Anna Gragert: Why Costco Is Your Home's Best Friend

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Being Home With Hunker is a podcast where each week we chat with designers, artists, and creatives in the spaces that express and shape their identities: their homes.

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About the Episode

"Costco has a little secret language when it comes to their price tags. So, if you're going through their store and you see a price tag that has an asterisk next to it, that tends to mean it's about to sell out." — Anna Gragert

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On the Being Home With Hunker podcast we have Anna Gragert, Senior Lifestyle Editor at Hunker.

Anna knows a thing or two about Costco. As the senior editor of lifestyle content at Hunker, she's discovered one particular topic that seems to captivate the Hunker audience: it's Costco, everyone's favorite wholesale store. If you happen to be unfamiliar with Costco, this store has food, clothing, furniture, alcohol, electronics, toiletries, gym equipment, books, bikes, plants — you name it, they have it or have had it at some point. And they have it in bulk.

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After the many articles Anna has researched, written, and edited about this store (along with her team of writers), it's safe to say she is an expert on all things Costco.

In this conversation, we discuss the obsession people have with this store, how she and her team identify what's trending at Costco, and the secrets she's learned about how to spot deals and other perks. We also hear about the psychology behind ‌why‌ people spend so much time in Costco. It's fascinating!

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In This Episode We Also Talk About

  • Is a Costco membership is actually worth it?
  • The Costco perks most people probably don't know about.
  • Costco's smart (and sneaky) shopping strategy that gets us to bring home more than we had planned.
  • How to use the Costco app and online coupons for smart shopping.

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More Costco Content You Might Like

Learn More About Anna Gragert

If you want to learn more, read more, discover more about Anna Gragert, visit any of these places:

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Transcript

(Edited for clarity)

Laurie:

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Okay. So why are people so obsessed with Costco?

Anna:

Costco knows what it's doing. Costco is sneaky, they have a plan. So when you walk in, it's the ultimate adult treasure hunt. There's products from floor to ceiling. They don't have aisle signs, they don't have in-store maps, so you're just wandering and you never know what you're going to come across. So they have specifically designed their store and there's actually a really great Wall Street Journal YouTube video on this, where they talk about the economics behind Costco and how the store is laid out so that you're excited to be there.

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Laurie:

Oh my God.

Anna:

You're like, ooh, what am I going to find down this aisle? I don't know, but I'm excited. The other thing that Costco does that is genius is that they put products that are about to go out of stock on sale. So you'll be going through the store, you'll see something on sale and you're going to say to yourself, that's not going to be here next time I'm here. I have to get it right now. It's not on my list. I wasn't thinking I was going to buy this, but I'm getting it because it's on sale. They're masterminds. They know. They know what people want and they know how to get you to buy stuff.

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Laurie:

I find this to be so fascinating, and I totally believe it. I went to Costco last week because I was like, hold on a second. I haven't been to Costco in awhile. Let me check out the magic of Costco. And I spent some cash there and I didn't mean to, but I was like, hmm, there's this coffee, and there's this dog bed and there's this, you name it. And it does feel like there's this surprise factor.

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Anna:

Yeah. You never know. It's also funny because I just went on the website the other day just to get updated on all the things they have and they actually have a tab, a little section called Treasure Hunt. So they know.

They're like, oh yeah, we know you like the treasure hunt that is Costco.

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Laurie:

Did they work with psychologists or people who were studying human behavior? Do you know if they studied that? Or is it just someone is a genius in stocking the store?

Anna:

Honestly, I have no idea. But if they did that without a psychologist and did that on their own, then they are for sure a genius. Because when you have a warehouse, you're like, oh, we're just going to stack things floor to ceiling. And I'm like, did they know when they started out that it was going to be like a treasure hunt? Or did they see along the way that people saw it as a treasure hunt? I don't know. I don't know what the story is there, but all I know is they're sneaky. They're very sneaky.

Laurie:

Do you know if the food is tied into it, meaning the stands where people are selling food, is that tied into like, and we just happen to be standing by something we want you to buy?

Anna:

I think that a lot of people go grocery shopping, at least I do, I would say when I'm hungry. I make the mistake of going on an empty stomach.

Laurie:

That's a bad idea.

Anna:

All the time. Even though I know. So I think that's definitely part of it where they're like, who wouldn't want to shop and eat at the same time? And also they change up their menu items every now and again. So there's this surprise factor there. You might go to Costco one day and then the next day they have a brand new item that you get to try.

And I also think people love their pizzas. I was looking through our data from the past year and Costco Pizza was up there. People love the Costco pizza. It is an American treasure.

Laurie:

Yeah. I want to talk to you about how you and your team identify the trends at Costco, whether it's seasonal or evergreen. Because when the holidays are coming around or the seasons, people seem to get excited about their pumpkin streusel muffins or any of those things that just seem to be maybe just once a year.

Anna:

Yeah. A lot of it has to do with crowdsourcing. There's so many amazing people out there who are dedicated to the Costco lifestyle and they have blogs, they have Reddit threads, they have Instagram accounts. Two of my favorites are @costcobuys and @costcodeals on Instagram. And me and our lovely news editor, Emma, we are just constantly looking at those accounts because these people, it seems like they go to Costco every day and they just let the masses know what's new and exciting. They're like, oh, here's this brand new Halloween hot cocoa bomb. And they'll post about it and we'll go, we'll read through the comments, we'll see if people are excited about it and if they are, we'll cover it. And then we notice the same thing on the site. People are genuinely excited about these things. There's just some angels out there, some Costco angels who are just chronicling everything that comes into the store. It's amazing.

Laurie:

These angels must not mind the parking lot I'm assuming, or maybe not every Costco parking lot is crazy, but some of them are a little crazy.

Anna:

I know. They're patient, they are not afraid to get in there and to get the goods. That's really what they're all about.

Laurie:

Yes. Yes. Well I have to say, when I said I went to Costco, I was like, I just want to see what's going on over there. I went at like 3:40 in the afternoon and it was a good time to go.

Anna:

Oh yeah. Always. If you can take your lunch break and go to Costco, that's the way to do it. Because any other time when people are off of work, it is just madness.

Laurie:

Yeah. Now people go into lunch at Costco though because the food seems to be a thing that people love there, at least a lot of our content, right? The food that's showing up there.

Anna:

Yeah. I think people definitely aren't afraid to go there because again, you can get your lunch while also getting your groceries. That's the genius part of it. They really have covered every part of the cycle. People are going to be hungry when they come here. Let's sell them food while they're buying food.

Laurie:

It's genius.

Anna:

Let's just cover all of our bases.

Laurie:

So you said you were looking at the Costco data from the past year.

Have you discovered which products people seem to be the most interested as far as what people are responding to that we're putting out there on Hunker?

Anna:

Yeah, it runs the gamut. I was honestly surprised. I'm just going to list a few things that I saw just so you can see how bonkers the variety is.

Laurie:

Let's do it.

Anna:

So we had, let's see, strawberry yogurt pretzels, a 48 plant gardening kit. An aesthetic, pretty pink canister of tea, a Japanese barbecue sauce, strawberry shortcake cheesecake. So I feel like, just like Costco itself, I don't think people are really tied to a specific Costco thing, but I will say that like you mentioned, people love the seasonal products. Whoever runs the Costco bakery knows all the pumpkin spice, we see it coming out now and people just get so excited. And then during the spring and summer I noticed that people love the gardening center at Costco. They love all the gardening products, all the deals, all the good stuff. Even for indoor gardeners, Costco has amazing deals.

Laurie:

So this brings me to thinking about how we might see something, whether it's a Hunker article or someone that we're following on Instagram talking about like, there's a new fiddle fig tree at Costco. So this is tied into my question of like, if you could share any secret tips or hacks that you've learned about shopping at Costco, how to find out things are in stock or anything else that you've discovered along the way.

Anna:

Oh my gosh, there are so many. I am like a resource of Costco hacks. Okay. So if you want to make sure that a product is in stock, I know it's old fashioned, not great for people with phone anxiety, but give them a call. Just call your local warehouse and be like, hey, I saw this on Instagram. Do you guys have it? Otherwise you're going to be disappointed if you go and everyone's grabbed it and it's sold out. But I will say that if you do go before making the call and you find that the item you want isn't there, just go to the front desk and say, hey, I want this item. Is it at a nearby warehouse? Can I go somewhere else and get it? And they'll be able to help you.

Laurie:

Very smart.

Anna:

Which is amazing. What else? Ooh, okay. With Black Friday coming up, Costco has this thing where if one of its items goes on sale within 30 days and you bought that item, you can actually bring in your receipt and get a refund for the difference in price that you paid.

Laurie:

Oh, I like this.

Anna:

Yeah. For instance, if you go in like a few days before Black Friday, you buy something, you come in on Black Friday, you see that it's a lower price, just bring them your receipt and they'll refund you the difference. That's amazing.

Laurie:

Brilliant. Yeah. Love this.

Anna:

Something else. From what I've seen now I'm sure it differs from location to location, but Costco has a little secret language when it comes to their price tags. So if you're going through the store and you see a price tag that has an asterisk next to it, that tends to mean it's about to sell out. So you're going to want to grab it right away. You're not going to want to wait.

Laurie:

Oh my god, I love it. Okay.

Anna:

I know, I know. If a price ends in 99 cents, that means it's a normal price. If it ends in 97 cents, that means that it's been marked down and is likely to keep going down in price. So maybe wait a little bit before you get that item.

Laurie:

Okay.

Anna:

If it ends in 69 cents or 89 cents, they both symbolize that the price is a special offer from the manufacturing company and that it is going to be the best deal you are going to get across all the retailers.

So when you're there, look at those prices and be like, hmm, what are they trying to tell me about this?

Laurie:

Oh my God, I love it so much.

Anna:

I know.

Laurie:

And then speaking of the tips and such, what have you discovered about Costco memberships? Because I know that we covered something at Hunker. Are they actually worth it? And the answer is?

Anna:

It depends.

Laurie:

Ooh, okay. Go on.

Anna:

I know. Our amazing writer, Kirsten Nunez, wrote up this piece going through the pros, the cons, the perks, what all the memberships, the different levels entail and all of that stuff. And I was hoping for just like, yes, it's always worth it, but it really depends on your lifestyle. If you have a large family and a house with plenty of storage to store bulk items, yeah. A membership's going to be great for you. Also, if you live near a Costco and you are going to be going there all the time anyway, or if you actually plan on using the perks, which we can talk about later, then definitely yeah, grab that membership. But if you're living alone or just two people to a household and you don't have any storage space, you live far away from a Costco, then yeah, it's probably not going to be worth it for you. But if the stars align and you have that storage space, why not fill it with all the good bulk goods that you can get?

Laurie:

Yeah. Now, I didn't realize that you don't have to have a membership to shop at Costco.

Anna:

No. You can get a gift card.

Laurie:

I had no idea.

Anna:

I know. I know. It's so genius and that's honestly a great gift. If someone doesn't have a membership but they are interested in things at Costco, get them a gift card.

Laurie:

I love it.

Anna:

Give them the gift of a Costco shopping trip.

Laurie:

I always thought it was like this secret club I was going into and you show your card or else you'll be turned away. But no.

Anna:

I know. I don't think you need a gift card if you want to just go in and grab, like, a bottle of alcohol. That might be different for different locations. But if you're on your way to a party and you want to bring a hostess gift, just drop by and I think they'll let you in. And you can get that special bottle.

Laurie:

I love it. Now you brought up perks. The perks of a membership. What are the perks? Why would we want this membership?

Anna:

There are so many reasons.

First of all, Costco has a program called Costco Travel. They offer deals on hotels, cruises, rental cars. They offer vacation bundles. So you want to go on a trip? Use that perk. They also offer free tech support, which is something that I thought was really interesting. So if you buy any sort of electronic from Costco and you're having issues with it, you can call them seven days a week and they will help you out.

Laurie:

That's cool.

Anna:

So don't be afraid to buy your next computer at Costco. Yeah. They also have an auto program that allows you to buy a car, lease a car, get a used one, you can get an RV, you can get deals on parts and services.

Laurie:

Oh my God.

Anna:

So they're covering all their bases here.

Laurie:

Yeah.

Anna:

With cars, they also have auto insurance and home insurance. So they partnered with this company, I think it's called American Family Insurance. And they have this brand, I guess you could call it, called Connect. And they provide you with home and auto insurance deals. And if you're an executive member, it's basically like AAA, you can get roadside assistance, they'll help prepare like your glass, if you get locked out of your home, they'll come and help. And then probably the most timely thing is the Costco gas station.

Because again, depends on where you live, depends on the location. But they often have really great prices that are cheaper than other gas stations in the area. And you can actually see these prices online. So if you go to the Costco website and you search, find a nearby warehouse, they have a little gas station fuel icon next to the warehouses. And if you click on it, they'll tell you the exact prices. So great for budgeting. And another thing where you don't have to go and be disappointed, you can check online before you go and be like, oh, this is actually a great price. I'm going to drive over to the Costco gas station right now.

Laurie:

That is very cool.

Anna:

They have everything.

Laurie:

Do you think that a lot of people are shopping online at Costco? Or are they mostly going in?

Anna:

I think it's a good mix, honestly. But I will say that I feel like when you go into a Costco, there's more. There's more for you to find. You'll find those special deals or those new items. And you'll get the full treasure hunt experience. I noticed that online it feels a little less. There's less retail, less excitement there.

Laurie:

Right.

Anna:

But, yeah, I would say I think that shopping in store is where it's at when it comes to Costco.

Laurie:

Yeah. Especially if you want that treasure hunt experience.

Anna:

I know. It's all about that thrill, right?

Laurie:

Yeah. Okay. So are there any other secrets or tips or hacks or things that you're like, oh man, if people just knew this one thing about Costco, what would it be?

Anna:

The app. The app. People love the Costco app. And it's a great resource for so many reasons, because I truly believe that if you're going to go to Costco and you want to restrain yourself, you need to come prepared. Knowledge is power. So come with a list which you can make on the Costco app. You can also see all the deals on the app. And speaking of deals, I would highly recommend either subscribing to Costco's email list or just checking their online coupon book before going into the store. Come armed with all those deals, keep them in your brain when you're shopping. That way you're not going over budget or anything like that. Yeah, I would say get the app. If you're at Costco very often, why not get the app? And come armed with all the Costco research and knowledge that you can. I think also the coupon book.

Laurie:

Now, can you get the coupons through the app or is it only you go online and you get this coupon book?

Anna:

You can get them on the app. I think they have a little tab for deals so you can see them there. You can also, they have them on their website. I think it's just like today's deals or coupon book or something like that. Or if you search Costco coupon book, it'll come right up. And then if you don't even want to think about it, just subscribe to their email and they'll send you the coupons directly to your inbox. It's that easy.

Laurie:

Now, something that popped into my mind was thinking about the holidays coming up. We're in holiday season. How soon do they have their seasonal things out? How far in advance?

Anna:

So‌ far in advance.

Laurie:

They do, don't they?

Anna:

I feel like in late July maybe, I started seeing things for fall, for Halloween. They have their Halloween stuff coming out. I feel like if you go through those Instagram accounts that I mentioned earlier, you'll see all the bats and pumpkins and spookiness. Costco is prepared.

Laurie:

They are.

Anna:

It's almost funny. Yeah. It's almost as if the season starts earlier than it does. Just, you go into Costco and you're like wait.

Laurie:

Yeah. In August, they have reindeer and Christmas lights and all of that stuff.

Anna:

You go into Costco and you forget what month it is. It's like, what?

Laurie:

Yeah, this is true.

Anna:

What year are we in? What season is it? But I respect it because I love being prepared. And that clearly they do too. They're like, you know what? It's summertime. If you want to get your Halloween decorations ready, by all means, come on in.

Laurie:

Why not? Let's do it. It's all about being prepared there.

Anna:

Every aspect of Costco is about being prepared and coming ready for all the things.

Laurie:

You're doing a good service there, Anna. Bring in the Costco magic .

Anna:

Thank you so much.

I love it too. I love it. Honestly I don't get tired of it, weirdly. I thought I would, when I started covering it, I was like, oh, this is a long road I see myself going down. This is going to be a long journey. But I get excited. I get excited too and then I read the comments and people are tagging their friends and their kids and their family members. And it's just this really cute community of people who get really excited about Costco things, and why not in a world that can be so tough and difficult. Cling to those little things. Cling to Costco.

Laurie:

Cling to a little treasure hunt shopping trip.

Anna:

Yeah. Yeah. If you're having a bad day, just go to Costco and open your mind and let it wander.

Laurie:

Exactly. I love it.

About the Podcast

Being Home With Hunkeris a new podcast where we explore the idea of "home" – not just as a place where you live, but as an expression of your identity. Each week we talk with designers, creatives, and artists about who they are, how they create meaningful spaces, and what "being home" means to them.

If you like what you hear, please rate and review the podcast, hit subscribe/follow, and share with a friend. When it comes to podcasts word of mouth is how most people will find the show. It really does help. VisitHunker.com/podcastwhere you can find, follow, and listen to our show.

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