Why does Costco always close so early?
March 22, 2011 6:35 PM   Subscribe

Why does Costco have such inconvenient hours?

Taking into account various factors (finding parking, the crowds, the enormous size of the warehouse, the amount of seasonal merchandise available, etc), I need at least two hours for a good Costco run. I work 9:30AM-6PM and am usually home by 7PM. Needless to say, the hours at my local Costco just don't cut it for me. Weekends are such a madhouse for the free food samples, I gave up on weekend Costco runs a long time ago. I don't understand - in this day and age with so many people working longer or unconventional hours, why does Costco persist in closing (relatively) early? Is it related to their fair labor practices? Help maintain profits?
posted by invisible ink to Shopping (12 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
because they make more than enough to be profitable in the hours they are open and don't feel that the extra cost of staying open later will justify the profits they might make during extended hours. for a company the size of costco, someone who makes a lot of money came up with open/close times based upon factors like that.

i also think that the warehouse sort of shopping centers (costco, sam's club) have a lot of psychological tricks up their sleeves to encourage you to spend as much money as you can (without discouraging you from repeat business). i would bet their per customer numbers are actually higher on weekends because of the madhouse - people have less space and time to just consider if they really need 100 rolls of toilet paper. more often than not, they just throw it in the cart.
posted by nadawi at 6:43 PM on March 22, 2011

I suspect it has something to do with the fact that they're not really a 'retail' store, as such. Certainly in their early days I think it was assumed the average shopper there was a business owner or employee on an officially-sanctioned expedition during the work day.

But they're not a lot different than many other businesses. Most auto mechanics work 8-5, which is genuinely inconvenient if you rely on your car AND work.

(I will agree that the free-food-sample-munchers fill me with shopping rage, and I generally only go during the mid-day when in theory it's not too bad.)
posted by maxwelton at 6:48 PM on March 22, 2011 [2 favorites]

maxwelton beat me to it: given that CostCo is structurally a wholesale supplier with a loose membership policy, it keeps trade supplier hours and its customers can justify taking a trip out during the work day. (Sam's Club keeps the same hours, with the exception of the early opening period for premium members.)
posted by holgate at 6:58 PM on March 22, 2011

I know there are some practical reasons that involve money saving and, oddly, customer convenience. Everything Costco does is cost-saving.

Also, you'll notice that your Costco warehouse relies on a lot of natural lighting during the day. Again, just look up. There is usually a cost-saving benefit in closing earlier, as the climate is more pleasant (no air conditioning) and there is less need to run expensive lights. It's kind of like how Costco doesn't have any grocery bags, or how all of the displays are just pallets stacked on top of each other.

As noted, Costco used to cater primarily to business owners. Business membership still gets you into the Costco something like an hour earlier than regular membership. The business client-centric model has probably just carried over, and it's still profitable. You can see Costco's financial statements here. I mean, if it ain't broke, don't fix it.

Also, have you ever been in a 24-hour supermarket in the middle of the night? Say, after midnight. During that time, they are restocking the shelves, moving palettes, moving stock, and it's not a pretty process.

Now picture that process for an entire Costco warehouse. Next time you're in a Costco, just look up to see just how jam-packed that place is full of stuff, and they have to restock every single shelf there, and find all of the loose items people have left in the wrong aisle and return them. That is a lengthy and intrusive process that can't get done during normal hours.

Just get over to the Costco about five minutes after it first opens on a weekend morning (after the first large crowd of people lines up at the door have filtered in). You'll find your experience very refreshing and non-time-consuming.
posted by jabberjaw at 7:01 PM on March 22, 2011 [2 favorites]

One trick we've learned is to go when The Big Game is on. Costco during the Superbowl? Or when the 49ers are playing at home? Empty.

This will not help if you want to watch the game, or don't have a big-deal sports team nearby.
posted by rtha at 7:02 PM on March 22, 2011 [2 favorites]

Others have answered why but I'll give you a hint for getting in and out quick on the weekend - go as soon as they open. The samplers don't set up for an hour or two later. We've literally been in and out in less than 15 minutes. Go the moment they open, know what you want and where it is. No sweat.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 7:14 PM on March 22, 2011

It's because they are in business to make a profit. Their ongoing traffic studies will show them when longer opening hours would pay. When that threshold is reached, they will stay open longer. 8:30 pm is pretty late for most customers. All businesses need to juggle these things. Those that pay close attention to this will do better than those that don't.

Here's a tiny example from my own experience. Back when I used to be a bike-store manager in a chain operation we stayed open on Thursday and Friday mights until 9 pm; because those were the traditional late-opening-hours in our market. Thursday nights were just dead. On Sundays we opened at 11:00 am, once again, because "that was the way it was done". But on Sunday there was always a massive rush every morning.

Given responsibility for the P&L statement of two stores on the West side when I was hired, I insisted on the right to set my own staff and opening hours. I closed on Thursdays at 6:00 pm, and stayed open on Saturday till 7:00 pm instead of 6:00, with one less staff member for the last hour but an extra hour or two for my mechanics, base don work load. Then, I began opening on Sundays at 9:00 am, once again with one fewer floor staff but more mechanics. Same exact wage costs. But parts and repair sales ( the profit center of a bike store) went up 300%. Why? We were the only bike store open in the city on Saturday night and Sunday morning, after riders had been out trashing their bikes all day Saturday. My regulars knew that they could drop by on Saturday afternoon or even early evening, leave their bikes for service, and we've have them ready to go the next morning. Bringing a dozen cold beers and couple of bikes at 6:30 pm would get you instant, while-you-wait service.

As others have said, the trick is to pick the sweet spot that works for you.
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 7:24 PM on March 22, 2011 [9 favorites]

I was under the impression that some of the hours is for the benefit of the employees as well, as the hours allow them to work closer to a "normal" 9-5 job, increasing morale and retaining competent staff. I know Costco does do a lot of things that other big box sorts of stores (like Walmart) don't (like allow people to be full time and get health insurance) to attract and keep a better quality of staff.

However, I also don't find the weekend times to be that bad, I wait until I need a bunch of stuff, then head out, enjoy the free samples, and sure, the lines can get long at check out, but those lines move faster than any other store I've been in, so it's not that big a deal. However, if it really bothers you, get the business or premium membership to get in those special hours and you'll not be bothered by crowds.
posted by katers890 at 7:35 PM on March 22, 2011 [2 favorites]

I don't go to Costco often (except for gas), but I go on Sundays before 1:00 PM. It *usually* helps to head to a self-checkout, but there's always the occasional dim bulb who is like George HW Bush when it comes to scanners. I've been off caffeine for a while, which helps push down the urge to strike such people in the head with a dull lawn mower blade. This feels healthy. Costco is so awesome I don't go there every week, or I'd be stocked for the apocalypse several times over. At least as far as cheese is concerned.
posted by nj_subgenius at 7:57 PM on March 22, 2011

I've found that on a weekday evening 1-1.5 hours is enough to get through costco just because the number of shoppers goes waaaay down. Parking is a breeze, the lines have maybe 2 people in them, etc. So you might want to try doing your costco run then anyway, even if you think one hour isn't enough, it certainly is the second/third/etc/ time because you know where the stuff you want is.

I refuse to enter costco before 7pm on a weekday and I never go on weekends, so far this is working out for me and ours have the same hours.
posted by magnetsphere at 9:12 PM on March 22, 2011

I assume you've already considered making your Costco runs a little more regularly. I'm not sure why you need two full hours, as I have kids and I don't spend that much time, but maybe line-ups are longer where you are or your warehouse is bigger. I go on weeknights and I find I can be in and out pretty quickly. But it depends what you're buying, I imagine.

Business customers are still a big deal for Costco. But one of my grad school profs also explained that their warehouse designation means that they get away with locating on cheaper land, because it's zoned for warehouses and you can only go there if you're a member. I suspect this may also play into their hours, but that's a guess.

I think the comments about lighting are important. Also, if you open at 10 am, you could bring on staff at 9:30 am and keep them on for eight hours (half hour unpaid lunch) and then have the next person for 4 hours, so that they do their cash out and closing within half an hour after the store closes. A lot of retailers make the staff stay around without pay during that time. Costco might have a different set of values.
posted by acoutu at 10:13 PM on March 22, 2011

Man, that is my Costco and I hate to give away the secret of the good time to shop, but I will. Jabberjaw is right. You want to get into the parking lot on a Saturday 5 minutes after they open. The crowd of people who has gathered will have had time to make their way in, and you can breeze in. Most people don't show up until about a half hour until after opening, so there is still good parking. When choosing a parking space, get one on a row that is going in the direction of the building, instead of heading deeper into the parking lot. You don't want to have to go around through the parking mess on your way out. When heading out of the store to checkout, don't go up the main aisle, go all the way to the one on the far wall in back and head up that to the registers.
posted by procrastination at 8:51 AM on March 23, 2011

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