This article is part of a package on shopping at Costco. Read the other article, on 4 things not to buy at Costco.
This article was updated on November 22, 2010.
Costco was cool even before the Great Recession. Targeting business owners and other affluent customers, the members-only warehouse shop avoided the Walmart stigma and sold a mix of high-end electronics, basic foodstuffs, and household necessities, plus an eclectic mix of humidifiers, bestselling books, and vintage Champagne. Now that frugal is fashionable, however, Costco seems like the perfect store for the times. The blogosphere, no surprise, offers up sites for Costco fanatics and Costco cooks. CEO and founder Jim Sinegal is renowned for the low salary he awards himself and the relatively high pay he shells out for employees. Even A-listers are getting in on the action: Jessica Alba, Megan Fox, and Zac Efron have been spotted loading up their cars with 30-packs of toilet paper and flat-screen TVs.
So should you follow the crowd? Yes, but only for certain items. If you’ve got the storage space, it’s tough to beat Costco for staples such as paper towels, diapers, and shaving cream. But as good as the price-per-ounce may be, you just don’t need that much mayonnaise. Below, we’ve listed five surprising items that you should pick up at the warehouse. In a separate story, we’ve listed four items to avoid.
OK, “Costco Chateauneuf-du-Pape” doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue. But who cares — it goes down the throat quite nicely. The 800-year-old appellation, quaffed by popes and praised by Nostradamus, is now available under the “Kirkland” house brand at your local warehouse club. And it’s good stuff, according to experts. The 2008 Chateauneuf-du-Pape sells for $20, but would be $30 anywhere else, says Andrew Cullen, who rates wines sold at the store at the CostcoWineBlog. “Before you see a bottle at Costco, it has been screened by Costco wine buyers, which cuts out 75 percent of the less desirable wines,” says Cullen, who has no relationship with the company he writes about.
Ray Isle, executive wine editor of Food & Wine magazine, says the fact that Costco sells such huge quantities of wine — it’s the largest retailer of fine wine in the country — means it can get good deals and better access to top vintages. In addition to selling wine under its own brand, Costco offers a good selection of other wines at competitive prices. A recent favorite of Isle’s is the Lot 200 Cameron Hughes 2008 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, which sells for $28 a bottle at Costco. “I just tasted this two days ago, and it was pretty damn good cabernet for the price,” Isle says.
There’s a lot of turnover, though, so don’t go in expecting to find the same bottles month after month. On the upside: Thanks to the convoluted state regulations on liquor sales, you don’t even need to be a Costco member to buy wine there. When the greeters ask you for your membership card at the entrance, just tell them you’re only buying alcohol and they’ll wave you through. Cheers!
2. Chocolate Truffles
They’re real and they’re spectacular: Costco sells authentic French chocolate truffles from Chocmod, a high-end French confectionery company. Complete with a dusting of cocoa, these truffles come but once a year and they are in stores now (and only in stores — you won’t find them online). They cost $10.89 for two two-pound boxes, compared with $29 on Amazon. That’s 240 truffles, but who’s counting? After your dinner party, put what’s left in nice boxes and give them to colleagues at the office as a holiday gift.
One-stop shopping at low prices has endeared Costco Optical to tens of thousands of vision-challenged shoppers. For $49, a licensed optometrist will perform a vision and eye health exam in an in-store exam room. A week later, you can pick up your specs. In a survey released this month by Consumer Reports, 30,000 lens-wearers chose Costco as their favorite optical retailer over vision store chains, independent optical shops, and private doctors’ offices. Costco Optical earned the highest scores for overall satisfaction as well as for price, with its $157 median price for glasses. Compare that price with an average of $211 at independent optical shops, $212 at private eye doctors’ offices, and $228 at Pearle Vision. Costco also stood out for lack of problems, such as loose lenses, distorted vision, or damaged frames in the first weeks after purchase.
Costco’s prices on notebook PCs are already a good deal, but there’s a further benefit to buying one at Costco: A two-year warranty policy (most manufacturers provide just one year), a 90-day return policy, and Costco Concierge Services, which is free to members and gives buyers access to technicians for set-up questions, product use, and trouble-shooting. Model numbers and configurations are often unique to Costco, but a perusal of specs will let you compare it to similar models sold elsewhere. Among current laptops on sale at Costco, PC Magazine Online gives high marks to the 14-inch HP Pavilion dm4-1173cl ($800 list price at Costco vs. $849 elsewhere for a comparable model).
More on MoneyWatch:
- 4 Things Not to Buy at Costco
- What Not to Buy at Walmart
- 5 Things You Should Buy at Walmart
- 4 Things Not to Buy at Target
- 4 Things to Buy at Target
- Not So Fast: 7 Things to Buy After Christmas
- 6 Clever Tricks for Holiday Shoppers
5. Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Costco’s Kirkland Signature Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil may be the best-kept secret in the store. At $9.99 for 1.5 liters, it is roughly half the cost of the well-known Bertolli brand, and yet, according to at least one independent study, it’s much better. In a recent comparison of 19 olive oils on the market, The Olive Center, a research group at the University of California-Davis, found that Kirkland Organic was one of only five in the study not mixed with cheaper refined olive oil that can spoil the taste. The other four at the top of the list were all high-end brands that cost as much as five times Costco’s. Make sure you buy the Costco version that’s labeled organic, though, as opposed to the one that’s simply called “extra virgin olive oil.” It’ll cost a little bit more, but it’s worth it.