I just visited Costco for the first time, and now I see why its sales soared during the pandemic

Me outside the Costco in Cherry Hill, NJ.

  • As a lifelong B.J.’s member, I’d never set foot in a Costco until I visited for this story.
  • I experienced sensory overload – in a good way – and left with food, knickknacks, even clothes.
  • The big box store saw major sales growth even as other retailers faltered during the pandemic.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.
I walked into the Cherry Hill, New Jersey Costco with two friends, a newly minted membership card, and no idea what I was getting myself into. What I found was something akin to a bulk shopper’s promised land.

Costco has an eclectic mix of items in the front, from jewelry to Ring cameras.

My first impression was just how warehouse-like the store appeared. The helpful greeter pointed me to the membership desk, where I picked up my new membership card.

The laptop and electronics section at Costco.

On a Thursday night, the store wasn’t too empty or crowded as we made our way through. It pretty much had everything, which struck me as a reason why its revenues were up 10% in 2020 compared to 2019 – it’s a one-stop shop for everything you need.

There was a variety of televisions in the Costco warehouse.

One of the first stops was the jewelry counter, with bright lights sparkling off the surprisingly affordable diamonds.

Costco’s jewelry was surprisingly well-priced.

We then moved over to the clothes, where I snagged a pair of the brand’s leggings that some devotees have compared to Lululemon and my friend grabbed a Fila windbreaker. The assortment of comfortable, well-priced clothes impressed all three of us.

Costco during pandemic
Costco clothes range from leggings to button-downs to windbreakers.

One sleeper hit? The book section, which was somewhat random but had some good finds, including the buzzy “Such a Fun Age” by Kiley Reid for cheaper than I’ve ever seen it.

Costco during pandemic
Their book selection was surprisingly robust, particularly with cookbooks.

Moving toward the back of the store, we found the produce, meats, and cheeses. This is where our wallets really began to hurt.

The back grocery section of the store was particularly tempting.

We then moved over to the famed rotisserie chickens, which seemed to be restocked every 30 seconds by a Costco worker behind the heated shelves.

There were plenty of Costco’s famous $4.99 rotisserie chickens.

The produce section, which included its own refrigerated room, was sprawling – with a good bit of organic produce as well.

Costco during pandemic
There was a pile of brussels sprouts in the produce room.

The bakery was well-stocked, and – perhaps because it was the end of the day – bagels were buy one, get one free.

Costco during pandemic
My friend – pictured for scale – admires the baked goods.

The famous sheet cakes were tucked by the bakery, which smelled appealing even through our masks.

And we couldn’t forget Costco’s famous sheet cakes.

The meats and seafoods, too, were impressive. They had oxtail, fresh salmon, lobster, and pretty much every cut of steak you could imagine. For a vegetarian who lives alone, bulk-buying meat was not on my list, but my friends picked up some pork belly for homemade ramen.

There was a number of lobster in the meat and seafood section to choose from.

Perhaps the best part of the experience, however, was the miracle that is the Costco cheese section. The sheer selection of fancy cheeses from all regions of the world – Halloumi to Camembert – and the fact that they weren’t as expensive as the downtown grocery stores made it one of the most memorable aisles.

My personal favorite was the cheese aisle.

The freezer section, too, beckoned. We’d heard talk of Costco’s nuggets, meant to taste similar to Chick-fil-A, and stowed some away in the cart.

These are the best frozen chicken nuggets I’ve ever had.

And how can you pass up 72 pizza bagels? I was in heaven.

Yes, I furtively bought 72 pizza bagels.

The flower section was another hidden gem – with fresh, vibrant colors and a price tag significantly lower than any florist or other grocery store. A dozen roses came in at $17.99.

This was just some of the flower selection.

Toward the back of the store we found the staple products. In a canny bit of marketing used by most big-box stores, customers at my location were funneled through the high-priced, impulse-buy items on their way to pick up paper towels. Knowing that this was a psychological trick, however, didn’t make us any less susceptible to it.

You can stock up with bulk household items at the back of the store.

One under-praised aspect of Costco, at least in my research, is the medicine and pharmacy aisle. It was a great place to stock up on decently-priced and useful sundries, from Alka-Seltzer to Advil.

Costco’s medicine and personal care aisles were a hidden gem.

The checkout process was perhaps the most stressful of the whole experience: We weren’t quite sure where to stand, or which of the several lines we should go in. Workers herded customers in a way that felt like were were in line at a theme park. Everyone had carts that were just as full as ours. The customer in front of us had even bought a mattress.

Here’s a look into the employee-only section, which was marked by a big “STOP” sign.

Our last stop was the food court. None of us was hungry enough to eat, plus, a trip to Costco took a lot out of us. But there were plenty of patrons milling around, getting the chain’s signature hot dog and soda combo, or perhaps a pizza.

The food court is legendary for its low prices.

The food court looked straight out of a bowling alley in the 1950s – all Americana. But I suppose that’s ok, considering their prices match the era.

Costco food court Covid
The pizza deal is almost as famous as the hot dog and soda combo.

On our way out, I reflected on how safe everything felt for shopping during a pandemic: I never saw a customer with a sagging mask, and the sprawling warehouse meant no one got within six feet of us. All in all, Costco was an overwhelming and expensive experience, and I can’t wait to go back.

We were happy after a long evening of shopping.

Read the original article on Business Insider