6 Secrets for Club-Shopping Success

Smart Buying

6 Secrets for Club-Shopping Success

Get a good deal without succumbing to warehouse-club mania.

No matter which club you belong to, you'll need to know how to get good deals without succumbing to warehouse-club mania, the malady that impels you to buy a five-person hot tub on impulse and then figure out how to get it into the Prius. Here are six strategies recommended by retail experts, including a panel put together by Retail Wire, an online forum for industry analysts.


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1. Know your quarry. A cavernous space filled with frazzled shoppers and screaming children is not the place to bone up on subjects such as diamond cuts and pixel resolution. Before making a major purchase at a warehouse club, hit the club Web sites and those of the competition, such as Best Buy and Target, to get an idea of prices, and drop into specialty stores for a tutorial on features. Context is everything, says Don Delzell, of Retail Advantage. "You have to know enough about the category to be able to determine whether you're looking at a good deal."

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2. Grab it quick. Admit it: No matter how much you delight in good wine and Champion sweatshirts, what really keeps you coming back is the prospect of that amazing, once-in-a-lifetime deal. "I found a Coach purse for $90 and a $180 pair of designer jeans for $90," says Laura Davis-Taylor, of Retail Media Consulting. "The thrill of the hunt truly motivates shoppers like me." Treasure trawlers beware: The loot you spot today will be gone tomorrow. "Buy the items that you need now or anticipate needing in the near future," says Karin Miller, of Miller Merchandising. "If the ideal patio set is on display and it's time to replace the set you bought in the '90s, go for it."

3. Check your bank account. It's no accident that you start your shopping trip at the flat-screen TVs and make your way past the jewelry showcase, the Lalique crystal, the thicket of pianos (or mountain of leather jackets), the high-end cookware, and, as you round the first corner, the freezers filled with filet mignon or jumbo shrimp. Warehouses design their aisles to let you dwell on the possibilities. But don't let the floor plan -- and adrenaline -- dictate your purchases. Says James Tenser of VSN Strategies, a consulting firm, "When the local Costco has imported hand-made silk rugs on display for a single weekend, you either have the $2,000 in your budget or you don't."


4. Buy a manual. Home theater systems that look simple on the warehouse floor can end up as a pile of sprockets if you don't know what you're doing -- and many do-it-yourselfers don't. Sam's recently began training employees to answer technical questions; Costco is testing a home-installation service in a few of its Southern California-based clubs. For the most part, though, you're the one who has to figure out which doohickey goes where. If that's beyond your skills, shop elsewhere.

5. Consider the occasion. Some shoppers prefer the cosseting and cachet of a specialty store to a great price, especially with an emotionally charged purchase such as an engagement ring. Michael Silverstein, who, with co-author John Butman, wrote Treasure Hunt: Inside the Mind of the New Consumer (Portfolio Hardcover, $27), bought a BMW through a Costco dealer but swears by the place with the little blue box for special-occasion jewelry. "I'm buying my daughter's 25th-birthday present at Tiffany," he says. Likewise, you'd have to be a pretty cold customer to go for a bargain casket from a warehouse club (available for $925 to $3,000, at www.costco.com), says Ryan Mathews, of Black Monk Consulting. "The price may be right, but who wants to think of themselves as passing on to their eternal reward in a cheap coffin?"

6. Rent a flatbed. Memo to impulse buyers: Warehouse clubs don't deliver the stuff you buy off the floor. Before you fall in love with the six-burner grill with six trays and a giant hood, factor in the cost of renting a truck or moving van and the hassle of getting it home. Better yet, buy it online, in which case the club has to figure out how to get it to you.