Earlier this year we embarked on an epic 12 week price survey to determine if shopping at Australian Costco Warehouses provided better value for money than shopping at Coles and Woolworths. It was challenging and we tried to keep you updated weekly but the analysis task was enormous and keeping up with both data gathering and analysis was a tall order. Whilst we had to stop the weekly reports of our finding we did gather data for 12 weeks straight from all three stores. From tomorrow we will start sharing the results but for now, let’s talk about the how and why of this task.
Why We Did This Price Survey
Loaded Trolley was born out of many discussions with non-members about why we shop at Costco. Price was one of our reasons and you will see on this site many examples of where we tested the value of Costco. We were convinced as well but others were not. Even A Current Affair went out of its way to prove Costco was no better value than Coles or Woolworths and not worth the membership fee.
There were also many online discussions we have seen, most notably on Oz Bargain and Whirlpool Forums, that had claims both for and against the value proposition of Costco but data was rarely presented. We felt that Loaded Trolley was the only independent voice in this discussion as we have no connection to Costco or any other retailer. We are just fee paying members of Costco who may be a little biased as fans of their business model. Our duty in this discussion as we saw it was to remain objective and present the facts with solid data.
In all of the discussions we have had and seen two main themes are present. The first is that if you shop the specials at Coles and Woolworths you can beat Costco and the second is that Costco is good only for ‘lazy’ shoppers who want to get good value without having to shop around. Based on those two themes we came up with these two hypotheses:
1) You can get better value than shopping at Costco by buying in bulk on specials at Coles and Woolworths
2) You can beat Costco in the long term with the specials at Coles and Woolworths so Costco is only good for busy or lazy shoppers.
What We Included In The Comparison
We chose to compare a total of 96 lines stocked by Costco across 4 categories. The lines were selected at random on a visit to Costco and were items we thought people would buy regularly and in the quantities typically found at Costco. The following are the lines we selected:
Fruit and Veg (12 lines)
- Potatoes – White, washed
- Potatoes – White, brushed
- Grapes – green
- Onions – brown
- Mushrooms – closed cup
- Cucumber – continental
- Baby spinach
- Mesclun mix lettuce
Meat, Poultry, Seafood (12 lines)
- Salmon – fresh, skin off, boned
- Chicken breast fillets – skin off
- Chicken drumsticks
- Chicken – whole, free range
- Lamb Rack – Frenched
- Lamb leg – boneless
- Lamb Loin Chops
- Beef Mince – premium, lean
- Beef Scotch Fillet steak
- Beef Eye Fillet steak
- Beef Porterhouse steak
- Pork Leg – boned and rolled
Other Grocery – Dairy, Non-perishable, household items etc. (64 lines)
- Glad Wrap
- Vita Fresh Cling Film (vs Generics)
- Goulburn Valley Diced Fruit Cups
- Eggs – cage laid
- Eggs – free range
- A2 Milk – Full cream, light or no fat
- Milk – full cream or light
- Handee Paper Towels
- Cottonelle Toilet Paper
- Coke Cans
- Palmolive Regular Dishwashing detergent
- Finish Powerball Tablets All-In-One
- Ajax Spray and Wipe
- Omo Powder – front or top loader
- Mortein Insect Spray – Fast Knock Down
- So Good Soy Milk UHT
- Beechworth Honey – squeeze bottle
- Bread – Sunblest Sandwich loaf
- Coco Pops
- Weet Bix
- Birds Eye Frozen Corn Kernels
- Birds Eye Frozen Peas
- Kellogs LCMs bars
- Birds Eye Frozen Fish Fingers
- Vaalia Rich & Fruity Yoghurt 100g cups
- Western Star Butter
- Whiskas Tinned Cat Food
- Pedigree Lamb with Marrowbone Tinned Dog Food
- Pedigree Beef Dry Dog Food
- Kraft Cheese Sandwich Slices
- Lipton Tea Bags
- Moccona Classic Freeze Dried Coffee
- Plain Flour (Gem of The West – can compare generic)
- Spaghetti – dry (can compare generic)
- Sun Rice Premium Long Grain or Medium Grain Rice
- Heinz Tomato Ketchup
- Greenseas Tuna in Springwater
- Sol Natura Diced tinned tomatoes
- Arnotts Assorted Cream Biscuits
- Oreo Classic Biscuits
- Mars Bars
- M&Ms packs
- M&Ms bulk (ie. Party Bucket)
- Milky Way
- Tim Tams
- Natural Confectionary Company Snakes
- Whole Cashews – salted
- Pantene Pro-V shampoo or conditioner
- Head & Shoulders Anti-Dandruff shampoo
- Huggies Newborn Nappies
- Karicare Aptimal Gold +Toddler
- Gillette Venus/Olay Cartridges
- Gillette Mach3 Turbo Cartridges
- Cancer Council Sunscreen
- Colgate Plax
- Colgate Total +Whitening Toothpaste
- Nurofen Caplets
- Panadol Optizorb Tablets
Liquor (8 lines)
- Johnnie Walker Red Label
- Smirnoff Vodka
- Little Creatures Pale Ale
- Bundaberg Original UP Rum
- Johnnie Walker Red and Cola Cans
- Jim Beam and Cola Cans
- Corona Beer
How We Compare Lines
In most cases we were chasing like-for-like comparisons. If the item at Costco was a brand name we aimed to compare that directly to the same brand at Coles and Woolworths. There were a few cases where we could not do this and as we report out on each line we will identify those that were not compared directly.
Each line was broken down based on unit pricing. Typically this is a $ per kg or $ per litre measure but sometime we looked at it against a typical consumable pack such as $ per 375ml can in the case of Coke sold in cans.
How We Test The Hypotheses
For each hypothesis we chose a simple comparison method.
For hypothesis #1, ‘You can get better value than shopping at Costco by buying in bulk on specials at Coles and Woolworths’, we looked at the best case price for the 12 week period including specials and lowest prices at not only Coles and Woolworths but also at Costco. This for us is an apples to apples comparison on this metric as Costco does have specials and fluctuating prices based on their purchasing negotiations. This test tells us if you can beat Costco with the Coles and Woolworths specials.
When looking at hypothesis #2, ‘You can beat Costco in the long-term with the specials at Coles and Woolworths so Costco is only good for busy or lazy shoppers.’ we look at the average price for the 12 week period on each item. This test will tell us if you are better off chasing specials at Coles and Woolworths or shopping mainly at Coles and enjoying some free time with some spare cash at hand.
Where The Prices Came From
The Costco pricing for line items came from the long walk around one of their warehouses to gather the weekly prices. The warehouse we used was either the Docklands or Ringwood store based on where we were shopping that week.
For Coles and Woolworths the prices were recorded from their online stores based on our local postcode. The liquor items were taken from their discount liquor chains First Choice Liquor and Dan Murphy’s.
When Did We Gather The Data
The 12 week period started on the 1st January 2014 and the last day of week 12 was 26th March 2014. This aligned with the typical Coles and Woolworths discount cycles that started on a Wednesday and ended on a Tuesday. We typically surveyed Costco on a Thursday or Friday within a period and the online prices for Coles and Woolworths were taken on the weekend.
What Happens Next
Over roughly the next 6 weeks we will be releasing the results line by line typically at a rate of about 2 line items per day. We are choosing to do this partly because there is just so much data and we are still creating some of the content to share but also because we would love you to come back regularly to Loaded Trolley to see what is revealed.
We are sharing the line by line analysis graphically so feel free to save a copy and share it around. If you’re a Costco fan like us you will take particular thrill in showing any Costco naysayers the results (I was pleasantly surprised). If you work for A Current Affair, you may want to look away for the next several weeks because real data is coming your way.
There will also be a wrap up discussion and conclusion at the end. You won’t want to miss out on that because that is where you find out what the overall cost benefit may or may not be for Costco shoppers. OK, I’ll let you in on the secret now….Costco wins. Want to see the margin? All will be revealed at the end of this journey.
As always, comments and challenges are welcome below. Also don’t forget to subscribe to our newsletter below and we can remind you to check in from time to time.