Fri. Feb 23rd, 2024

    I’m a Trader Joe’s fan who shopped at Costco for the first time. I get why members are so loyal, but I’m not convinced — yet.

    Costco and Trader Joe’s provide very different shopping experiences.

    As an adult living in the US, I usually buy groceries at Trader Joe’s. I love the frozen food, the cozy interior design, and how I can be in and out within 20 minutes.But I visited Costco for the first time in years. The shopping experience was completely different.

    Trader Joe’s and Costco both have huge cult followings.

    But up until recently, I didn’t have enough first-hand experience with Costco to understand its appeal. For the most part, I do my grocery shopping at Trader Joe’s. My reasoning is pretty simple: it’s convenient, the prices are reasonable, and I love the cutesy aesthetic.

    That said, I’ve been curious to see what Costco is all about since I first spoke with superfans David and Susan Schwartz, who have visited over 200 warehouses. They love Costco so much that they self-published their first book about the wholesaler in September.

    I got to see Costco through their lens on a recent tour of the Brooklyn warehouse and found it to be a vastly different shopping experience from Trader Joe’s. Here’s why.

    There are only three Costco locations in and around Manhattan, making it less available to me than Trader Joe’s.
    Costco in Brooklyn, New York.

    Accessibility is among the big differences I quickly discovered between Trader Joe’s and Costco. While Trader Joe’s has over 10 locations in the New York City area, Costco has four warehouses, making it way less readily available.

    For my first visit to Costco since I was a child, David and Susan recommended touring the Brooklyn warehouse because it’s bigger and less crowded than the one in Harlem.

    From my apartment in Manhattan, I had the option of taking a 25-minute taxi or an hour-long subway ride with multiple changes. Given I was in a hurry to meet the couple at a specific time, I took a taxi.

    I had no plans to buy groceries, but if I had, hauling shopping bags back home for an hour would’ve been less than ideal.

    I could not have entered Costco without David and Susan, as a membership was required.
    David and Susan Schwartz outside of Costco in Brooklyn.

    Besides distance, Costco is also currently more inaccessible to me than Trader Joe’s because I am not a member nor do I know friends or family living in NYC who are.

    While I can enter any Trader Joe’s location whenever I see fit, I couldn’t do the same when it comes to Costco without a membership. There are three types available, but the membership that is most affordable and applicable to me is the Gold Star, which costs $60 a year.

    Thankfully, I was visiting with David and Susan, who are longtime members of the wholesaler. Members, they told me, can bring two guests into the store at a time.

    For couples or a pair of roommates, I can see the appeal of getting a membership and making it more affordable by splitting it.

    Costco sells homeware and miscellaneous items, while Trader Joe’s is primarily focused on groceries.
    From hearing aids to pianos, you can buy more than food at Costco.

    From ancillary services like hearing tests, optical centers, and pharmacies to products like fridges, washing machines, pianos, and clothing, I saw plenty of things being sold at Costco that weren’t food.

    The same can’t be said for Trader Joe’s, which focuses on standard grocery items more than anything else. However, I do most of my homeware shopping online, so I don’t particularly see Costco’s homeware sections as a massive advantage.

    Both Costco and Trader Joe’s offer “treasure hunt” shop layouts, but I think the latter is easier to navigate.
    The Costco in Brooklyn is bigger than any Trader Joe’s I’d visited.

    A big similarity between Trader Joe’s and Costco is that the store layouts are constantly stocked with new and unexpected items, keeping shoppers excited and curious about what they’ll see the next time they visit.

    Susan described it as a “treasure hunt.”

    “Trader Joe’s has a similar thing in terms of the ‘treasure hunt’ that you don’t know what you’ll find when you go there,” she said.

    But navigating a treasure-hunt layout is much easier at Trader Joe’s for one reason: size. According to Penn Live, the average Trader Joe’s store is between 8,000 and 15,000 square feet, while Costco says the average size of a warehouse is 147,000 square feet.

    I could also see how members can spend a whole afternoon wandering Costco, but I prefer shorter shopping experiences.
    This is the biggest tub of Maldon sea salt I’ve ever seen.

    According to David and Susan, shopping at Costco in just 30 minutes is no easy task and kind of defeats the purpose of going in the first place.

    “To do that, you need to know what you’re really looking for. You need to be disciplined,” David said. “But the problem is that you’re going to miss really good bargains. You’re going to miss special items. You’re going to miss a lot of stuff.”

    For the couple, wandering the aisles at Costco is a perfect shopping experience. And though I get the appeal, I am much more of a get-in, get-out shopper. I want to get my grocery shopping done and dusted in less than 20 minutes, which is another reason why I love Trader Joe’s.

    Costco has a real no-frills approach to shop decor, unlike Trader Joe’s.
    Unlike Trader Joe’s, there are no decorations in Costco.

    There is seemingly zero attention directed toward decorating Costco warehouses, which I found a little jarring.

    While Trader Joe’s stores are often covered in handwritten signs and seasonal decorations, Costco’s products are labeled with pieces of paper that look like they could’ve been made by anyone with a printer.

    I understand that Costco’s dedication to efficiency is one of the reasons why it’s so successful, but when it comes to decoration, I think this approach just makes the store feel very sterile and impersonal.

    You can buy things in bulk at Costco if you want to, but you don’t get that choice at Trader Joe’s.
    Some pantry staples were available to buy in bulk.

    A huge draw for Costco is that members can choose to buy things in bulk. Some pantry staples, like rice and olive oil, are sold in huge portions, which explains why David and Susan say a lot of local restaurants and convenience stores shop for products at Costco.

    I can also see why people in larger families would gravitate toward buying groceries at Costco. Products at Trader Joe’s are sold in much smaller sizes, making it a less ideal option for bigger households or for people interested in stocking up on essentials.

    Costco’s self-checkout and cashier combo at some select warehouses has Trader Joe’s beat.
    Self-checkout machines and checkout cashiers.

    Bryan Palbaum, the CEO of Trader Joe’s, confirmed on the company’s podcast in August that there are no plans to add self-checkout machines to any store locations, according to CNN. In the episode, Palbaum described them as “not fun” and “work.”

    Palbaum might not think self-checkout machines are “fun,” but I’ll be the first to say that waiting in a long line for a cashier at Trader Joe’s isn’t fun either.

    It’s not available at every Costco, but there are some warehouses, like the one I visited in Brooklyn, that do give customers the option to do self-checkout or line up for a cashier depending on how many items they’re purchasing.

    “Cashiers, who do the registers, are really, really fast,” David said. “Much faster than a normal civilian, but they decided to keep this because the experiment seems to be working to have both.”

    I get why David and Susan are loyal to Costco, but I’m not convinced — yet.
    David and Susan Schwartz are longtime fans of Costco.

    I get why David and Susan say Costco is their “happy place.”

    Despite having shopped at Costco for most of their lives, the couple was in total awe as we made our way through the aisles and they spotted new items they’d never seen before, good deals, and the amount of product you’d get for the price. The warehouses are perfect for certain shoppers, but I’m not one of them.

    For now, I’m sticking to Trader Joe’s, where I can walk in, enjoy the fun decorations, and walk out less than half an hour later.

    Read the original article on Business Insider

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