What Is Costco and Is It Really Worth the Cost of a Membership?

Groucho Marx famously said “I don’t want to belong to any club that would accept me as a member.” But that’s only because Costco wasn’t invented yet.

You know those weekends that are just wall-to-wall errands? You have to buy groceries, service the car, fill a prescription, get new patio furniture, plan for your eventual funeral—it all starts to feel impossible to accomplish in one day. But what if I told you there was one magical place where you could do all of these things and even more? One massive, miles-long warehouse that has everything. This, dear readers, is Costco, your one-stop shopping destination for all your grocery, apparel, beauty product, furniture, computer, television, shed, washer-dryer combo, sunglasses, regular glasses, hot tub, fancy vacuum cleaner, 8-foot tall teddy bear, car tire, gutter installation, and casket needs.

What is Costco?

Costco falls in a subsection of the big-box retail store category called a warehouse club store. Like its competitors BJ’s and Sam’s Club (owned by Walmart), they are massive stores that sell a huge range of products. However, unlike a Walmart or Target, they sell bulk items at prices closer to wholesale prices. Ultimately, it means you can buy a lot of stuff at a cheaper price. 

The “club” part of the warehouse club moniker means you need a membership to shop there. A standard Costco membership costs $60 a year, while the “executive” membership costs $120 a year. With either level of membership, you get two cards. So, if you are splitting the standard membership with a friend or partner, it comes out to $30 a year per person. Now, if you’re thinking, “that’s how they get you,” that’s not really the case. 

The prices at a Costco are around 30% cheaper than most grocery and other retail stores, and they are able to do that in several ways. The stores are designed simply, so there’s less need for a large staff or maintenance. They buy wholesale from manufacturers at massive discounts, yet they put a cap on their markups at 15%, compared to the 25%-50% at other stores. And their company-owned brand, Kirkland Signature, allows them to control production and distribution of a lot of what is on their shelves.

You’re paying five bucks a month to help pay their operating costs, and in exchange you pay a lot less at the register. Also, Costco on average pays their employees at least double the minimum wage, and 80% of them get health insurance through the company. In this era of late-stage capitalism, that’s about as good as you can get.

Who owns Costco?

Costco is owned by the Costco Wholesale Corporation, which was started by Jim Sinegal and Jeffrey Brotman in 1983. They had their headquarters in Kirkland, Washington, hence the store’s brand name. Since the company went public in 1985, there’s been a board of directors and a CEO and all that other business stuff. 

What is in Costco?

Costco is primarily a bulk grocery store—75% of their products are food—so you’re going to see a lot of giant jars of peanut butter and 48 packs of toilet paper. Fun fact: Costco is the biggest seller of rotisserie chickens in the country. So you can be sure that those staples are always going to be there.

The other 25% of products are anything from clothing to jewelry to quite literally whatever you can think of. They’re selling caskets folks, it doesn’t get wilder than that. The other interesting thing they do with their inventory is bringing in random luxury items like designer watches and fancy perfume at ridiculously low prices. 

Can you shop at Costco without a membership?

Unfortunately, no. If you don’t have a membership, Costco will remain this mysterious shopping Shangri-la that lies just out of your reach. But the membership really is worth it, especially if you split it amongst your roommates. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said, “I need to get such and such,” and have had someone say, “Go to Costco.” And it’s almost always there, and it’s definitely always cheap. 

best costco snacks

Best Costco Snacks

Now that you know all about Costco, find out what snacks you should be buying there in bulk. We tasted some of the top Costco snacks and ranked them.

About the Author

Luke Field

Luke Field is a writer and actor originally from Philadelphia. He was the former Head Writer of branded content at CollegeHumor and was also a contributing writer and actor to the CollegeHumor Originals cast. He has extensive improv and sketch stage experience, performing both at The Upright Citizens Brigade Theater and with their Touring Company. In addition to writing, he also works as a Story Producer, most recently on season 4 of Accident, Suicide, or Murder on Oxygen. Keep your eyes peeled for his brief but impactful appearance as Kevin, the screaming security guard, in the upcoming feature The Disruptors, directed by Adam Frucci.

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