I agree completely about how offensive it is for them to check the carts as you exit. Stupid, really, we have lots of staples and it would be very easy to tuck a couple of high value items in the stack. How can the search be effective?
The only plus -- it gives two people a job. And, I thought that was a "benefit" for us folks in New Jersey, given the neighborhood. Interesting that they do it elsewhere.
We've been members since 1988 -- we still call it the Price Club -- and have learned about a few real benefits:
-- The online store is well worth checking out. It's irritating that they don't list what's in the stores, frankly, these items are available only online. The shopping bots don't seem to pick up Costco items, but savings can be remarkable. For example, our backup generator for the koi tank was $250 less from Costco than from any other source I found -- on a $700 item that's a real deal.
-- They have an unexpectedly wide range of products online -- I see a $150,000 diamond for example if you are in the market. Their jewelry is worth checking out -- simple settings but very good stones and knowledgeable staff.
-- Gasoline is consistently sold as a loss leader -- Costco almost always shows up in the lowest two or three sources on the retailer comparison sites. If you in the neighborhood, it pays to fill up.
-- Prescription drugs are almost always a bargain -- the LA Times did a study in April showing that Costco beat Schedule D prices across the boards.
-- But -- it is very important to shop carefully and know competitve prices. Their unit pricing is very good, so you can easily determine whether the prices are a deal or not. They do not have the same discounts across the boards.
-- Costco consistently ranks highly on returns -- we've tested them on a printer and a several other items over the years -- they always took stuff back -- no questions asked. Consumers Reports found the same thing for electronic products: "Costco has the best return policy of the retailers in Consumer Reports’ survey. Costco takes back virtually anything, anytime. The return policy for computers is six months."
All in all, a useful resource -- but certainly not an end all.
PS: I enjoy reading blogs and the financial papers about savings at Costco -- here's a pretty good sampler:
http://www.tonyspencer.com/mt/archives/ ... sale_c.htm