Is it possible to go to Costco without wondering: Is this really worth it? The crowds, the Zipcar to Third Avenue and 38th Street, the existential despair of seeing your future in jumbo-sized cereal boxes, the inevitable 12-pound bag of frozen salmon filets you’ll never get through, the paradox of spending more to make sure you get your $50 membership’s worth.
That annual fee, of course, is the biggest question of all. Brooklyn College finance professor Charles Stone estimates that Costco prices have traditionally been roughly 10 percent less than average retail, which means you’d have to spend at least $500 a year to make your $50 back. For some people, that’s not hard to do, what with all the crap they wind up buying while they’re there.
But it just so happens that Target has rolled out a new line of “value basics” called Up & Up, which seems like a direct strike against Costco’s store brand, Kirkland. How do the two compare? In the name of solving the Costco question once and for all (ha ha), we decided to do a budget-brand smashup, comparing various items from each retailer’s Brooklyn store. (Our study didn’t compare quality, only the prices.)
The results? In four of the seven categories we tested, Costco’s Kirkland was cheaper, but only by pennies, aside from the $2.36/100 difference in kitchen garbage bags. A bigger surprise was that in three instances—laundry detergent, paper towels, and diapers—Target’s prices were actually less, with diapers coming in at a whopping $4.49/100 under Costco’s (and cuter too with polka dots). Here’s the breakdown, with each round’s winner in orange:
Up & Up (Target) vs. Kirkland (Costco)
Size 3 diapers
Target $13.99 for 96 ($14.54 for 100)
Costco $39.59 for 208 ($19.03 for 100)
Target $3.75 for 500 (75 cents for 100)
Costco $8.99 for 1320 (68 cents for 100)
Kitchen garbage bags
Target $6.04 for 80 ($7.55 for 100)
Costco $10.39 for 200 ($5.19 for 100)
Target $10.99 for 150 oz ($2.34 a quart)
Costco $13.49 for 170 oz ($2.54 a quart)
Target $2.94 for 75 oz (63 cents a pound)
Costco $8.99 for 250 oz (57 cents a pound)
Target $13.49 for 24 rolls (56 cents a roll)
Costco $18.99 for 36 rolls (53 cents a roll)
Target $9.99 for 8 rolls ($1.25 a roll)
Costco $16.99 for 12 rolls ($1.42 a roll)
Total (in unit prices)
And that doesn’t even count the $50 fee you owe Costco for the privilege of paying more. So for household staples, it’s down with Costco, up & up with Target. And while we’re at it, down with salmon filets and groady crudité platters, up with Anna Sui dresses! Unless you actually like shopping at Costco, and are satisfied with the thrill of thinking you’re getting a bargain when you’re actually not. In which case… bon appétit!