30 May 2010

Healthy Distrust? Costco and Questions

I don't know exactly how not to be skeptical.

The wife and I recently made our way over to Costco. We were given a membership by a sweet couple that I married some months back and I had yet to actually make it to the store. Stefani had been several times to take advantage of great deals on detergent and food and various other things.

So I step into this warehouse and slowly realize that shoppers at Costco are happier. And it doesn't take me long to figure out why. These shoppers feel like they are getting a good deal - on EVERYTHING. They are being buttered up (literally) on all sorts of snacks by the friendly sample-pushers and they are encountering row upon row of low prices on bulk goods.

I, on the other hand, am growing more and more agitated.

You see, I understand the basic reality that for any business to turn a profit, they have to actually get me to part with MY money. They have to, for lack of a better term, separate me from my cash. And I get this. I really do. One of my favorite local business owners openly tells me what his mark-up is on items. And I am happy to pay that mark-up. I enjoy his product and his family eats and has a roof over their heads. Win-win...

But Costco seems to attempt to convince me that they are somehow sacrificially offering these great deals. And I don't know how they do it. But they do - and they have millions of raving fans that can't believe that the rest of us poor souls would procure produce and perfume at mere ordinary shops.

So every aisle of the store is like an incredible exercise in self-control. No, I don't need an 8-pack of toothpaste. No, I don't need a 12-pound bag of fresh unshucked oysters. No, I don't need 24 glorious cans of Red Bull.

And I left Costco strangely bitter. Not only because I bought 3200 ounces of Heinz Ketchup that I didn't need... More because I was almost guilted by the absence of all of the "great deals" I left on the shelf. Like they had offered to do me a favor (and the case of Red Bull was tempting) and I had so rudely declined.

I was skeptical of their use of psychology, their subterranean assault on all of us unassuming consumers. I was suspicious of their great deals (which somehow escapes the scrutiny that befalls Wal-Mart) and the fate of the folks on whose backs I profit. I was cynical that so many things could really be in one place - and still be good.

I don't know.

Maybe I felt guilty because of the abundance we have that so many lack. Maybe I felt ugly because I had to use all of the willpower I possess in order to turn down delicious deals while others on planet earth would have killed for 5 minutes alone in that store, for a simple moment to consume what they could.

Maybe I just don't trust things to be as they are presented. And maybe I don't think that's such a terrible thing.


  1. Great thoughts, know what you mean. However, why not, use the abundance of someone or something, for someone in need? Even in the smallest of ways, it will make an impact. Don't feel bad for the blessing you have, if anything be creative as to how you can serve the least of these with it.

  2. I run into this dilemma every week, & with a baby on the way I am sure to do so more in the coming year. We vote with our dollars. If I support Costco by being "separated with my money" there, their way of business is affirmed. The buying power they have can force bargain basement markups from their vendors who must cut their costs to compete. I participate in low wages of those less fortunate.
    On the other hand, by living frugally ie, shopping at Costco, I can provide for my family & have money to provide for the less fortunate around me and around the world. So how do I respond? I shop @ HEB (no different than Costco) because it is close to my house and semi-local, & call it good even when I struggle about how my dollars are voting.
    Value is ALWAYS what you are willing to pay for a product or service, so what is your value system? low cost? local? social responsibility?