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By Barb Fisher — August 02, 2011

I have to admit to being pretty excited when I first learned that U.S. wholesale giant Costco was planning on opening its doors in Canberra.  Having set foot in the Melbourne version a couple of times previously, I knew exactly what we were in for.

From the moment you arrive and see people wheeling out huge shopping trolleys like something from the Land of the Giants, you know this is going to be a shopping trip on steroids.

Costco is ‘members only’ shopping.  You have to join up before you can even enter the premises.  For an annual fee of $60, or $55 for businesses, you can shop whenever you like, taking up to two guests with you each time (however only the member can purchase).

According to Jim Sinegal, the Company’s President and Chief Executive Officer, “Costco is able to offer lower prices and better values by eliminating virtually all the frills and costs historically associated with conventional wholesalers and retailers, including salespeople, fancy buildings, delivery, billing and accounts receivable. We run a tight operation with extremely low overhead which enables us to pass on dramatic savings to our members.”

This is probably similar to Aldi I guess.  I’ve actually only set foot in one Aldi in my life, where I did a quick whiz around and immediately departed, my head in a spin.

I have to admit that I’m a bit of a brand girl.  I like to know the reputation of the brand I’m purchasing, its background and where it sits on the quality scale. In Aldi, I felt like I was lost in another country, speaking a completely different language.  Costco, on the other hand, primarily stocks well-known brands – some international, some local and some under their own in-house label:  Kirkland Signature.

My first experience with Costco Canberra was a little frustrating.  I’d previously purchased my membership on-line, and turned up on Saturday afternoon (a week after the grand opening) with my paperwork in my hot little hand, ready to shop my socks off.  Turns out the rest of Canberra had the same idea.

Being a membership-only type arrangement, the queue at the tables snaked out of the door, around the corner, out onto the road and was about four people deep.  That’s OK, I’m already a member!  But wait.  No.  I was told to join the huge line to wait my turn to collect my new membership card. What the?  No thanks.  I think you may need someone to assess your process efficiency here.  I’ll come back another day.

That day was yesterday.  Once again, a rather large line-up, this time right at the opening time of 10am.  I heard a rumour there was much smaller line inside that was apparently for people who had just needed to collect membership cards, so I snuck through the crowd and was processed in about five minutes.  It would have been lovely for a staff member to come outside and advise us of that!  But that is my only criticism.

Once though the doors, a chorus of angels singing from amongst the bright lights overhead, you are sent off with a pat on the bum to go forth and spend.  OK.  Not quite.  But it does feel good to finally be in there.

The warehouse is about the size of the MCG and there is nowhere better to start than right at the beginning.  I found, as I made my way round those first few aisles of neatly stacked pallets of goodies, that a slow fever started to build.  Mesmerised by all those rather large packages of toothpaste and muesli bars (don’t forget the Toblerones, each the size of one of my legs), I found myself thinking……Yes!  I really do need to buy a years supply of razors and a bucket of M&M’s that will fit over my head!

A few aisles later, I managed to calm down and start rationalising again, but seriously – you could spend hours, hell…days!…happily ensconced in this place, plotting and planning about all the delightfully LARGE packets of things you could buy to make life so much easier.

And pricing?  Is it really that much cheaper?  Here are a few comparisons:

Huggies Newborn Nappies, Carton of 224, $64.99 (29c each)
Woolworths Online: $0.31c  each)

Huggies Baby Wipes, 720 pack, $31.79 ($4.42 per 100)
Woolworths Online: $6.84 per 100

Colgate Advanced Whitening Toothpaste, 4 pack x 160g, $17.99 ($2.81 per 100g)
Woolworths Online: $4.81 per 100g

Veuve Cliquot Yellow Label 750ml, $55.99
Woolworths Online: $72.45

Bollinger Special Cuvee 750ml, $58.99
Woolworths Online: $103.49

Becks beer, 24 bottles, $39.49
Woolworths Online: $46.56

Tooheys Extra Dry beer, 24 bottles, $32.99
Woolworths Online: $38.30

Some of these savings are astonishing, particularly those champagne prices! (you know what I’ll be stocking up on).

I was also surprised to see the quality of some of the brands.  DKNY men’s t-shirts. Hugo Boss undies.  North Face jackets.  All at good prices.

And the fresh food section is very compelling.  The meat all looks to be premium quality and well priced and you can get interesting things like duck in a pre-packaged kit to head home and make Peking Duck Pancakes for dinner (yum!).   One of my favourite Aussie smallgoods manufacturer’s Barossa Fine Foods is represented, and I stocked up on maple bacon, chorizo and smoked chicken breast for my husband.

In the bakery section there are huge birthday cakes, tarts and gateaus. Fresh bagels and cupcakes.  Great if you have some entertaining to do – you can buy huge wheels of cheese, pre-made appetiser platters and mega gourmet pizza’s, ready to pop in the oven (only $14.99!).

If you’re unsure of the quality of any of the products, there are demonstrators set up in various places, cooking up some of the different cuts of meats to give customers a chance to try before they buy.

But it’s not just groceries. You can buy anything from a television to a camera, jewellery to office chairs (Herman Miller ergo chair for $385!), kids playground equipment, BBQ’s, latest release books (most around $15 to $20), ski equipment and the list goes on and on and on…

Costco is definitely worth a visit.  If you don’t want to join up, try and hook up with an existing member to give it a go before you commit.  But my advice is to run people, not walk.  Costco will change the way we shop in Canberra, giving those two big daddies on the block a run for their money whilst offering us a whole new array of choices.  About time I say!

[box]Costco Wholesale 39-41 Mustang Avenue Majura Park, Canberra Airport Ph. (02) 6246 7500
Opening Hours: Mon – Fri 10am to 8:30pm Sat 9:30am – 6:30pm Sun 10am – 5pm[/box]


(4) Readers Comments

  1. Michelle Brotohusodo
    Reply →
    August 2, 2011 at 8:31 pm

    Thanks for this article Barb – so far from everyone I’ve talked to and things that I’ve read you’re the only one who’s actually given a price comparison for some products.

    I’ve resisted the lure of Costco so far as I’m the type of person who will go in to have a look and come out with two trolley-loads of stuff, but I think resistance is becoming futile. At least I can’t fit a paddle boat in a trolley.

    • August 3, 2011 at 9:14 am

      With the size of those trolleys Michelle, you can certainly try!

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