I have a love/hate relationship with Costco. In many ways it represents everything that is evil about American capitalism: driving us to buy more than we need, buying cheap crap from China that we don’t need, buying more than we can afford on impulse, feeding the bigger is better crowd with the mentality that they should fill up their SUVs to the brim then store this crap in their own homes for future use, thus turning into their houses into mini-Costcos of their own. I much prefer the European model of picking up what you want to eat for dinner THAT DAY on your walk home from work. People laugh at tiny European refrigerators, but those people aren’t giving away free warehousing for a store. It’s a true just-in-time model.
I also hate the experience of shopping at Costco, with the overcrowded parking lot, idiots stopping to gape in mid-aisle and the moronic crowds circling around the endcaps for a mini-bite of frozen waffle. So far I have restrained myself from ramming anyone, which I think is a point in my favor.
On the other hand, a trip to Costco can be a money-saving experience. And the company has very progressive (by today’s standards) of worker treatment and fairness. They also tend to buy relatively high quality merchandise and have a great return policy.
We’ll typically do a surgical strike maybe four times per year and bulk up on certain essentials. But you have to be careful. Case in point: Costco’s paper towel selection.
During a trip to Costco last week, I found this abomination: new, larger paper towels. This is one of those cynical capitalist gimmicks that is so frustrating. Do we really need the actual towel to be larger? Obviously this is geared at making us use more paper towels!
Fortunately we don’t use many paper towels. But they’re occasionally handy. Main uses are wiping up cat puke, covering food for microwaving (although we rarely use our microwave) and cleaning something that I need to keep relatively germ-free (where a sponge is a bad idea). Even when we do use them, however, I almost never need a full normal-sized towel. Often I’ll just tear one in half and use the other half later. So when select-a-size paper towels came out, I was fully on-board. But none are available at Costco. Just ginormous paper towels. See, I don’t care what the cost per “roll” is: I care what the cost per “wipe” is. So I aborted and picked up a similar-sized pack of select-a-size towels from QFC. Oh, and if I happen to need a larger one? Guess what, I’ll just use 2-3 of the smaller select-a-size towels.
Which is my overall point about Costco: it can be awesome and handy, but don’t assume that just because you get something there (or anywhere), it’s a better deal. Do your homework.
What bargains or non-bargains have you found at Costco?
Update 9/11/13: Just a quick update to mention that I was in Costco recently and they have surrendered to the will of Pretired Nick and have added select-a-size paper towels to their offering. Another win for me!