9 votes

Costco capitalism

1 comment

  1. skybrian
    From the article: [...] [...] [...] [...]

    From the article:

    Costco is a way to understand the (literal) 'formula' of consumer psychology and customer value, the variable blend of factors that a corporation can use to draw favoritism, as well as the inherent biases that are contained within it. In this piece I will offer an explanation for how, amongst all-time high levels of backlash against corporate hegemonies, amongst a threats like climate change clearly driven by our consumer habits, Costco has been able to cement itself simultaneously as an inculpable crowd favorite and mothership of bottomless consumerism. I will ponder whether or not consumer happiness or value is the best proxy for individual (and environmental) well being, whether or not you can truly have your free sample and eat it too.


    Unlike the hydra that is Amazon, Costco's simplicity means transparency. Each stakeholder in its flywheel — namely employees and customers — are met with straightforward terms. Walk through a Costco warehouse and you literally shop off of shipping pallets, seeing the evidence of your cost savings real time. The efficiency enabled by the constraints of selling in bulk and in a warehouse means that there are no breakneck distribution centers or workers rights infringements, no data capture scandals, no suspicions of geopolitical dominance. Costco does what every consumer in a 'neoliberal' economy wishes corporations did more of — find success by simply playing along with the rules fairly, not bending them to their will.


    And even though shopping at Costco comes with negative externalities (mainly those associated with overconsumption, waste, and sustainability), the perception of these externalities is quite low from the point of view of the average Costco consumer. A mainstream environmentalist knows well that the consumption of inexpensive beef is problematic, even if it's grass-fed organic. But the average Costco shopper is not a mainstream environmentalist. Furthermore, there is the known positivity externality of supporting Costco's high paying retail jobs that masks these negative externalities, if they are perceived at all.


    Interestingly, for the purpose of grasping Costco's ethical boundaries, you have to look away from their embrace of wellness trends or organic foods. Instead it's the Costco best sellers that have been in the stores for literally decades — like the $4.99 Rotisserie Chicken or $1.50 Hotdog — that actually speak the best towards the store's Overton window. That you can simultaneously crave cold pressed juice, but not bat an eye at the inherent questions of sustainability that surround a $1.50 1/4 pound all beef hot dog seems to embody the Costco ethical stance well: Sustainability or Ethics are not things rooted in facts but perceptions.


    Costco is not an ethical maverick or trend setter. It is a trend follower, both in culture and product. It's through swiftly following the lead of its mainstream customers that Costco is able to circumvent the PR crises that surrounds much the corporate landscape right now. Costco can never be seen as Evil because that would mean the bulk of its customers view themselves as Evil.

    This reveals a problematic Catch 22 that sits at the center of this piece. Corporations only act as ethical as their subset of consumers, and consumers only are pressured to only act as ethical as their value-maximizing formulas allow them to be. This means that making a premature leap towards offering more progressive yet more expensive products or services comes with risk. Risk averse corporations, especially large ones like Costco, have to be completely sure that a market has come maturity before they offer up a product that represents a premium shift in its consumers' ethical frameworks.

    4 votes