As one of the largest retailers in the United States, warehouse giant Costco has become synonymous with towering steel shelves full of toilet paper and peanut butter. Its cavernous sales floors are navigated by 79 million customers a year who pay a minimum annual fee of $55 to access some of the least marked-up products in retail.
You probably realize the stores are busy, hard to navigate, and could probably feed a family of four in free samples alone. You might also be curious to know more.
1. You don’t actually need a Costco membership to shop there.
Big-box stores like Costco and Sam’s Club are able to offer low prices because of massive purchasing orders and profits that are subsidized by member fees. No membership card? No 12-gallon drums of mayo for you. But there is one loophole: If you know a member, they can purchase a Costco Cash (i.e. gift) Card on your behalf, which you can use at your leisure. Costco policy states you don’t need to be a member in order to use this payment method, but your success may be store-dependent: some employees get a little irate when you can’t produce your membership card at the door.
2. Costco likes to mess with your brain.
Brainwashing is an unadvertised membership perk. Costco often stocks a variety of large-ticket items—expensive handbags, entire barrels of Jack Daniel’s Whiskey—not necessarily because they expect to move those items, but because retailers know that the desire and excitement they cause releases dopamine. Now you’re shopping in a pleasure state and are more likely to splurge on items that grumpy and budget-conscious people avoid.
3. No ID? Airport security might accept your Costco card.
With the Transportation Security Administration’s strict security measures, you’d think a government-issued ID would be the only way you’re getting through a checkpoint. But KPIX 5 in San Francisco discovered the TSA will accept everything from utility bills to Costco cards as proof of identity. The catch: you’re more likely to get a pat down or a swab test than if you used your driver’s license. Just be aware that not every agent is going to want to play this game, so a government-issued ID is best.
4. Costco made Brad Pitt an unsatisfied customer.
Brad Pitt has called upon Costco to stop selling eggs produced from cage-raised hens. In July 2015, Pitt wrote to CEO Craig Jelinek, asking him to set a timetable for a company overhaul of its bird policy. “Many major corporations, from Burger King to Unilever, are getting rid of cages,” Pitt wrote, apparently hoping the shame of being less animal-conscious than Burger King would motivate them to action. It sort of worked. According to the company's "Animal Welfare" page:
"Costco is committed to procuring cage‐free eggs and continues to increase the percentage of cage-free eggs its sells worldwide. In the U.S., Costco has increased its percentage of cage-free shell eggs to 89 percent as of September 2018. In addition, Kirkland Signature™ Liquid Eggs are 100 percent cage-free. The transition to cage-free eggs will continue to increase with added availability and capacity of cage-free production."
5. The Costco rotisserie chicken has its own fan page.
The company moves 157,000 whole birds every single day, estimating they lose $30 to $40 million a year by sticking to a $4.99 price point in order to keep members happy and foot traffic high. Devotees trade recipe ideas for the chicken on a Facebook fan page.
6. One Costco store has horse and buggy parking for the Amish.
In Lancaster, Pennsylvania, anyway. The county is home to a large population of Amish, so the company decided to construct a livestock parking stall as a courtesy. There’s a rail to tie the horses to, and a roof shields them from inclement weather. Per the Addicted to Costco blog, the reserved space leaves an unanswered question: which lucky employee gets to clean up after the horses?
7. Costco once had to recall a punching bag filled with dirty underwear.
Through a manufacturing hiccup that may never be fully understood, Costco was forced to send out a public recall notice after discovering punching bags made by TKO, Inc. were filled with dirty men’s and women’s underwear instead of sand. In 2007, Fox reported that a Cincinnati family was distraught to find thongs, bathing suits, and bras inside of their new purchase. Anyone who bought the bag got a replacement and a shipping label to send the laundry back.
8. Costco considers shopping to be a “treasure hunt.”
Costco’s floor plan may seem haphazard, but like most things in retail it’s been very carefully designed to maximize business. The company regularly relocates necessities like toiletries, light bulbs, and other frequently-replenished items so the customer has to begin a search—or “treasure hunt”—for them. The strategy exposes shoppers to new areas of the store, and their wallets to new trauma.
9. Costco once labeled the Bible as “fiction.”
A Simi Valley pastor incited a minor Twitter flare-up in November 2013 when he was browsing in a Costco and noticed their copies of the Bible were labeled “fiction.” The company deemed it a labeling error, and there is some corroborating evidence that points to a wider trend: the following month, a “memoir” from fictional, imbecilic newscaster Ron Burgundy was filed under “nonfiction.”
10. Costco is America's biggest car dealer.
Costco moved nearly 650,000 cars in 2018, making it the nation's biggest car dealer—but they don’t actually get a portion of the sale. In another attempt to provide value for membership fees, the company negotiates directly with a dealer for a set price, then acts as an intermediary for the customer.
11. Costco is secretly one of the biggest pizza chains around.
Because pizza is only one component of Costco’s food service, it doesn’t really qualify as a pizza franchise. Bend the definition a little bit, though, and they could make a strong case for industry dominance. With nearly 500 stores, they’re among the top 20 footprints of pizza chains in the country. To keep up with demand, their stores are usually equipped with automated sauce spinners like the one seen above.
12. A couple got married in the Costco frozen foods section.
It’s the day every bride dreams of: walking down the frozen foods aisle to meet her groom. Robert and Meredith Bonilla were married atop a pallet at a Santa Maria, California Costco in December 2014, a year after meeting at the store. Management gave them permission to hold the ceremony after operating hours.
13. Costco has everything you need for a funeral.
Just because you’re dead doesn’t mean the savings have to stop. The retailer offers an entire array of funeral necessities, including caskets, urns, and flowers. The coffins are shipped directly to the mortuary of choice. For the easily confused, Costco reminds members that they are not a licensed funeral home and “may not offer or perform funeral services.” (At least not yet.)
14. Costco sells more clothing than Old Navy.
While some people might not consider Costco to be a fashion-forward shopping destination, they move plenty of clothes. The chain sells $7 billion worth of apparel every year, which is more than Old Navy or Ralph Lauren. Name brands like Tommy Hilfiger help drive sales, though there's one wrinkle: None of their stores have fitting rooms.