Costco Samples and Bulk Purchases = Feeding Frenzy and Impulse Purchases

Love it or hate it, Costco has become a phenomenon in many ways. A big warehouse filled with produce, dry goods, and frozen food. And that’s just the beginning. You can get books, clothes, computers…and even glasses when you visit these stores.

I just yesterday visited a local Costco on it’s very first day in business, basically it’s grand opening to the public. Now, it wasn’t my first trip to a Costco; I had visited several other stores multiple times. In fact, I was once a member. This time, I visited the new store with my father.

This particular experience was especially interesting, due to the opening of a new Costco location. The place was absolutely packed. There were shopping cart traffic jams everywhere, as people tried to make their way through the store. Picking up bits of conversation along the way, it was clear that there were some first-time Costco shoppers there.

Along the way, I had two major observations:

1) Many people go absolutely hog wild over the samples.

While of course most people were civil and normal, there were some people who were swarming over the sample tables like hungry wild animals going after raw meat. I don’t know if these people were new to Costco, or were there partially (primarily?) for the samples, but they went nuts. I saw a few adults walking briskly, almost at a jog, to get to the next booth of goodies.

There were tables with chips and salsa, cookies, bread and olive oil, pizza, meatballs, chicken, Korean beef and rice, prosciutto, coffee, cranberry juice….you get the idea. Lots of stuff.

One woman and her daughter rushed over to a booth where they were handing out shrimp, only to be told that they were out. The mother’s reaction was: “You’re OUT! Awwww….!” It reminded me of seeing a little kid get disappointed that she couldn’t find a toy at a store.

I was at another station where they were cooking chicken, in preparation for putting sample pieces in these little paper cups with a plastic spoon. I stopped there too, and paused to look at the others waiting. There were probably 8 to 10 people there, all staring at the lady prepping the food. Their eyes seemed glazed over as they just waited for the food to be ready. They looked like zombies. I quickly realized that I was one of them if I stuck around, so I grabbed my cart and moved elsewhere.

Getting free stuff really brings out interesting behavior in people. Those of you who are regular readers probably know that I get a kick out of such observations, as seen in the Squirreling Gone Wild series.

2) Impulse purchase opportunities abound

There are so many things that one sees at Costco that you just won’t expect. Whether it’s “specialty” products (such as seasoned quinoa/rice packs), or regular products (such as tortilla chips) at low prices, it’s easy to get carried away when you go to the warehouse.

I once couple carrying 5 or 6 giant bags of the aforementioned tortilla chips. It made me wonder: just how many chips are they going to eat? Maybe it was for family that would be visiting over the holidays. Who knows?

Anyway, I think shoppers at Costco need to be careful with such purchases. It’s easy to get carried away and buy more than you really need, just because the per-unit cost is low. This can actually be costly, if perishable food is purchased. For example, I saw an absolutely enormous tub of yogurt for sale. Unless one has a large family, or eats mind-boggling amounts of yogurt, some of that is at risk for spoiling.

So, how did we do at Costco?

Well, the good news is that we walked out of there with just a few purchases. Bought a big tray blackberries, a 12-pack of single-serve Greek-style yogurt, and a small toy for my daughter. And that’s it. Impulse purchases were successfully controlled, except for that toy for her. Really, I just wanted to check out the new store, and I came out of there unscathed.

As far as the samples go….well, let’s just say that I walked in a little bit hungry, and I walked out with no hunger at all:) Yes, I had good intentions of not having any food there, but gave in to a cup of salted, mixed nuts. Then some pasta. Then a sample of pizza.  Then….well, you get the idea. There was a little bit of “Squirreling” going on. I almost became one of those people but hey, I was civil and polite about it.

In other words, I wasn’t like the ravenous wild animals I described earlier. Maybe you could say I was like a hungry, domesticated pet instead:)

So, do you ever shop at Costco? How do you approach your shopping experience there, or at other warehouse stores for that matter? Please feel free to share stories and even advice.


  1. says

    I went into Costco for the first time in years earlier this week. I was visiting my brother and he wanted to get a Sonicare toothbrush. We went to Costco and ended up with 3 DiGiorno pizzas, almond, Cheerios, 2 bottle of red wine (that was me smooching), Indian roti, and a few other things. He didn’t get the Sonicare because he wanted to wait for Black Friday deals.
    It is very difficult to control your impulse when you see a bottle of Malbec (90 points!) for $7. I don’t know what 90 really means, but that’s an A in school. There are tons of good deals in Costco and I have a very hard time saying no to good deals. This is why I don’t have Costco membership. We would spend a bunch of money every time we go there.

  2. Sarah L says

    I belong to Costco and go once a month. I will allow myself to get one thing not on my list if it’s something I’ll eat/use and a good price. Very often it’s an item that I’ve sampled. I go around 4pm and hit all the samples for my dinner. I am very polite.

  3. says

    I try hard, but it’s a hundred dollar bill every visit to Sam’s club (we don’t have Costco), although we limit ourselves to occasional visits for specific items that are the best value. Bulk tomato sauce, Kraft parmesan cheese, certain clothes items for myself, and good cheese. Other than that, regular grocery stores are better options. And yes, sometimes those snack stands are hard to resist.

  4. says

    We have a Sam’s Club and I’ve become very careful when I shop there. I stick to my list and I keep moving. It kinda pisses me off because they have this ‘air’ that you are getting the best prices but some items (like alcohol) is way more expensive then other stores in our area.

  5. says

    Oh, Costco. I personally love the spinach dip they have, which I first tried in a sample (or, honestly, about four samples in the same trip). Yum.

    I got a membership for our wedding (which paid itself off in the sodas alone), and then we shopped there the rest of the year. My husband LOVES getting deals, adn the first time in Costco, he was like a kid in a candy shop. We are still using up the yellow legal pads from three years ago….

    Now, we have a list of things that are cheaper at Costco, and generally are able to stay to the list. For us, once the novelty wore off, it’s not tough staying to our list. The samples, though… I try to go when I’m hungry and use it to replace lunch. That way I don’t feel as guilty!

  6. says

    I go to Costco to buy supplies for work. And yes, I am one of those hungry animals hovering over sample tables. I love samples! Other than that I try to be really careful wtih Costco because money slip through my fingures there really fast. Also, I notices that quality of some stuff (dog toys, for example) is not the best. Prices might be good… for those who have big families.

  7. says

    We only shop there when we get gift cards. The few times we’ve gone, we feel like Alicia Silverstone in Clueless when they accidentally pull onto the freeway. Too much noise! Too many people! What if we get run over?

    But one time we went on a Sunday morning right after they opened, and it wasn’t so bad. But I’m thinking it won’t be a habit. :)

  8. says

    I had a post about my aversion to Costco awhile ago, and I still don’t shop there. I always felt bad for those poor people making the samples as people stare at her like a hawk.

    I can understand the mass chip buying. I personally buy a ton of chips when they are on sale because the 3 males in my house eat chips and salsa constantly. When they are cheap, I stock up!

    Good for you for controlling the urge to spend!

    • Squirrelers says

      @everydaytips – Costco isn’t for everyone, no doubt. Perhaps if I start going there often again, after this long hiatus, I might move down that path too. Who knows? The samples were tasty, though I left the hawk-staring bunch to enjoy that one for themselves!

  9. says

    We are a big Costco shopper as well and have taken advantage of the big savings that comes with bulk buying. What I love as well is the fact that they also provide coupons and instant manufacturer’s rebate. Yap, I would also agree that sometimes I may have fallen into the impulse buying as well especially when my wife browses from aisle to aisle.

  10. says

    I just recently went to costco with my friend and spent $35 on cheese and hummus lol. I never shopped at costco growing up, and always thought of it as this elusive club, where members pay. (which it is).

    I had a costco membership 2 years ago and let it expire, because I always felt that I would spend wayyy too much on groceries (e.g. $75 each trip), but I guess if you go in there with a list, and stick to the items you just want to buy and not deviate, then they do have cheaper prices for things- like cheese and meat.

    • Squirrelers says

      @youngandthrifty – that’s the key, going in with an idea of what it is you want. Thing is, for many of us, Costco tends to surprise us with interesting things at seemingly low prices. It’s a challenge for many to stay strong and resist the Costco siren song:) But, it can be done….I think I did a decent job of that in my most recent visit. Mind over matter, and go on a full stomach!

  11. says

    We go to BJ’s which is very similar to Costco. I feel bad for everyone who impulses buys to save money on things they don’t really need. Costco has a very interesting market and I’m sure makes a killing from people buying bulk.

    We always come with a list and only buy what’s on the list…usually things we only need in bulk. For everything smaller we just go to the supermarket. Do I really need a 12 year supply of season salt even if I save a buck? Probably not.

  12. ArielSt says

    I didn’t want a Costco membership just because of my lack of impulse control. Our membership was a gift from friends while I was pregnant. Turns out I’m still not good at impulse control, but I set myself a few rules for Costco shopping.
    1. Only buy non-perishables. If I can freeze it or pantry it then it’s worth buying a lot at a good discount.
    2. Go in with a plan, and avoid the areas I don’t need. If I am there for the ginormous box of Huggies and razor blades I don’t go anywhere near the books and clothes.
    3. If I can make one trip to supply myself with an item for a year it’s worth it. One box of trash bags, Ziplocs, razors, toothpaste, etc. and don’t have to worry about it till next year.
    4. Check the coupons they send each month before planning a trip to Costco. $9 off diapers is nothing to sneer at when they are cheaper there to start with, especially if I find another coupon or two that are applicable to my needs for the same trip out there.

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