs—and curb my frustration somewhat. So I know have 2 lessons I’ve gained from others, plus one of my own, that help me shop there more happily and productively:
1) Costco has no marked aisles or clearly labeled areas, which creates “comparison confusion”—your sense of scale is thrown off; when you see expensive things next to cheap things you’re more likely to buy more stuff.
2) Retailers have discovered that if you buy something expensive first, you’re more likely to blow your budget in other areas as well. Once you’ve spent $500 for a camera, chances are you’re not going to balk at an extra $5 for 3 lbs. of premade quacamole. (This is a trick used A LOT at Christmas time). Costco cleverly puts all the big, high end stuff (as well as seasonal goodies) up front…pretty sneaky, sis!
3) My own (and others’!) observation: not everything is cheap at Costco. Some high end things and staples are priced great—prosciutto, garbage bags, eggs…But some aren’t any better than a decent sale at your local supermarket (be it Giant or Shoprite). So if I don’t use a lot of it, it’s often better not to buy it in bulk.
The last two times I went there to mixed success. One time I caved—I saw all the cute, cheap-ish clothes and got distracted. But another time I kept focused, headed for the food straight away, and came away with my most successful shopping expedition there EVER. Now my reading of Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit is making me search out the “pleasure hit” that I associate with Costco….though I suspect it’s that damn chicken.
(If you haven’t seen it already, I highly recommend the excellent NY Times article which first got me thinking about the habit thing: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/19/magazine/shopping-habits.html?_r=2&hp—it’s long though, so you’ll need to be sitting down. If you want to get to cut the habit section, it’s actually the third and final part…)