Costco’s Looking Out For You

I was so pleased with myself. I felt I had really gotten through. I’d spent a long time writing my letter explaining things. I thought the phone call went well too. But, it was his last remark that stayed with me. Now I wonder…

I live in Ann Arbor. A little over a year ago, Costco built a new store on the southwest side of town. My husband, Michael, and I decided to join. We like Costco because of their products, prices and friendly service.

Once a week, we stop for gas and then go into the store to do some shopping. We have their Gold Star or basic card. One Saturday, near our renewal date, we stopped by the front desk to see if we’d save more money by upgrading to their Executive Membership. The manager in charge was very helpful. He asked us a few questions: How many people in your household? Did you mostly buy gas or food?

Since we are only two people, and considering that gasoline makes up a great percentage of our purchases, we wouldn’t save more money if we upgraded. The regular card was our best bet. We appreciated his helpfulness and honesty.

The following week, when we were checking out, the cashier asked me if we’d like to upgrade our membership. I told her, “Thank you. No.”

She told me we were missing out. With the money we were spending at Costco, we’d get money back at the end of the year if we upgraded. She was “only looking out for our best interest”.

I repeated, “Thank you. No.”

She started in a third time. I thought a little explanation might help. I said we’d already consulted with the person in charge of the membership desk and, in our case, we wouldn’t be getting money back. (At Costco you don’t get money back based on what you pay for gas.)

Michael and I discussed this interchange as we were leaving. Neither of us liked the way she continued to push after I’d told her “no” the first time, let alone having to repeat no three times. We especially noted her remark that she, who didn’t know us, needed to be looking out for our best interests. It seemed a little arrogant.

The following week, after getting gas, we were back in the store shopping. This time a different cashier started in. The only difference from last week was: She was louder, more aggressive if possible, it was crowded, and people on both sides of us as well as behind were listening.  I must have said, “No, thank you” at least six times.

She persisted:

“You really should upgrade your membership. I’m only trying to help you.”

“You don’t understand. I’m looking out for your best interest. Believe me.”

“If you don’t want to upgrade with me, you need to do it at the membership desk. You’ll save lots of money. I know. I can tell by looking at your account here on the screen.”

I swiped our card, got our receipt and we walked toward the exit. She was still talking.

What, we asked each other, did she read on that screen that she felt entitled her to continue harassing us after we’d said “no”?  What did she know about our best interests? She was a stranger.

We concluded, the screen must have said something like this:

“Look at this couple. They’re over 65. Therefore they’re stupid. Everyone knows, as you get older you get stupider and stupider. They don’t know what’s best for them. It’s your duty to save them from themselves. You know what’s best for them. Even though you’ve never met them before or checked out their financial situation, you know how they should spend their money. You can recognize a good deal when you see it. If they resist upgrading, that’s proof of how really stupid they are. It’s your duty to look out for them. Obviously they can’t look out for themselves. You’re only doing this for their own good. You have their best interests at heart.”

We were horrified to think that we’d have to go through this experience every time we checked out. We decided, maybe a letter to the manager of the Ann Arbor Costco store might help.

I sat down to write the letter as soon as we got home. I began by relating several positive customer service experiences we’d had at Costco. I included the anecdote about the front desk manager helping us decide that the Executive Membership wasn’t for us.

I then related the stories about the two cashiers. I wrote what we thought the screen might have said that caused them to act like that.

I asked that whatever the screen actually did say that caused the cashiers to act this way be deleted. The next time we came to Costco, we wanted to have a pleasant experience.

I gave my identifying information and asked the manager to phone.

Two mornings later one of the Costco managers called. We chatted for about five minutes about the letter. He apologized and said he was sorry for our experience. He would talk with the cashiers. He didn’t know what caused them to act that way but he would look into it. He wanted to keep us as Costco customers and to have a good experience when we came to the store.

I thought, “Wow! This is really going well. He’s listening. He’s going to do something. Our next experience should be fine. I must have explained things really clearly.”

Then the manager concluded by saying something along the lines of, “I want you to know that at Costco we’re always looking out for our customers’ best interests.”

Now, I wonder, did I really make my point? Or, maybe not…


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    • Claire Murray on December 7, 2014 at 10:08 pm
    • Reply

    Thanks, Kelly. Good suggestion.

    • Kelly Bixby on December 7, 2014 at 4:49 pm
    • Reply

    Claire, your piece resonates with a lot of people. Nice article and timely too, with all the shopping going on during these holidays. Maybe you could try #shopping or #deals on Twitter. There must be many who could benefit by upgrading their memberships! Someone has to let them know…

    • Claire Murray on November 23, 2014 at 6:25 pm
    • Reply

    Thanks! I’d like for more people to see it on Twitter. Do you have any ideas of hashtags that might work?

    • Sue Remisiewicz on November 23, 2014 at 4:49 pm
    • Reply

    Very funny, Claire! Not many people would follow up with a letter like you did. Glad you got a response.

    • Yibbity on November 23, 2014 at 7:29 am
    • Reply

    Now that was funny. Just get the card, so they stop harassing you.

      • Claire Murray on November 23, 2014 at 12:31 pm
      • Reply

      Glad you enjoyed it.

    • Book Lover on November 22, 2014 at 10:15 am
    • Reply

    Claire, your paragraph on what the screen might have said is hilarious. There are times when I feel the clerks do treat seniors like they’re “stupid.” Good story.

      • Claire Murray on November 22, 2014 at 12:36 pm
      • Reply

      Thanks! I’m glad to know it’s not just Michael and I but other people are experiencing this also.

  1. Funny. Thanks for the laugh with my morning coffee!

      • Claire Murray on November 22, 2014 at 12:35 pm
      • Reply

      You’re welcome. I was wondering if you had any ideas on hashtags I could use with this article? I’d like to get more people and possibly, even Costco, to notice. Thanks!

    • Kook-Wha Koh on November 21, 2014 at 11:26 pm
    • Reply

    It was an interesting experience you had.
    Most of our groceries are from Costco; fruits, milk and others.

      • Claire Murray on November 22, 2014 at 12:32 pm
      • Reply

      Thank you. I’m hoping someone from Costco will see this. If you know of any tags I could use on Twitter, please let me know. Thanks for commenting.

  2. There was a time when people seemed to understand what “treat the customer with courtesy” meant. Now the customer seems to be just another commodity. Have you sent a copy of this to Costco?

      • Claire Murray on November 22, 2014 at 12:31 pm
      • Reply

      Other than the original letter I sent to Costco, I haven’t sent anything else yet. I’m trying to think of some tag so people will see it on Twitter. Do you have any suggestions? Thanks!

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