Costco vs. Target in Brooklyn: a smackdown

Costco photo by Gene Jackson.
Costco photo by Gene Jackson.

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? Picture 70In 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
$13.99 for 96 ($14.54 for 100)
Costco $39.59 for 208 ($19.03 for 100)

$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)

Laundry detergent
$10.99 for 150 oz ($2.34 a quart)
Costco $13.49 for 170 oz ($2.54 a quart)

Dishwashing detergent
Target $2.94 for 75 oz (63 cents a pound)
Costco $8.99 for 250 oz (57 cents a pound)

Toilet paper
$13.49 for 24 rolls (56 cents a roll)
Costco $18.99 for 36 rolls (53 cents a roll)

Paper towels
Target $9.99 for 8 rolls ($1.25 a roll)
Costco $16.99 for 12 rolls ($1.42 a roll)

Total (in unit prices)
Target $27.62
Costco $29.96

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!


  1. Appreciate your work on this, good to know. Having said that, I’ll trade those pennies in savings for the much, much better customer service at CostCo, not to mention their extremely generous return policy. Going to Costco is actually fun. Going to Target is a nightmare. And yeah, spending $500 in a year at Costco? I’ll do that in a couple months.

  2. this is retarded. if you factor out the diapers, then the price comparison swings back to costco by the same margin is loses to target with the diapers factored in. stooooooooopid

  3. Kevin

    There is also a great selection at Costco and the membership fee is not a dealbreaker if you split it with a roommate (as you can have two individuals on a membership).

  4. Eileen

    The target at Flatbush and Ave H is a big improvement over Atlantic Center–spacious, decent customer service, and much less crowded. It’s right off the 2/5 train and not as far away as you think.

  5. tyler

    Eileen! Don’t tell people about the Target at the Junction in Flatbush! It needs to be kept our little secret — and keep all of the Park Slope and Fort Greene types up north!

  6. Donna

    Target hardly ever has anything in stock. I can’t tell you how many times I have gone there (first at atlantic center and now at the junction) thinking–surely they’ll have [sheets, socks, a winter hat for my child, a bathing suit for my other child….] and they don’t have the right size or whatever. I have come to DESPISE those stores. I always vow never to go again then I forget. Maybe if you’re shopping for groceries at Target it’s a different story (they probably don’t run out of chips or paper towels–one size fits all after all), but can you even bring a shopping cart to your car at Target? I don’t think so. How can you lug heavy groceries around without? Also factor in that the people who work at Costco are actually helpful and intelligent. NOt so at Target. Dumb and mean, more like it.

  7. Augie

    Costco’s produce is really fresh and great prices. Also politically a better fit for BK – decent wages to employees and low CEO salary, where Target has been a big GOP donor. Although not convenient for most who want to sleep in, but I go at 9:30am on Saturday’s to avoid the crowds.

  8. Carol

    Let us not forget that Costco, according to a recent New York Times article on catastrophes in meat control, reportedly has exemplary standards for checking their meat for ecolli. Now, how to spell that?

  9. Ferra

    Both prices would probably be bested by a sale (on equivalent brand-name products) in Rite Aid, Pathmark, wherever. That’s almost always been the case with warehouse stores. For example, I’ve often purchased at a 12-pack of Scott toilet paper for $5.99 at Rite Aid or Key Food, sometimes even for $4.99, and Scott occasionally runs coupons so the cost was even less. READ THOSE CIRCULARS (you can do it online if they’re not delivered to your home). All the stuff mentioned here, plus most other toiletries, are nonperishable so buy the stuff when it’s on sale, not waiting until the moment you need it. There’s usually one brand or another of many such products on sale every week at these stores. I think warehouse stores are good for “catering” for a casual party (i.e., buying party platters) and maybe some electronics but you can almost always do better on regular grocery & household item prices shopping with sales & coupons at other stores. Target sometimes has good sales on these things too. And of course no membership fee.

  10. The disclaimer that quality is not taken into account is huge. Costco is not a Discount operation, if you want CHEAP, go to the Dollar store. Costco brings Value and Quality together so its members get the best possbile product for the best possible price. Of the items analyzed, it would be eaasy to be cheaper by reducing the quality of the products, so if you want cheap, you get cheap, but you better change the diapers more often, or wash the clothes twice to get them as clean, etc. Quality AND Value.

  11. I recently went to the Target at Atlantic Center and it was enough to make me swear off 75 cent gloves forever. The one at Nostrand Junction or whatever it’s called is so much better it’s not even like shopping at the same store.

  12. AshAtl

    Gas is consistently at least $0.15/gal cheaper at our Costco, and it’s right near where I work. If I fill up my tiny tank at 10 gal./week, I’m making back my $50 membership fee. Add to that fact that my boyfriend and I share an account, and the savings are doubled. Also, I’ve shopped around for a prescription I have to pay full price for (insurance won’t cover it). Costco has it $20 cheaper for a 30 day supply than anywhere else. I make back the membership fee in 2 and a half months. The key is to buy what makes sense at Costco, and save the other purchases for another store. No one store is always the cheapest. Even the cleaning supplies at the dollar store can usually be found at Target for 99 cents.

  13. I make up more than the $50 a year on milk alone. Where I live, Costco charges $1.90/gal for milk and I’ve never seen Target or anywhere else dip much below $2.90…a gallon a week of milk is already a $52/year savings. Then there’s their coffee; 3 lbs. for $12 and delicious (and I’m a pretty big coffee snob). Target’s coffee selection is abysmal and I’ve never seen any bags come anywhere close to $4/lb. Their meat is consistently $3/lb and high quality, their bulk rate grains are ridiculously cheap, and there’s lots more. For those who workout, they have 6 lbs. of whey protein for $30, the best price I’ve seen anywhere on the Internet for that matter.

    So yeah, I’m not switching from Costco anytime soon.

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