Costco vs Cash 'n' carry

18 Jan 12 02:21PM EST
Post by Matthew Steen  Matthew Steen Google Plus
Costco queue

After some months of procrastinating we finally made it to the newish Costco store in Auburn in Sydney. We’d tried before but when we couldn't find a parking spot after 20 mins or so, we gave up.

To give you an idea of how busy Costco was when we managed to get in: we arrived at 9:30am - 30 minutes prior to opening - and the entrance area was already packed with people with trolleys. Big trolleys. Trolleys I could ride in, and I’m 187cm (Cash ‘n’ carry trolleys are even larger and have shock absorbing springs).

The busyness may be because Costco still has that newish gleam to it. Perhaps it excites Australian shoppers to see so many American brands in bulk for theoretically smaller cost compared to our two big grocery stores.

After going to Campbells Cash ‘n’ carry recently it seemed a disorganized experience at Costco. One lift wasn’t working. There was so little parking compared to the sheer number of shoppers that the shopping centre across the road had blocked its front parking to stop Costco shoppers using it. Cash ‘n’ Carry was almost empty and there was plenty of parking, though this will change on a daily basis I’m sure.

There’s so much technology available for the retail experience that they’ve not implemented, from the people manning the doors to manually check Costco member cards prior to entry to having to manually raise shutters. So many things could be done to streamline the experience. However they do have late opening hours and they had two people on each checkout, one to scan and one to pack the goods back into the trolley – not in bags, just into the trolley. I can understand not packing into bags because so much stuff is in bulk.

As mentioned earlier, we did go to a Cash ‘n’ Carry recently for the first time as well. This was a much more raw experience. You can tell Cash ‘n’ Carry is designed for businesses who just want to get in and out. Costco was well lit, Cash ‘n’ Carry was dark and dingy. Costco had many American brands we weren’t aware of, Cash ‘n’ Carry had brands we recognised. Because of this, it was easier to compare pricing in the latter to other more common grocery stores, but grocers still evade consistent unit pricing, nationally.

We’d read beforehand about people finding that Costco was a little erratic about how they lay out the store, finding honey right next to fertiliser – that sort of thing. We assume they’ve taken this criticism on board because it seemed fairly organised to us.

By the end of both experiences we were exhausted – not just because it took so much longer due to being a new grocery store layout but simply trying to work out if we had a good deal on something really drains the enthusiasm for grocery shopping, if you had any to begin with. You really need to compare prices and grocers just don’t make this easy. It would be a full time job to do it properly. While this might work well for grocery store profits, it doesn’t work well for consumers.

When we did end up working out the pricing differences, we found that shopping in bulk at either of these chains works out better than your everyday store, depending on what you want. We compared online pricing at one of the major grocers with our receipts from both bulk buying experiences. If you’re shopping for dry goods that don’t go off quickly like washing powders, confectionary, frozen foodstuffs and that favourite, toilet paper, then either of these bulk buying options is good. With regards to your everyday needs, you won’t find me going back for a vegetable shopping expedition unless I’m throwing a rather large party and need to cater for more than just my family.

Of course, there’s a membership fee to think of in Costco, which is $60 and gets you two membership cards ($55 for businesses). For Cash ‘n’ Carry you need an Australian Business Number (ABN) which rules out many, but doesn’t take much to organise. Membership doesn’t cost anything, and again you get two cards.

All in all, both experiences could improve. Both companies could take advantage of technology to streamline the shopping experience and make sure everything has pricing (some items didn’t in both stores). Costco, you need to improve parking – more capacity or better organised, anything to take the aggravation out of going to your store. Above all, get unit pricing and make it consistent so we can at least compare and see whether we’re getting the deals you claim we are.

Don’t make shopping a chore, make it easy and we’ll come back even after the gloss has worn off.

Have you tried bulk shopping at a grocery store like Costco or Cash ‘n’ carry? Do you think you would go back, and if not, why not?


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