Need to know
- A Costco membership costs $60 per year and there are 11 stores across Australia
- Favourite buys from CHOICE staff and members include nuts and dried fruit, roast chickens, cleaning products, hearing aids, wine and fuel
- Products are not always cheaper so do your research, and shop on weeknights to avoid crowds
It's the Aldi Special Buy aisle on steroids. The place you can buy a bucket of Nutella as big as your head and pick up a coffin or a piece of Swarovski jewellery on your way to the checkout. It's also heralded as mecca for great deals on household staples, bulk buys that are perfect if you're catering for a crowd, and cheap fuel.
But are we all just being lured in by the thrill of a bargain bottle of Penfolds Grange (a limited-edition offering around once a year), or is it actually a cost-effective way to do your everyday shopping? And more importantly, is it worth handing over the cash to become a member?
We look at the pros and cons of shopping at Costco, plus share tips from CHOICE staff and CHOICE Community members.
Inside an Australian Costco warehouse.
I've been living under a rock – what is Costco?
Costco is a wholesale warehouse club that hails from Seattle and now has branches in 11 countries. There are currently 11 stores across NSW, ACT, Victoria, Queensland and South Australia. You need to be a member to shop there, and membership costs $60 per year.
What can you buy at Costco?
Members can buy everything from fresh food, groceries and electronics to clothing, alcohol and cleaning supplies, all in one warehouse.
There's also speciality departments, such as an optical centre, hearing aid centre, tyre centre and fuel station.
Giant teddy bears are one of the more iconic items you can find at Costco.
Oh, that's the place I can buy giant wheels of cheese and 1kg bags of chips?
Yep. Almost everything is supersize at Costco. Members of the CHOICE Community have commented that the larger-than-life products are great if you're hosting a party, have a very large freezer or pantry (or if you're stocking up your doomsday bunker).
CHOICE staffer, Chris, does a shop at Costco before going camping with a big group of people: "We like the opportunity to buy things that aren't ordinarily in other supermarkets – particularly American products. And also to stock up on household staples like cleaning products in bulk at cheaper prices."
Some say bulk buys are not always suited to smaller families or if you have limited space
But some CHOICE Community members say the range is limited, and they don't shop there because bulk buys are not always suited to smaller families or if you have limited space.
Is it cheaper than shopping at my local supermarket?
CHOICE staffer, Kate, says: "Don't assume everything is cheaper at Costco – some things are and some things aren't – that's how they get you. Consider if you'll use bulk-sized items before the expiration date. I don't usually buy food there unless I'm certain we can eat it all or it has a long shelf life."
CHOICE Community members commented that they stock up on specific items a few times a year, but that it's not really suitable for everyday shopping.
Tip: Take a calculator so you can easily work out unit pricing while shopping to make you're actually getting a good deal.
Some members even prepare spreadsheets comparing prices from other retailers such as Coles, Aldi, Big W and Woolworths so they can refer to it while shopping.
"I think it is good value but you need a lot of self-discipline," says Chris. "It's easy to get carried away and it can very quickly become poor value by either buying more than you need or not comparing unit prices with other supermarkets. Plan for impulse purchases though – there's always unanticipated goodies!"
If you're not going to shop there at least a few times a year, it may not be worth it
Keep in mind things such as the distance you have to drive to get to your nearest outlet, how much storage space you have at home and whether you actually really need that much Nutella in your life.
If you're not going to shop there at least a few times a year, it may not be worth forking out for a Costco membership.
Tip: First visit the store with a family member who already owns a membership to see if you'll use it, or band together with neighbours or friends to share bulk buys.
What $800 buys you at Costco.
Tell us about the bargains!
CHOICE staffer and Costco fan Uta says: "My husband is basically addicted to dried cranberries, so for us, the savings we make on cranberries alone are worth the membership price. Costco is also a good place for personal care products and some premium alcohol, such as sparkling wine."
We buy Penfolds Grange there. It's usually around $100 to $150 cheaper than in other storesCHOICE staffer Kate
In a big win for premium wine lovers, Kate says: "We buy Penfolds Grange there. It's usually around $100 to $150 cheaper than in other stores – they only get about two cases per year, though, so you need to time your visit for just after the release date." But before you go crazy in the wine aisle, ensure you price check with other retailers such as Dan Murphy's, as similar deals and discounts on bulk buys can be found.
Other popular products hailed as being particularly good value are kids' books, organic olive oil, ready-to-eat roast chickens ($6.99 for a size 14 chook), laundry and dishwashing powders and Costco hearing aids (our research has found the hearing aids are competitively priced – check out our hearing aid buying guide).
Their special-occasion cakes and cheesecakes are really good and very cheap compared to, say, The Cheesecake Shop. The bake-at-home ready-made pizzas are also great valueCHOICE Community member
CHOICE Community members say that petrol and diesel from the Costco fuel outlets can be around 10 to 40 cents a litre cheaper than other retailers' prices. If you're a regular visitor, it might mean you can make up your $60 membership fee quite quickly (but make sure you factor in the distance you've had to drive to get to your nearest store).
Costco warehouses can get very busy at peak periods.
So, I'm hearing I should do my research…
All CHOICE staff and Community members agree that prices can be hit and miss when it comes to getting a better deal than at other retailers, so doing research and avoiding impulse buys is key. Particularly when it comes to fresh produce and dairy and meat products that won't keep forever.
Many parents swear they get the best deal on nappies at Costco, but our price check says Huggies nappies can be similarly priced at the supermarket, particularly when there's a special on.
Our price check says Huggies nappies can be similarly priced at the supermarket
At time of publishing, Huggies Ultra Dry Nappies Size 3 (184-pack) are $51.49 at Costco, or 27c each. Woolworths is selling them for 28c each as an online-only offer (90-pack) and Coles is selling them for 30c each (90-pack). Prices, product ranges and availability will obviously vary, as do own-brand options, so again, it pays to do your research (and check out our nappy buying guide).
CHOICE staffer Uta says: "It's always a good idea to price Costco against Aldi in particular as you get similar products at Aldi, often cheaper with the added advantage of smaller, more sensible sizes."
I don't like crowds – is Costco my worst nightmare?
One CHOICE Community member says that aisles aren't clearly marked, so it's hard to find where things are and harder to find someone to help you.
And the crowds and queues can be pretty confronting too, particularly on weekends and around key times such as Christmas.
Tip: Head to Costco on a weekday or weeknight if you want to avoid crowds and glide down empty aisles.
Where is my nearest Costco?
Here's where you'll find the 11 Costcos in Australia.
- NSW: Lidcombe, Casula, Marsden Park
- ACT: Canberra Airport
- Vic: Ringwood, Epping, Moorabbin Airport, Docklands
- Qld: Bundamba, North Lakes
- SA: Kilburn
Stock images: Getty, unless otherwise stated.