For reasons that remain murky, the current wife and I decided to join Costco, the ubiquitous wholesale buying club. While it can make a case for “wholesale”, it doesn’t seem like a “club”, except for the annual dues. Going to this club on a Saturday or Sunday is somewhat frightening. The sheer number of shoppers, lurching around with dazed looks–zombie like–pushing giant carts brimming with merchandise is, frankly, disturbing. These shoppers are bewildered because their brains have been partially liquified by processing the overwhelming assortment of consumer stuff from which to choose. These folks don’t know exactly what they are shopping for until they stumble across it on some random aisle.
The current wife and I are somewhat chagrined that we are now members of this peculiar cult….I mean club.
The result of aimless shopping in Costco is a cart stocked with a set of four ceramic-blade carving knives, a carton of 100 AA batteries, a case of red zinfandel, a pair of hearing aides, prescription sunglasses, a 52″ television, two 24-count boxes of peanut butter granola energy bars, a box of 12 ripe mangoes, one lamb shank, a dog bed, a basketball, a pair of mom jeans in black, two bundles of men’s dress socks, a 64 ounce container of pistachios, an under-counter refrigerator, a boxed set of 28 screw drivers, a blender, a four-burner camp stove, one hard-shell-roll-on suitcase, a case of tennis balls, a two carat diamond and platinum pendant and four frozen Mrs. Smith’s apple pies. I had gone in for just the lamb shank.
Here is the Costco shopping model. Upon entrance to the warehouse, there is a wall of “specials” immediately on your right; items that you don’t need until you see them. This display of specials is constantly changing, which makes each visit to Costco a new mystery of how you could have lived your life, up to this point, without owning a set of, say, ceramic-blade knives “THAT NEVER NEED SHARPENING”. The emotional and physical pull of the specials aisle is akin to an opium addiction. You swear that you will never do it again…..but then….
Once you have a “special” in your ginormous cart, there is no going back. Besides, you now plan to make straight away and briskly to the meat department for the lamb shank.
However, between the entrance aisle and the meat department are rows and rows of consumer goods from every possible category. Unlike, for instance, in an electronics or clothing store where the categories of products are more circumscribed, Costco just throws everything at you willy-nilly so that your conscious effort to resist buying is thwarted by the cognitive dissonance of suddenly seeing a Magic Fingers Recliner Chair cheek by jowl with a Coleman, four-burner camp stove. “Well,” you think, “I certainly don’t need a recliner but, come to think of it, I’ve been meaning to take up camping and just look at the price.” Bingo, the camp stove goes in the cart.
Soon, you are throwing bargains into the cart in a state of dazed euphoria. “What savings! I could never buy this or that or these for this price anywhere else. I’m a genius.” Whether or not you actually need any of this stuff is totally beside the point. You are, in your own addled and addicted little mind, a genius.
Costco even has its own store brand, “Kirkland”, which one intuits is even more of a bargain than the factory seconds Jockey underwear in the same aisle. The Kirkland brand can be found on products ranging from enormous canisters of fancy nuts to hearing aides to clothing and dog food. I assume that Costco decided not to use the name “Costco” as their store brand because sporting a pair of designer jeans or a set of hearing aides with the name Costco prominently displayed would identify the owner as a cheap bastard. Except for Costco cognoscenti, Kirkland has no negative skin flinty connotations among the snooty.
The check-out line is where Costco saves a bundle. First, it’s rapid, with two employees working the merchandise; one unloading then reloading treasures and one running the cash register. They get you through in a trice. Second, the store offers no bags, neither paper nor plastic, with which to carry your bounty home. The merchandise goes right back into the same cart that you used for shopping. Then, shoppers who have paid, queue up their carts at the security exit.
While you are waiting for the security review, there is the opportunity to buy a motorcycle, a Volvo station wagon, a set of Bridgestone tires, roofing shingles, central heat and air, new cabinets and counter tops, Billy Joel concert tickets or life insurance. One’s head is a spin. Finally, a Gestapo-like employee counts the items in the cart and, assuming that you haven’t stopped to sign the contract for the motorcycle, verifies the count against the your receipt, marks the receipt and releases you into the parking lot. Then, after locating your vehicle among the thousands of other SUVs, you load your booty for the perilous drive home. It’s perilous because your loose treasures tend to rattle and bang around with every sharp corner or quick stop; think overhead bin during a rough flight. One prays that the camp stove doesn’t hurtle into the 52″ television screen.
Then, at home, there are 20+ trips to and from the car to get the un-bagged merchandise inside. It’s at this point that the Costco euphoria begins to recede and the awareness (horror, actually) that you now own a four-burner camp stove sets in. Even so, within a day or two, you get a gnawing feeling that the “specials aisle” has been re-stocked with new items, some of which you simply cannot live without.
Observoid of the Day: If you buy a two carat diamond and platinum pendant at Costco, admit the source to no one…ever.