There’s been a lot of hype in the news about Costco opening a megastore at Auburn (that’s New South Wales, Australia for all you international types). Yours truly decided to see what the fuss was about and trundled off to the store today for a good look around. It took me ages to get in but I amused myself by looking at the trolleys full of groceries that were streaming past me – Veuve Clicot champage with a large box of sliced ham and a 24 pack of toilet paper, a bar stool, floor mats, several boxes of pastries and what seemed to be a 5 litre bucket of either mayonnaise or yoghurt – the mind boggles!
Anyway, here are my best suggestions to surviving and making the most of your Costco experience – peoplewatching notwithstanding.
The first question most people seem to ask is “What’s it like?”. In short, it’s like the ungodly offspring of Aldi and BigW mixed with a pinch of IKEA and Bunnings, and no-where near enough parking. There’s a good range of new and familiar brands across every department I can think of and not everything is packed in super-large bulk packaging, although you can certainly load up pallets of stuff if you like (choose the special orange trolleys rather than the standard double-wide ones). It’s a little disorganised, but this is mostly down to two things – firstly this is still all very new and the staff are trying to work out wrinkles in the system, and secondly, people haven’t quite figured out how it’s supposed to work and spend a lot of time milling about.
The next question seems to be “How does it work – what’s shopping like?” Here are a few points that will help give you an idea.
1) It’s busy. Really really busy. Allow plenty of time for waiting, queuing and generally standing about. If you’re lucky enough to find parking, grab a trolley and go up the ramp. There’s a queue on the left for people who need to apply and pay for their membership card. Do the smart thing and register online, print out the receipt, sweep past the line with your trolley and go right in. You can get your card later and I was told that the receipt was all you needed to start shopping. If you queue for your membership card, expect to wait an hour or so. If the parking situation is too ridiculous (and it IS), park over the road at the Homemaker center (free parking, generally never too full) and be prepared to shlep your stuff back.
2) Be careful with your prices. Sure, there’s all manner of bright shiny things tempting you to load them into the humongous trolleys, but not everything is an amazing bargain. If you know how much you normally pay for stuff, you’ll be able to shop wisely. Meat, for example, has some bargains scattered through it. Twin packs of Lilydale free-range whole chooks were at $5.69/kilo, which is slightly cheaper than the usual $6-7 at Woolies. Whole sirloin was $15.99/kg which is a great price, if you’re able to deal with that much meat (they seemed to be about the 3-4 kilo range each). There were whole pork bellies (and portions) priced at $8.99/kg which isn’t too bad. I noticed, though, that the use-by date on the meat is only a couple of days. Now, I didn’t note if this was a “Sell by” or “Use by” but I’m fairly sure it was a use-by date and there were only two or three days on a lot of stuff, so check carefully and plan accordingly.
3) Wear closed-toe shoes. Seriously, folks, there are a lot of people there who can’t control their trolleys, don’t look where they’re going and simply don’t care if they run over your feet. There’s no dress code but it IS a warehouse with pallets all over the place, so be warned. For this reason, you might want to leave the kids at home. I can see where little Davey or Fatima could easily get squashed under a bucket of mayonnaise or a generator.
4) There are a lot of unfamiliar brands, especially in the food section, but there are also plenty of samples! Employ your sharpest elbows to get said samples. And if all else fails, try something – even the most expensive stuff isn’t actually that expensive so failure won’t be catastrophic. And if you dont’ want to shop hungry, there’s also a tuck-shop/cafe thing right outside the main entrance with plenty of tables and chairs. Popular foods were the hot dogs (giant dispensers of tomato sauce, mustard and raw onion are to the right) and 18″ pizza’s (roughly $3/slice or $15 for the whole), as well as the mixed berry sundaes/frozen yoghurts.
5) It’s pretty much busy all the time, although someone did tell me that late in the evening (from about 6pm onwards) it quietens down. I went at midday and it was packed and I’ve driven past in the early afternoon and it seemed similarly congested. If there is an optimal time, please let me know!!
So, was it worth it? Yes and no. If you generally do one large shopping trip for basics, then yes – you can load up on the usual things. If you want certain items only, it is going to depend on your tolerance for crowds and queues. I went as much for the experience as for the bargains and I certainly got that – people-watching is a favourite pastime and I had plenty to look at (peoples trolleys can certainly be interesting!). Go for a gawk and if you feel that it’s not going to work for you, you can turn in your membership card at any point and have your $60 refunded in full.
NOTE: I’m still suffering from the dreaded lurgy, so if there’s a mistake in the above, please let me know so I can fix it!