Monday, October 27, 2008

Non-member Purchasing at Costco

In the United States, we have these stupid warehouse sized stores under the names Costco, Sam's Club, B.J.'s, and others. The stores advertise really low prices, but you have to buy in bulk. Few people have a need for a 55 gallon drum of pickles, or a dump truck full of rice, but that doesn't stop people from going to these stores to buy ridiculous amounts of things.

The catch is that these clubs are member-only facilities. You pay some amount of money per year to shop in the store. The return is that you get the super low low prices the store offers. I really don't like the concept and I don't like having to buy huge quantities of things just to save money.

Federal regulations prohibit Costco and stores like it from requiring a store membership to use the pharmacy. Anyone can go in and use the pharmacy and get the low Costco prices.

What else can you buy at these stores without a membership? Well, this one is regulated by states rather than the federal government, but in some states it's possible to buy alcohol without having a store membership. I tested this out on Saturday at Costco in Honolulu.

Getting in the store is a bit tricky since they check for membership cards at the door. I'll leave that one up to you.

Once you get in the store, know that you can only buy drugs or alcohol without having a membership. I tested the purchasing ability with beer. The cashier was unaware of any such Hawaii law that would let me buy alcohol there without a membership. Asking for an explanation, I gave him what the Liquor Commission told me. Section 281-31 of the Hawaii Revised Statutes prohibits class 4 (retail, off premises consumption) liquor license holders from restricting the sale of alcohol based on membership status at the merchant. After calling a supervisor and ultimately the store manager, the store manager was the only one who knew of the law and let the transaction go through.

Now, I knew this would be difficult or impossible, which is why I asked the Liquor Commission if it was possible before going. Armed with their response and vague instructions, I set out to see what I could buy at Costco. It worked, but Costco and I imagine the other warehouse stores want to keep this quiet. It is the cheapest place to get alcohol on island. A 24 pack of beer in bottles cost me $27. A 6 pack here typically costs between $8 and $10.

Aside from some fly-over states and California, I do know that you can do this same trick in Massachusetts. Westford office, enjoy!

NOTES: Every state is different. Some states may allow the retailer to make you go through a different procedure to purchase without a membership.


John Andrew Hanauer said...

To my knowledge, Illinois is the same way. Though, I have a Sam's Club membership so I have never tested this, but it's something that I've spoken with a lot of people about.

Anonymous said...

The Costco employees must not read the signage above the alcohol section. There is a sign that clearly states that you do not need to be a member to purchase alcohol. There is a similar sign at Sam's Club, too.

Aaran Macsneps said...

Some of the stored products including appliances, jewelry and clothing and all kinds of furniture. Gifts and pharmaceutical products are also available here.

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