Costco Wholesale Corp. (NASDAQ: COST) is among the most successful big-box retailers in the United States. It has 117,000 employees and had revenue of $116.1 billion last year. Costco has 501 warehouse stores in the United States and Puerto Rico.
Unlike some big-box retailers and other retail giants, Costco charges an annual membership fee to be able to get into its stores. Costco has 85 million members who pay between $55 and $110 a year (plus taxes). The memberships fall into three categories, each with appeal to a different segment of big-box retail consumers.
Here’s a look at which ones are suitable for which customers.
Two are fairly straight forward. The first is the Business Membership for $55, which appears to be aimed at small businesses. It could be considered an alternative to the Sam’s Club division of Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (NYSE: WMT). This membership allows business owners and affiliates to purchase goods for business, personal and resale use. At the same time, multiple cards can be issued to individuals in the organization for convenience, but at a cost of $55 per card (apart from the second issued card, which is free).
The base membership is called Gold Star. Priced the same as the Business Membership, it is specifically geared toward families or individuals. Consumers purchasing goods under this membership are primarily doing so for personal consumption, as opposed to the business membership. A free additional card is available to anyone within the household over the age of 18, which entitles them the merchandise and customer service available to all members. All additional cards after this cost $55 per card.
Both memberships allow customers access to Costco gas stations, the hearing aid and optical centers and the pharmacy.
Both of these plans are practically identical to their less expensive counterparts. However, there are a few key differences. First and foremost, there is a membership annual reward of 2% (up to a total of $750) on qualified purchases, as well as additional benefits and greater discounts on products, including Costco Travel.