I just went to Costco for the first time, and it was unlike any other shopping experience I've had

  • Costco is a leading retail giant famous for selling bulk products at discounted prices to its members.
  • For someone who has never stepped foot inside a Costco, shopping there can be overwhelming because of the seemingly endless products strategically scattered throughout the warehouse.
  • Nonetheless, the discounted products, organic produce, and family-sized offerings make a Costco membership well worth the money.
  • I’m a newly converted member – here’s what surprised me the first time I visited Costco.

As I walked through the Costco entryway for what was to be my very first Costco experience, a friendly employee greeted me, and I chirped that it was my first time ever visiting a Costco.

To my surprise, he quickly shepherded me over to membership services, where I spent my first moments in Costco laughing at myself in line. A Costco novice, I’d assumed membership was more of a highly encouraged suggestion than an unbreakable rule.

All in all, I was totally unable to draw a parallel between Costco and any other store I’ve been to. The massive warehouse in the Sunset Park neighbourhood of Brooklyn, New York, is home to towers of 100-packs of diapers and steak shanks the size of my torso, many labelled with Costco’s Kirkland Signature brand.

Costco offers fewer items than many superstores.

Eleanor LambertBut that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Something that sets Costco apart from other superstores is the relatively limited number of products sold there. While an average Walmart has over 100,000 products, Costco carries only about 4,000, CNBC reported in 2012.

This selectiveness allows Costco to offer manufacturers exclusive access to its more than 80 million members worldwide. For example, Duracell is the only battery brand Costco offers both in its stores and online.

Having fewer choices leads to easier decision-making for the customer, which can lead to increased sales, the marketing consultant Pam Danziger told CNBC.

The warehouse is laid out strategically.

Eleanor LambertThere’s a method to the madness of Costco’s layout.

The second floor of the Brooklyn Costco is home to both food items and clothing, while the ground floor has exclusively household goods, from paper towels and laundry detergent to fridges and garden hoses.

I was a little surprised to waltz from apparel to dairy, but there’s a method to the madness. Costco stores are designed to promote browsing, and the company often shuffles the locations of staple items to make sure they get customers’ eyeballs on more products, Business Insider previously reported.

Costco nut bars give name brands a run for their money.

Eleanor Lambert

Costco’s Kirkland Signature-brand nut bars give their name-brand counterparts a run for their money. These bars cost about 30% less than Kind bars (also sold at Costco) and share many of the same simple ingredients. Who doesn’t love an affordable sweet-and-salty flavour combo?

Costco has survived the move to online shopping.

Eleanor LambertWhile you can shop online, Costco’s stores have a wider selection of products.

You can shop Costco online, but the warehouse giant is one of few superstores keeping things more brick-and-mortar.

Online, Costco is very upfront that its stores have a larger selection. And a small survey by SFGate last year found that Costco’s prices were about 19.7% cheaper in its store. (Maybe the discrepancy is partly due to the cost of shipping a six pack of one-pound powdered-peanut-butter jars.)

However, Costco is keeping up with other membership-based e-commerce sites like Amazon – brick-and-mortar sales, online sales, net income, and membership-renewal rates all increased in the first quarter of 2018.

Costco party packs are perfect for large families and groups.

Eleanor LambertCostco’s family-sized products offer large quantities at a discounted price.

I tried to capture the proportions of this giant bag of vegetable chips, but since it weighed nearly a pound and measured longer than my forearm, the photo does it little justice.

Priced at $US7.49, this beast offers those with a larger family and/or smaller paycheck a far better deal than the roughly $US5 price tag for a bag one-quarter of this size at a local deli.

Costco is one of the leading retailers of organic food.

Eleanor LambertCostco has even lent money to farmers to buy land and equipment to grow more organic produce.

I have to admit I was a little put off by the idea of buying fresh produce in bulk from a chilly warehouse.

But Costco is one of the leading retailers when it comes to organic food offerings. With over $US4 billion in sales of organic produce as of 2015, Costco has even crushed Whole Foods on that front, according to HuffPost.

Costco has lent money to farmers to “buy land and equipment to grow more organic produce” to meet customer demand, HuffPost reported.

Costco’s meat department was overwhelming.

Eleanor Lambert

Costco’s meat department was possibly the most overwhelming part of the store, from my perspective. Lamb shanks, ribs, and giant packages of ground beef stretched as far as the eye could see on all sides.

I later learned that, according to Food & Wine magazine, Costco’s meat is popular with chefs and butchers alike.

At the end of my three-hour Costco expedition, I revisited membership services to talk to an employee.

I learned that Costco offers products for everything from the moment you enter this world (like Kirkland baby formula) to your final resting place, in the form of a casket. But you can also get your kids a swing set, get your eyes examined, and plan your next vacation through Costco’s services. Costco is pretty ubiquitous in its members’ lives.

One employee I spoke with said Costco also partners with gas and travel companies, as well as providers of home and life insurance – members can save 20-30% on home insurance, car insurance, car rentals, and more.

To join, or not to join?

Eleanor Lambert

Ultimately, it seems to me like a Costco membership is worth it, as long as you’re looking to buy in bulk.

If you run a small business, have a large family, or just love a good deal, Costco’s benefits are worthwhile.

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