2 min read

The agony and ecstasy of Costco

Is Costco one of the great institutions of the modern era, or does it just suck?

On the one hand it's a business admired (if you're someone who admires businesses) by pretty much everyone. It’s the third largest retailer in the world, treats its employees better than most, always has the best price, and trades at almost 40x earnings (Google is floating around 30x earnings). They’ve discovered a unique business model that guarantees customers the best prices, and lets them prioritize their employees over almost anything else.

On the other hand I’ve never felt more depressed than the couple of times I’ve tried on clothes from Costco. It's emblematic of a lifeless approach to living where the highest priority is efficiency and quantity, screw how it makes you feel.

Their warehouses suck the life out of the lots they occupy with their drab, lifeless, windowless walls and unending parking lots.

It’s factory line living where economies of scale invade your personal life and you sit at the end of a conveyor belt filling up your car.

You buy stuff in quantities you don’t need (even outside of the package size, you never know when an item will suddenly vanish forever—I’m sitting on 3 massive containers of their raw Wisconsin honey because of this fear), and you end up using way more of the stuff you buy because the supply feels endless (before we got a Costco membership I calculated that a package of tissues from Costco should last us an entire year but they end up being consumed in a fraction of that time because we just use more tissues now).

And yet, I love it. Shopping at Costco makes you feel richer. Growing up you always had the rich friend with a fridge full of fun drinks. Buying drinks always felt like something I shouldn’t or couldn’t do. But at Costco I trust that the price is so good that I find myself filling up my car with Topo Chico mineral water and GT Dave kombucha. It's not only great prices, but items that you trust will be good (compare this to the experience of shopping on Amazon in 2023 where you always feel like there's a 50% chance you're about to get scammed).

Businesses can only really broadcast one message at a time. An identity is a hard thing to have, and even harder to stick to. Because an identity always comes with obviously frustrating shortcomings. But there’s also power in an identity. It gives you permission to proudly accept all those shortcomings, because they’re what drive your advantages. Costco sucks, but it also absolutely rocks.