Is Costco seen as a cheap option in the US?

Costco now has three stores in Australia, just having opened #3 in Brisbane.

I’d never been in Costco before, but my perception was that they are a cheap place to shop where you easily make up for the membership fee. My perception is based on them in the US though.

Two visits later, and while everything is certainly in larger packaging, but as I wondered around, I’m an analyst at heart and taking the time to work out prices on a per unit/per weight basis, and in the Brisbane store at least as a general rule, the grocery lines at least are not noticeably cheaper than the prices I can get at a normal supermarket.

I’m curious then, if the Australian stores are relying on the brand reputation as a very cheap place to shop, and hoping the average shopper isn’t as anal as me in checking per unit pricing. (Either that or relying on the Aussie young brother syndrome - OMG it’s a big american chain, it’s Costco, it must be better than our local shops).

So in the US, if you’ll excuse that rather broad and generic area, is Costco really the cheap option to shop at?

A lot of what they sell isn’t really that cheap. I think they do count on people not noticing this–they just assume that if it’s in bulk, it must be lower priced. I use it only for specific things, and there are many things I’d never buy there (such as certain produce items, that never even go down in price when they’re in season).

Cheaper on some stuff, has stuff you can’t find anywhere else and no more expensive than a local supermarket for the rest of the stuff. I go there maybe 3 times a year, using my mom’s card. Stock up on “specialty” stuff, like garlic-stuffed olives, beef jerky and pot-stickers/odd-ball frozen stuff.

I’ve got a friend with about a million* kids, and it happens that he has a Costco right down the street. To this family, that is the local supermarket! The Mondo sized Jugs o’Food are normal everyday items for these people. I imagine it works pretty well for them.

*I’m kidding. He has no more than 30,000 kids.

I’m looking forward to more US perspectives. I joined one in melbourne not far from work, which is handy because I can call in on the way home.

having been a few times, basically they don’t seem to be that cheap in general. So now I call in for stuff that’s not generally available elsewhere.

Cheap? No, not really.

Some items are very reasonable and most others are no more than they are at a “normal” grocery store. Avoid the brand names, most of the house brand (Kirkland) are just as good and those are the less expensive items as a rule.

Now that the kids are out of the house we buy fewer items there, but the gas savings do cover the cost of membership for us.

The Kirkland brand booze is usually a good deal and often bottled by the same producer as some decent name brand.
But in general, no, you’re not going to save a ton of money. You can save some if you pick and choose what you buy. The meat in particular is more expensive than I can get at a number of local places.

I’ve never been to a Costco, but I used to be a member of BJ’s Wholesale and I let my membership lapse because it wasn’t any cheaper to shop there, plus there was the hassle of long lines of people with massive carts overflowing with monster-sized products and having to box/bag my own purchases. On top of that, there are just 2 of us in the household, plus pets, so we don’t need mega-packs of anything. I extrapolated that experience to Costco, and when a new one opened about 20-ish miles away, I decided I didn’t need to experience it.

I’ve heard the pharmacy is really cheap. No first hand experience though.
They do have a great return policy. My Mom is a member. She bought a tv a few months ago. She dropped it while trying to move it and broke the screen. She brought it back and even explained to them what happened - “No problem, here’s a new one!”

It’s a better quality version of a warehouse store, much nicer than Sam’s. (Plus they pay their employees much better!) So you get discounted pricing on generally better quality and/or higher-end merchandise; for instance, my husband bought my KitchenAid stand mixer there.

I have to highly recommend the house brand booze (and generally discounted pricing on alcohol overall), the house-brand plain Greek yogurt is around half the price of the Fage that they carry (and it’s good), I think the house toilet paper is excellent (though not as much of a deal), and meat cuts seem to be of great quality and reasonable prices. Oh, and bulk quinoa is a great price, as well.

Milk, grated cheese, frozen broccoli, Nutella, laundry detergent - those are all cheaper. Specials are good. Whole pies for $5. Other items from clothes to sleeping bags are sometimes cheaper. The rest is a mix.

Now please let me throw this in - the thing about Costco is one can buy some “restaurant food” there. Meaning, and I swear this is true, the more you eat the varied frozen items the more you will notice them appearing on the menu at your local restaurants.

Side dishes, deserts, and appetizers - all from Costco.

In Canada the cost of my Costco membership is more than made up for in the savings I get on glasses (yeah, I know, online options are even better but I can’t buy glasses without being able to try them on first). We also buy some books and articles of clothing but for the most part the grocery area is something we avoid as I’ve not seen any savings on things that we regularly buy.

Yep, GFS too.
You typically won’t see that stuff at a large chain, but if you go into Aunt Sally’s Pancake House and order a piece of chocolate cake you might very well recognize it as the same one you just bought from Costco/GFS/Restaurant Depot

Bummer - Australian Liquor licensing laws means you can’t buy alcohol in Grocery stores.

I used to shop there and made notes of prices. They would almost always drift upwards over a short course of time. As stated above, people don’t notice and think “If bulk = then cheap”.

Do your homework is all I can tell you.

Oh, bulk batteries! Cheap CFL bulbs (sometimes $1-5/4-pack), cheap LED bulbs.

And yeah, as others have said, watch per item/per weight unit prices.

Will you accept an answer from a person who’s been to Sam’s Club but not Costco?

When my mother-in-law first bought me a membership, I went through the store and wrote down the prices per unit of a number of items. Then I checked them against my local grocery store.

What I found is that they were the same or better on shelf-stable items, and slightly more expensive on perishable stuff. They were much, much cheaper on baby formula and diapers (which were major expenses in our house at that time) and cleaning supplies.

Dunno how Costco compares but suspect it’s similar.

With BJ’s, at least, I’ve found that their prices are lower than “regular” grocery store prices, but higher than grocery store sale prices. BJ’s stuff is a better deal if you can get the coupons involved, and there are a few items where they’re just the cheapest option (gasoline if it’s a store that has that, propane, some other stuff). Overall it’s worth the cost of our membership for just my wife and I, but it’s not some screaming great deal and I could live without it pretty easily.

I normally use coupons and watch for sales at my normal grocery store to match them up with, buying that way blows Costco out of the water. Generally, their dairy prices are lower than my local grocer, and I like browsing through a lot of their general merchandise and often find good deals, but I don’t do regular weekly shopping there.

However, it’s worth my yearly membership just to keep my parents supplied with all the old folk vitamins and supplements they take. There isn’t a store near them so when they visit me I end up taking them there a few times a year. What they save in a single stock-up for a few months visit is more than my annual membership so that makes us all happy.

If you shop at Costco willy-nilly or impulsively, then no, you probably won’t save any money.

If you watch for specials, you’ll feel like you’re ripping them off. Example, I picked up a 30-pack of Gatorade bottles for $12 last week because of a rebate.

Clothing is usually a pertty good deal as well. A golf shirt for $14?? Hell yes, I’ll take 3. I have some that are on their 3rd summer, though they’ll probably get retired after this one.

Batteries and booze are great deals, as mentioned. Their meat is someteims a better deal…it seems that they’re cheaper on things like lamb and pre-packaged organic chicken. They have beautiful beef that’s reasonably priced as well.

Fresh fruits and vegetables are almost always cheaper than the supermarket.

You will NOT find Kingsford charcoal cheaper anywhere else. Cleaning supplied re usually so cheap that you can only beat it at a supermarket with a coupon.

I think a lot of folks who don’t shop there approach Costco like “Haha, sucker, they fooled you with giant packages and a membership fee.” Nope…Costco is just one source for a strategic shopping plan :wink:

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