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Costco – but at what cost?

Visiting Costco took more gusto than I could previously muster. But today, under the mistaken idea that the big-box store sold dishwashers, I headed into the fray.
I left thirty minutes later, concerned for our society, empty-handed and with bruised ankles.
Here’s how it went down…
1) Entering the carpark on a rain Friday at noon… I discover this is apparently the peak period for masses of adults dressed in smart casual to go bulk shopping in SUVs .
2) I find a car spot and a mega trolley. Costco trolleys are made to carry a month of shopping and a flat-screen TV. And I saw this proved time and time again. It also straps in two children and there’s room for two more. I also saw this fact proved. “Look how big their family is!” My 3-year-old said. And there they were, mum pushing all four kids in one trolley.
3) Entering the building is my first challenge. There are people everywhere but as I watch, none have any discernible direction. There are no signs saying SHOP ENTRANCE so I circle the entire carpark till I am drawn, inexplicably, along with another twenty trolley-pushers, toward what could only be the Death Star.
They all move as one up a long ramp. It feels like Aldi so far, except it’s not to scale.
4) I get inside and there are more trolley traffic jams. As I wait for movement up ahead, I am overtaken several times. It’s as cut-throat as the carpark. At least as shoppers, everyone apologises for ramming each other in the ankles.
Is this supposed to be fun, I wonder? I look around for motivation. Most shoppers look pale and bemused as if this is their regular routine. (If they know how this operates, why did they come in rush hour?) I bypass a woman checking for membership cards. At this point, Costco has gone from supersized Aldi-clone to cult, in my book. I literally whisper “I don’t have one, yet!” And the lady waves me through, explaining where to buy one when I want one. So, why check for cards if you don’t need one? I can only assume it is so that the CCTV operators know which of us to track. I have been marked.
5) As for prices, they are undeniably cheap. I found my TV for $150 cheaper than Bing Lee. Confectionery, coffee machines, dodgy barbecues, they are all 20% cheaper than I’ve seen. I could buy a 4-pack of toothbrushes what I assume is a good price, but who else sells a 4-pack? The same goes for a 500g pack of Doritos. Who ever wanted that much?
Sure, you could get back the $60 cost of membership in one vist, no worries, but it’s certainly easier the happier you are to suspend the belief that you can have too much of a good thing.
6) I told my kids to watch our for who has the fullest trolley. And there were many contenders. If you ever go to Costco, I urge you to play it. Over-consumption is out of control. I understand this could be a monthly trip for some, but seriously, if they offered bigger trolleys, I do think people would fill those too. The only reason I think some shoppers stopped, was because they’d have to leave a passenger behind to fit any more in.
7) I was consumed, but mostly by the scale of the place. They import it, put it on the shelf, it goes home in a huge trolley. If everything can be done this way, why would we need the corner store? Convenience? Cheapness appears to beat convenience, for lots of Costco shoppers.
Naomi Klein’s NO LOGO is a brilliant read on the dangers of Big Box stores and how they have killed off many small retailers across middle America. The true sadness is the service. We are substituting any personal touch for an extra 10% off. The man who owns the store with his son stacking the shelves is replaced by a nameless, apathetic salesman who’s real task is primary task is to maintain order while avoiding eye contact.
I talked to a staffmember – most of whom stand idly by, hoping not to be consulted, just like at Bunnings – who told me that while they didn’t offer dishwashers of ovens yet, they would soon. “They’ve really only just opened. They’re look into all of that,” he said. “Plus, they’re opening a new Costco at Casula, and that one will be bigger!”
Oh boy.
My father used to have a card for Campbell’s Cash and Carry. There were myths around about how cheap it was. In reality, my dad was just getting paper plates in bulk. Those were the days.
8) As I tried to leave, I did another circle of the carpark, unable to find my car. Then, I noticed the shopper ahead of me struggling badly with his trolley. As I got closer, I realised that the pathway, built to provide safe passage around the moving cars, included posts every few metres that made the path about two inches too narrow to allow the mega-trolleys to pass through.
The irony of inconvenience was too much. I gleefully dumped my trolley and headed home.
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