Costco Lostco (aka Tough Bananas)

I can’t even remember how far back I’ve been a Costco member, but it’s been a while. Not so long ago that dinosaurs roamed the aisles back when I first signed on, but it was called Price Club way back then and “Jurassic Park” hadn’t even been written yet. Anyway, I’ve been a loving and loyal Costco’er year in and year out since, paying my annual membership fee without hesitation because I know I’ll make that back alone on the amount I’ll save on the metric tonnage of cat litter I purchase.

But lately it seems the company is attempting to shake my level of dedication. Specifically on the last few visits I’ve been hit up in the qeueing area and checkout line by some clipboarded frontline employee who wants to upgrade my basic membership to the “executive” level, thus upping the yearly ding from $50 to a $100. It’s like having a face-to-face intrusion with a telemarketer and each time it’s happened I’ve done my best to politely decline the opportunity to double my membership fee. If that doesn’t stop them, I hold up a hand and express an entire lack of interest in whatever additional benefits I might derive from doing so. That usually does the trick. But still, it’s getting to the point where I dread getting in line to pay.

Especially in the wake of yesterday’s visit, the one in which I had a lost dog I’d found either patiently and obediently waiting for me or in the cab of my truck, or in the midst of destroying it trying to escape. No, this time was radically different. Clearly the order had been passed down to the troops on the ground to downshift into a buy-or-die battlemode and hard-sell upgrades at all costs because the unrelenting accosting I experienced was truly remarkable.

It all began with the cashier’s eyes not at all subtly going wide at my basic level membership card followed by an even more deliberate nod to what I can only categorize as a bullpen of several clipboard-bearing employees waiting beyond the registers. A poor sap young man among them was dispatched immediately and beelined it toward me. I felt as if I’d been triangulated by predators.

Him: Excuse me, sir, I’d like to talk to you about your membership.
Me: Thank you, but I’m not interested.
Him: Do you know about the executive level?
Me: Absolutely I’ve been told about it too many times. And every time I say no.

I catch the cashier making a flagrant “Yikes!” face. The sublety gene is just not at all in her DNA.

Him:: Uh well…
Me: And unless you’re making the upgrade free for life then the answers still no.
Him (chuckling): But you should really consider –.
Me: No. What Costco should consider is quitting all this harassment. I’ve been asked to consider upgrading practically every time I’ve been in here the last few months, and my answer is always the same. And frankly, I’m beyond getting tired of being bothered. So what number do I press to be placed on the Do Not Bother Me list.

Someone an aisle over snorts.

Him: Hunh?
Me: Nevermind.
Him (a little too adamant now): But right now you’re getting nothing at your current level.

I let that hang in the air for a moment.

Me: What did you just say?
Him: You’re getting noth –.
Me: Nothing? You’re telling me that all these years I’ve been paying my annual fee and shopping here and you’re telling me it’s just been one big rip off? Does the company actually encourage you to tell customers that line?
Him: Well… uh…
Me (turning to the cashier): If so I want to cancel my membership effective immediately and get refunded the unused portion of this year’s fee.

Dropping my bunch of bananas she was holding the cashier goes speechless with eyes even wider and face more yikes-ey.

Me (motioning to my cart): And you all can just go ahead and put all this stuff back where I got it.
Him: No — hey! What!?
Me: You just told me my current membership is a waste.
Him: That’s not what I meant!
Me: Then you tell me exactly how I should interpret “right now you’re getting nothing at your current level.”

And here’s where he whipped out some sort of handheld electric contraption from a holster In the next moment he’s swiped my card and I believe a bit of relief softens his previously panicked expression.

Him: Now this is what I’m saying. See how much you’ve spent this year?

He turns the digital read-out so that I can view the amount shown. Then he points to a much smaller number on the screen.

Him: That’s how much you’re rebate would be at the end of the year! Right now you’re getting zero. Upgrading would pay for itself.

Which, while being an excellent selling point, was in no way going to budge me. So I pulled the rug out from under him.

Me: Wait a minute! Who authorized you to access that information?
Him: Wha –?
Me (knowing damn well he hadn’t done anything wrong): I didn’t give you permission to do that! What else can you find out about me on that thing!
Him: Uh –!
Me: That’s privileged information! A violation of my privacy! Medic!

The cashier shook her head and whistled. Dejected, the guy still wouldn’t quite let go.

Him (with head dropped): If you upgrade today it would only be $50…

Shaking my head he finally turned and headed back for the bullpen where he was intercepted by a semi-commiserating assitant manager type who must have watched the whole thing backfire and gave me a stern look for being such an unsellable meanie. Ignoring that I turned to the cashier who I found looking down at the bunch of bananas still sitting on the counter in front of her and then up at me. I nodded and she sighed too loudly as she resumed ringing up my stuff.

20 Replies to “Costco Lostco (aka Tough Bananas)”

  1. I am so happy I’m not the only one this happens to. Worst of all, my business partner fell for it, and upgraded us… since we’ve given them the extra $50, we’ve got nothing to show for it… except being out $50!!

  2. If the executive level offered a “no waiting” at the Costco register that could be a selling point. From the road, shuffling thru the bottleneck whilst feeling like a bit player in some kind of sordid It’s A Small World Afterall, with shopping carts blows. BTW, I think a better title for this blog may have been “Tough Bananas.”

  3. You don’t feel like you were kind of a dick?

    The guy has a job, it’s ask people to upgrade, that’s his job. He’s not psyched about it, but he needs money, you’re not psyched about it. He didn’t grow up thinking I want to be the Upgrade Associate at Costco. All you have to do is say “No, thanks.” 4 times and you’re done. Then write Costco a letter to some executive that actually makes decisions and tell them why you’re cancelling your membership.

    Don’t be a dick to the people on the front line, it’s not their fault.

  4. I have to agree with Joe. You didn’t have to be a dick (I know ‘dick’ isn’t very elloquent but it gets the point across). We’ve all had crappy jobs that we don’t list on our resume. This one is his. Joe is right in suggesting that you take it up with someone who can actually make a decision. At least you gave him a good war story so he can commiserate with his fellow employee’s over a beer, “You wouldn’t believe the DICK I had in line today”.

  5. I totally understand the idea of not being a dick to the people on the front line, but the guy knew what he was getting into when he took the job. All I can hope is that the job gets harder and harder to staff if it’s so miserable.

  6. Maybe not being a dick was a good idea the 1st time this happened. Or the second. Or the third. But if I’m repeatedly accosted by some kid with a clipboard trying to pump me for an extra $50 every time I shop someplace, it would be MORE than acceptable to be a dick. This isn’t the first time it has happened and may not be the last. It sounds like Will gave this dude ample time to walk away with a “no” but he kept being a dick himself and asking asking pushing pushing. Just because that guy gets paid to be a dick and bother people in line doesn’t mean people can’t be a dick back. He’s getting paid for it, he’ll be fine.

  7. Thanks to Joe and Fred for reading my rant and I appreciate the alternate POVs. I’m not surprised to be considered by them to be the bad guy in this. I didn’t slant my behavior and attitude in my post and won’t deny that I was intentionally caustic and confrontational with the guy. Did I mention I was really loud, too? Sucks to be me I guess.

    But by focusing on the actual exchange between me and him I failed to illustrate my ultimate aggravation: that of the corporate decision to put their frontline employees at risk of my rejections by no doubt whipping them to upgrade upgrade upgrade. My reaction might have been misdirected and overboard in Fred and Joe’s eyes, but from where I stand as a member from Costco’s stone age I’m tired of paying for the “privilege” of getting so repeatedly solicited every time I set foot inside the place.

    Maybe I’ll just get a shirt made specifically for my next visits that reads “Stop Asking Me To Upgrade! No, Really. I Mean It: Stop! I’m Not Kidding!! Leave Me The Hell Alone!!!

    Maybe I’ll make two and send one to Costco’s corporate offices.

  8. I have had friends tell me that when they are asked to promote memberships and/or credit cards in this manner it is often a mandatory duty. Further, their failure to sign up a certain number of these executive memberships could result in a termination of their employment. I think this is primarily why their staff has been so persistent.

    Regardless, this harrasment seems pretty awful and maybe you should send Costco an e-mail or letter and also leave comments with the store you regularly visit. You would be surprised what could happen.

    However, if nothing changes and you still feel like shopping at Costco, you could make your encounters less akward by just saying “not interested” and let that be the end of it. If the person continues to talk just give them a blank look and change the subject. Although I can totally understand your frustration, you want to be mature about it and keep the big picture in mind: Your time is money…and you don’t have time to engage these people… just tell em: “Ring my stuff up so that I can go!” and then BOUNCE!

    Anyway… great story.. I really enjoyed reading it! :)

  9. As far as I can tell you didn’t even follow through on your threat. You continued to use Costco’s services, give them money, and finished your transaction with an intention of returning to purchase more goods in the future. You sent no message to Costco whatsoever. Wearing a T-Shirt won’t send a message, yelling at poor employees sent to talk to you doesn’t send a message, your dollars send a small message unless you can get a group to band together and direct contact with people in charge sends a message. I’m not sure if you’ve ever worked in retail, but the higher ups freak out when contacted directly. If you jump through enough hoops to get communication directly to them, they listen and things happen because they’re scared.

    If you treat a cashier or customer service person poorly and then continue to use the company’s services, you’ve really only made yourself feel big vs a person who’s not allowed to fight back.

    I am admittedly a former retail employee, so my opinions may be biased.

  10. I still call it Price Club half the time.

    Being able to go in an hour early when there are short lines and no samples blocking the isles made $50 totally worth it for me.

    Of course as they sell more of these, I’ll probably have to pay $200 to get there even an hour earlier…

  11. Totally agree Katherine. A stronger camel could’ve endured the ordeal but this one broke mine’s back.

    And yes Joe, I did not cancel my membership or effect any change in the status quo at that point but trust me: those higher-ups at Costco will be hearing from me.

  12. I used to have a costco card, but I gave it up. I got tired of cranky retirees ahead of me in line yelling at the help. I did enjoy your story, it makes me look forward to my own geezer-hood when I wear my pants up to my nipples and complain about everything 24/7. Until then, I gladly pay way too much money at gelson’s just so I don’t have to stand in line.

  13. Will, I love that people keep telling you that you should just say “not interested” when obviously the point is that you’ve said it repeatedly and they’re still at it. It’s not like you’re telling a story about how your rained hell on some unexpecting cashier.

    Yeah, it might be somebody’s job to pester customers to upgrade, but it’s also their job to be observant and respectful of those same folks. If somebody’s obviously not interested, then they’re doing them a disservice by continuing to bother them. Likewise, contacting somebody at the executive level might be effective, but that doesn’t absolve entry-level employees of responsibiitly for dealing with customer service situations. They have people above them they can report to, and they should be providing feedback to their management if there are policies that are making their jobs difficult. Not to mention, sometimes a person just has to deal with the realites of having a shitty job.

    I’ve worked in customer service and I’ve worked as a telemarketer, and, yeah, it’s difficult. But it’s also not rocket science. A good customer service person knows how to read and respect limits. “It’s their job” is not an excuse.

  14. FWIW… Here’s the letter I’ve written to Costco’s top dog:

    Costco Wholesale
    Jeffrey H. Brotman, Chairman of the Board
    PO Box 34331
    Seattle, WA 98124

    Mr. Brotman,

    I have been an appreciative member since Costco was PriceClub. Each year I pay the annual fee for my Goldstar card without concern because I know I can count on the exceptional savings I receive to more than cover the cost of membership.

    Of late however, I am coming to dread my visits — not because of any reasons having to do with the merchandise or the amount of money I save. Rather, of late my shopping experience inside the Los Angeles-area stores I frequent has become tainted by the incessant solicitations I receive either in the queuing area or at the checkout station to upgrade my membership to the Executive level. It’s happened with such regularity over these past few months that I’ve come to count on being hit up every visit. Rarely am I not disappointed.

    And so it was that I was approached September 22 at checkout by a store associate. Typically I only have to decline once — maybe twice — before they politely and respectfully adjourn. But in this case, after the hard-selling young man disregarding my fourth “no” I was at a point where I was ready to cancel my membership and find the nearest Sam’s Club with which to do my business.

    Please understand my dispute is not so much with the specific young man. While not very attentive or intuitive as he could’ve been, ultimately he’s just doing a thankless and difficult job. Instead my argument is with what is clearly pressure from his management who are no doubt passing down orders from the likes of you at corporate headquarters to achieve dramatic conversion quotas, seemingly with little regard for the cumulative effect it has on members such as myself.

    While I can appreciate the revenue generation Costco derives from getting basic members to double their yearly dues, I am tremendously put off at the tactics being authorized and I want you to know that while I refrained from deactivating my membership this time around, I will not be at all tolerant the next time in large part because I find it highly insulting to pay for the “privilege” of being affronted so often and now so aggressively.

    Sincerely,
    William Campbell

  15. Glad this happened to my wife and I–we upgraded to the business card (as the Clipse said, Black Card Era, baby!) when we bought our HDTV. We made the money back right then and there. I must say that I haven’t noticed any hard selling going on when we have been in recently–maybe it’s just certain locations.

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