Shoppers Give Costco Highest Overall Marks Among Major Retailers

Our pals-in-arms at the Consumer Reports National Research Center recently asked more than 26,000 readers to rate their shopping experiences at the nation’s top retailers — both in-store and online — and in spite of being a members’ only warehouse store, Costco came out looking the best.

Survey respondents told CR about their 55,108 shopping experiences at Costco, JCPenney, Kmart, Kohl’s, Macy’s, Meijer, Sam’s Club, Sears, Target, and Walmart and on those retailers’ websites.

When all the results were tallied, Costco was the only chain to earn an outstanding grade for the overall quality of its merchandise, both at its bricks-and-mortar stores and online.

Costco also earned above-average scores in all 10 product categories, including electronic entertainment, jewelry, and sporting goods.

Costco’s website was lauded by respondents for its layout, product value and its checkout process.

The only real downsides to the retailer’s results came from below average scores for its in-store selection, the long checkout lines. Its stores were also called out for a lack of fitting rooms.

Some other notes from the survey, which is available in the March issue of Consumer Reports and on ConsumerReports.org:

* Not surprisingly, CR readers gave low marks to Target’s revamped website for being not especially easy to use.

* Macy’s was the only chain besides Costco to receive raves for its kitchenware and personal-care products.

* While Sears’ stores and website had similar overall scores, the chain’s online customer service rated lower than its walk-in service.

* Walmart and Kmart stores scored much lower than those of other retailers. Walmart might be associated with low prices, but respondents said the product value was better at Costco and Kohl’s. Kmart was the only chain to score below average for value. Kmart also received low marks for selection, service, and checkout speed.

* 23% of the Walmart shoppers who returned an item to one of its stores the previous year reported at least one problem, significantly more than at any other retailer.

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  1. Dallas_shopper says:

    I actually switched from Costco to Sam’s recently because the service at my Costco isn’t very good and they never seem to have what I want; I also hate how they are constantly switching out brands. The lines are miles long and there are only 3 locations in DFW, all further from me than the two nearest Sam’s.

    It was a no-brainer for me.

    • Cat says:

      I don’t have a choice, it’s 70 miles to Costco, and 2 miles to Sam’s. I do like that I can get a business membership @ Sams for $35 with 2 cards, while Costco wants $55 for one card and if I want a business membership, it’s the same price and still only one card. And I would have to prove I’m a business – at Sam’s, I just told them I’m “Cat Industries”, and done.

      • theblackdog says:

        Really? I could have two regular membership cards on my costco account, but I would have to prove that they’re living with me.

        • who? says:

          Now that I’m thinking about it, I think you’re right. The rules are that the account is for one household. They’ll issue multiple cards, but you have to prove that everybody getting the card is a member of the same household. When my partner moved in with me, she went down to Costco and showed them her newly minted driver’s license with our joint address. She had no trouble getting a new card, with her picture and everything.

          • dyzlexiK says:

            No, it is two total cards per household. One for you, one for the person of your choosing within the same household. If you have multiple cards, you are either grandfathered into a very old contract, or some of your cards are invalid and will not work. Hope im not bursting your bubble :)

      • who? says:

        Interesting. I’m pretty sure we have multiple Costco cards, despite what the rules say. It doesn’t really matter though, because we have the Costco Amex card, which, besides being a really good deal, doubles as the membership card. So the membership cards are all in a drawer somewhere.

        But yeah, 70 miles is just too damn far.

      • dyzlexiK says:

        disclaimer: costco employee.

        All costco memberships provide 2 cards to individuals in the same household over the age of 18. Business membership not required.

    • GearheadGeek says:

      Yet another reason life is better in Fort Worth, I guess. I have no complaints about service or inventory at the Fort Worth Costco, but it is sometimes frustrating that a thing they sold last year (that I didn’t need at the time) isn’t available this year (when I do need it.)

      Basically my coffee pays for the membership, the rest is gravy. It was extra nice that when we were relocating here, they had arrangements with realtors and mortgage lenders and I netted enough from those kickbacks to cover the moving expenses, but they don’t seem to have those programs anymore.

      A few things they sell are cheaply-made Chinese knock-offs, but these days you find similarly shoddy merchandise sold everywhere, so I guess that’s more of a knock on the US market than on Costco specifically.

      • td45 says:

        Hey a Cowtown consumerist reader! I grew up on Sam’s since we didn’t get Costco in FW until maybe 10-15 years ago. The Costco is like half a mile from the Sam’s so location is not a factor. I’ve been to Costco a couple times and it looks nice. I’ve heard all the great things here about them and their return policy. The only reason we haven’t switched is because I’ve had no problems and been satisfied with Sam’s.

    • The Lone Gunman says:

      As a fellow DFW resident, I agree with you–I’d check into Costco, but with so few (and distant from me) locations compared to the easily accessed Sam’s there’s no point.

    • Kate says:

      Um, the whole point of Costco is to switch to whatever is the best deal, you aren’t supposed to be to rely on what they have, and IME their merchandise is far better quality on the whole than Sams which is really only a Walmart.

      But if a short trip is what you want, I really don’t see how that is Costco’s fault.

    • Doc_Stew says:

      try finding organic or gluten free products at Sam’s Club. Costco has far superior products, and is absolutely worth a drive or waiting in line.

      • Dallas_shopper says:

        I buy organic produce elsewhere because the produce at my local Costco is crap. I don’t have celiac disease so I’m not concerned with gluten-free products.

  2. Mr. Fix-It says: "Canadian Bacon is best bacon!" says:

    “Welcome to Costco. I love you.”

    - – – -

    Actually, in the future, I expect internet megaretailers like Amazon to control everything, not Costco.

    • Cat says:

      Actually, in the future, I expect “Welcome to Costco, a division of Amazon.com. I love you.”

    • ScandalMgr says:

      Frito: Yah I know this place pretty good, I went to law school here.
      Pvt. Joe Bowers: In Costco?
      Frito: Yah I couldn’t believe it myself, luckily my dad was an alumnus and pulled some strings.

  3. Rebecca K-S says:

    We’re supposed to be getting a Costco here in about year, and I’m so freaking psyched.

  4. catastrophegirl chooses not to fly says:

    i was just at firestone with my friend getting her car inspected this weekend and they mentioned her tires almost didn’t pass inspection and she should start thinking about new ones.
    i reminded her i have Coscto and the Firestone guy said we should definitely go to costco for tires because their prices on firestone tires are better than any price he can give. coscto can buy in larger bulk than firestone locations [i also found out firestone stores sell firestone tires on commission!] and can undercut the dealer.
    plus the service is superb

    • Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

      I can’t find even a reaosnable deal with Costco tires – they cost way more than other B+M places.

      • Dallas_shopper says:

        This. When I needed new tires, they (Costco) were the most expensive ones around.

      • Kate says:

        Really, Costco prices here are far better than any of the reputable dealers. There are always those tire places which will rip you off but quote you low prices over the phone.

    • lenagainster says:

      The problem I have with Costco tires is that I won’t put anything on my minivan except Michelin and the only Michelins they sell are the X series. I wanted Michelin HydroEdge, the minivan needs them for better traction in the rain, and Costco doesn’t carry them. Found the HydroEdge at a local dealer and got a better deal on them than I would have gotten with Costco’s Michelin X tires even with the $70 off coupon. I like Costco and spend a lot there, but just as their choices of products are limited, so are their choices of tires.

    • alpha-omega says:

      Tirerack.com, I switched from Costco for Tires; 1. Cost 2. No appointment system.

    • maxamus2 says:

      Check out http://www.tirerack.com/ as they always have great prices and you can take them to whatever place you want to have them mounted.

  5. mauispiderweb says:

    If there was a Costco within 1 mile of where I live, I’d be set for life.

    But there isn’t, so I’m not. :(

  6. Coffee says:

    This is completely unsurprising. As a longtime Costco member, I have never had a problem with any facet of their service experience across the board.

  7. HomerSimpson says:

    I chuckled when I saw that Walmart got lower ratings (albeit slight) than Kmart.

    Not surprising…just interesting

  8. lovemypets00 - You'll need to forgive me, my social filter has cracked. says:

    The closest Costco to me is over 1 1/2 hours away in Harrisburg, PA, but I’ve been to the one near my daughter’s home in Maryland twice. I wish I had access to a Costco!

  9. Fubish says: I don't know anything about it, but it seems to me... says:

    Costco products do indeed turn over – what they have today, they may not have in a few months. But… prices are unbeatable, returns are extraordinarily fast and simple, and where else can you buty 5-gallon jugs of soy sauce, 2-liter jars of mustard, 5-gallon buckets of Vlasic pickles, 14-inch fresh baked pies for $8.99, or two pairs of quality eyeglasses (including exams)for less than $100? Also, the lines can be long but even when I get into a very long line, I am usually at the register within 5-10 minutes.

  10. AllanG54 says:

    I’ve been a Costco member since one opened near me in New Jersey in 1995. The one I shop at on Long Island since I moved is supposedly the second busiest in the nation but if I go on a Thursday or Friday night I’m out quite quickly. Even when I go Saturday it’s never more than 15 minutes to the register because they usually have all lanes open.

  11. JP says:

    Wife and I switched from Sam’s to Costco over 10 years ago. In Chicago we have fairly easy access to either. The Sam’s was ‘interesting’ but somewhat depressing–unclean, iffy quality merch. By contrast, Costco is spotless and you see the same people working there year after year. I agree about the frustration in getting hooked on a spiffy product only to see it disappear later, but overall A+.

  12. Coffee says:

    Another nice thing about Costco is the Kirkland brand. They’re Costco’s “generic” brand, but it’s actually usually the same quality as name-brand products, only less expensive. Kirkland TP + dog food will pay your membership fee in a year easy.

  13. eetonaee says:

    Costco is a success story because of consumers like my wife and I.

    Last week we went to Costco to pick up frozen chicken and popcorn.

    We walked out an hour later with a receipt for over $400 and after we got home we realized we forgot to buy the popcorn. I’m too scared to go back for it.

    We

    • webweazel says:

      “I’m too scared to go back for it.”

      hahahahaha That’s right on the money. Those places are WAY too tempting.

      You have to have a specific “shopping ninja” mind-set when you walk in. Make a list. Stick to that list with laser-beam focus. Only walk down the aisles that have those items you need, don’t go up and down every aisle. Keep the wandering eyes to yourself. Move quickly through the store. Leave the significant other who DOES like to browse stores at home. Or park them up at the snack counter. If the likes-to-browse person is hanging along with you and they start to browse, pick up the item you need on the list and leave them in your dust to get the rest of the list done and meet up later. (Since they won’t have the cart, they won’t pick up too much stuff to buy since they would have to carry it all.) Have one specific area in mind where you CAN wander, like baked goods or fresh fruits or books, where you can browse and pick up something interesting. Hit that area after the list is finished on the way out to the registers. Zippo. You’re out the door in 30 minutes and you’ve spent a whole lot less.

  14. Froggmann says:

    Funny how the store that introduced receipt checking is at the top of the list.

    • Coffee says:

      Maybe that’s because in the case of Costco, you opt in to receipt checking when you purchase a membership. It’s in the contract you agree to. In contrast, other stores unilaterally decided to receipt check, whether or not it’s been agreed to.

      • framitz says:

        AND the receipt checkers I’ve dealt at Costco with were not assholes at all, unlike wallwhat’sit’s morons.

  15. SPOON - now with Forkin attitude says:

    Sam’s doesn’t honor their lifetime tire warranty unless you maintain membership in good standing. And if you don’t you have to retroactively pay your membership for any time you didn’t in the past.

  16. Dr. Ned - This underwear is Sofa King Comfortable! says:

    Any store that sells two giant jars of Nutella for 8 bucks is Aces in my book.

  17. maxamus2 says:

    For where I live, Sam’s beats Costco’s hands down. Much easier access, MUCH better selection and, while prices are close, Sam’s always comes out just a tad cheaper.

  18. umbriago says:

    The only criticism I have about Costco’s website is that if you leave a negative rating/comment about a product, it gets taken down. We’ve seen it happen.

  19. jeni1122 says:

    Experience wise, I think Costco is the worst! The do have good prices sometimes and a great return policy, but between the extremely long lines to check out, impossible parking, and the general pain in the assness, I say forget it and just go to a regular store.

    If I can go during non peek hours, then it seems to be okay.

    I find it really hard to believe that the majority of people enjoy going to Costco. They might enjoy the deals, but that is about it.

    • jamar0303 says:

      Love the return policies. Headphones broken? Lost the receipt? No problem. In Japan? No problem. They even refunded me in cash when I originally bought it with a credit card. Win.

  20. framitz says:

    No surprise at all, but is COSTCO a retailer? Not really, it is a membership cooperative, which is not the same thing.

    There are three in my area and my wife knows all three stores very well.

    • HenryES says:

      It’s not a co-op since your membership doesn’t go into their equity. REI is a co-op; their balance sheet includes member’s equity and they pay a patronage dividend based on the co-op’s profitability.

  21. Jules Noctambule says:

    I bought the Costco house brand butter last week and OH MY GOD this is some of the best butter I’ve ever had in America that didn’t come from the nearby dairy. Everything we’ve bought from there has been great, but this butter is off the charts.

  22. tinmanx says:

    The cashiers at the Costco I go to (Brooklyn, NY) are rude. Sometimes I would come across a nice one, but most of the time they just snap at you if you ask them any questions. Where as I’ve never come across a rude Target, Khol’s, Best Buy, Toy’s R Us (I can go on) employee. I say Costco cashiers are at the same level as asian supermarkets.

  23. Major Tom Coming Home says:

    The closest Costco to me is unfortunately 55 miles away, which is unfortunate since I have always heard that they are good. I end up doing most of my shopping at Super Target and BJs warehouse, and stay far away from Wal-Mart and Sams. If I am in the mood for a great bakery, Publix is the only place I will go to. I wonder how BJs would stack up against other warehouse clubs? I’ve sadly never actually been to a Costco.

  24. Chairman-Meow says:

    I was unaware that Costco sold “ready -to-use” kittehs.

  25. romoish says:

    I bought a Costco membership because it fits my lifestyle.

    Huge case of drinks.
    Double pack of large wheat thins.
    Case of individual hummus packs.
    Case of soup.
    Chicken breast by the garbage bag.
    And there’s booze out front.
    Go back 3 months later.