Costco shoppers: Beware these tricks the warehouse giant uses to make you spend more

Costco Shoppers: Beware of these tricks the storage giant is using to trick you into spending more
Even if you're not a regular Costco shopper, you know a little about the deals and discounts you can find at the storage giant.
But have you ever stopped to think how they can turn a profit by lowering the price of everything?
While some of the merchandising techniques that Costco is notorious for — like not labeling their aisles or shifting their in-store inventory — irritate some of their customer base, these oddities are entirely intentional.
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Think about it: Have you ever been looking for something in particular and when you couldn't find it in the usual place you had to wander through the store? And on the hunt for that one household item, do you also snag a few bags of chips, seven boxes of cereal and a club pack of tube socks?
Costco's business strategy is based on human behavior analysis and uses subliminal messaging to trick you into emptying your wallet. This list compiles principles of behavior from marketers HubSpot and other sources from across the web to break down why Costco does the things they do.
From cheap chickens to stacks of goods, here are 15 psychological tricks Costco uses to get you to spend more.
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1. They make it exclusive
Costco is notorious for being a members-only club — you'll have to shell out their card to buy much of their products.
While the mandatory membership definitely irks some potential customers, Costco benefits from the store's exclusiveness by playing on the psychology behind the cognitive dissonance.
The psychological site Very Well Mind says that cognitive dissonance is the uncomfortable feeling you get when you have conflicting beliefs or attitudes. A sign of cognitive dissonance is trying to justify or rationalize a decision you've made—like perhaps buying a store membership.
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Daniel Burstein, content and marketing expert, says, "[People] want to believe they made good decisions...when they bought a Costco membership because they believed it would save them money, now when they." make a new purchasing decision, they are more likely to buy from Costco.”
If you go to the store quite often to get the deals, you start to feel like the membership was worth it and you can drop that dissonant itch in your brain.
The members-only strategy also has a very simple benefit to Costco's bottom line: Its 2021 annual report states that revenue from its membership fees has grown 9% since 2020 -- to a total of $3.9 billion.
2. They use their own brand
Costco has a big winner with its Kirkland Signature line.
Shoppers feel they are getting a good deal on these private label products and often buy them over other, more expensive options. As recently as 2019, the Kirkland label accounted for a third of Costco's sales, with many items consistently receiving positive reviews in consumer reports.
Customers trust the band, and the psychology of trust is commonly used in marketing, according to USC's Department of Psychology.
Costco's "anti-brand" promotes a sense of sincerity through visual and pricing cues, giving shoppers peace of mind that what they see is what they get.
However, they must be careful with this trust. Costco knows that because of the limited number of products they sell, there is less room for error in the quality of those products.
So how do they ensure high quality of a low cost private label? It turns out a lot of Kirkland Signature products are the same as the big brands, just repackaged. That's why when you read the label on your coffee, it often says "roasted with Starbucks beans."
3. You move the goods
If the reviews can be trusted, Costco customers hate it when their favorite item, say, a keg of Kraft Peanut Butter, suddenly disappears from where they normally find it, forcing them to search the store to go.
This directionless walk of confusion is intentional on Costco's part. It relates to the psychology behind treasure hunting and is a common retail technique.
According to Retail Customer Experience, when a shopper walks to where they thought peanut butter would be and it's no longer there, they stay close by to find it — while browsing through a series of enticing triggers .
The numbered aisles reinforce this itinerant shopping style because without labels, customers have to walk through to know what's on those shelves.
Retail Customer Experience points out that when you find something you weren't expecting or make an impulse purchase, it triggers a release of happiness chemicals; and who is not happy?
Eventually you'll find that peanut butter — but along the way, you can also pick up 34 ounces of maple syrup, a cuckoo clock, and 10 family-size bags of chips.
4. They stack it to the sky
According to Britannica, in 1993 Costco merged with grandfather prototype dormitory - Price Club, which had been founded by Sol Price in the 1970s.
Sol was delighted with the phrase, "Stack it up and watch it fly!"
He found that by stacking the goods vertically, the customer would associate the sky-high goods with abundance, and knowing that there's an abundance of a product makes you more ready to snag one for yourself.
Think about it. Have you ever hesitated to grab the last slice of pizza from the box with your friends or to use up the last creamer in the work fridge?
The same principle often applies to retail. We're conditioned to be reluctant to pick from a dwindling supply, but when there's more than enough, you're more likely to grab a box - or two - off the shelf.
By presenting these gigantic stacks of products, Costco signals this abundance to the customer. Take what you need with you - but maybe ask a member of staff to borrow their stepladder.
5. They decorate as little as possible
Considering that Costco was the third largest retailer in the world according to Forbes in 2020, you'd think they could spend some money to make their store interiors a little more inviting.
But their stripped-down aisles, stacked with shrink-wrapped pallets, aim to convince customers they're getting the lowest possible price.
A 2002 Harvard Business Review study confirms that consumption is often driven by perceived cost, meaning that a customer is willing to pay what they think is the price for an item.
Science Daily says that people often equate a product's low cost with high value, but possibly also with low quality.
However, Costco wants its customers to think they're getting high-quality items at low prices -- which, to be fair, they often are.
So when customers are wondering how Costco can offer them these prices, there's evidence all around them that the store has cut other spends like aesthetic design and decorations to offset that low price.
6. They guide you around the race track
Fun fact: Sol Price's first dormitory store, Price Club, opened its doors in 1976 - the cavernous location had previously been used as an airplane hangar in San Diego.
Most Costcos are designed around what they call a racetrack retail grid, which Fast Company says takes the customer through the entire store before getting to the checkout counter and exit.
The staples — toilet paper, groceries, eggs — are placed in the back of the store, requiring customers to walk through the entire place before they can grab their necessities, hopefully picking up a few non-essentials along the way.
The layout also includes a visual merchandising component. At Costco, find the lifestyle and seasonal items on the bottom shelves. This way you have a clear view of other parts of the store while crouching to browse.
Which, since you're already there, you can watch as well.
7. You lead at a loss
Costco's fried chicken, which retails for only $4.99, is well known among customers. People love it for its taste, convenience and most importantly its price.
In 2015, Costco's chief financial officer said the business was "willing to lose an estimated $30 million to $40 million a year on its fan-favorite chickens" rather than raise the price.
The story goes on

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