Monday, June 29, 2009

A Tale of Two Costcos

Our first visit to a Canadian Costco showed it to be a reasonable approximation of the U.S. version, minus the booze department. (Not having $10 jugs of Yellowtail is a dreadful minus, but I digress.)

In four-plus months we've found Canadians to be exceedingly orderly and polite in lines, which makes queue-intensive activities such as skiing and shopping generally pleasant. But Costco's Scylla and Charybdis of bulk toilet paper and 12-paks of Chef Boyardee seems to have jammed the collective radar: The parking lot was utterly chaotic, and inside, with the monster carts and no evident traffic pattern, was no better.

We survive the melee and arrive, overflowing, at the checkout. But they don't take the Costco credit card. And our debit card won't work at the checkout or ATM because it has a VISA logo on it. And our Canadian debit account doesn't have enough cash to cover the bill.

Uh-oh. The line is growing and we are Ugly Americans in progress.

Ah, but here's where Costco and its employees shined, a testimonial to good hiring and training. The cashier swiftly hailed a manager to let him know what was going on, pulling us aside with the full cart and our receipt so that the line could keep moving. She'd also overheard us say that our card usually works at Scotiabank, and so she pointed out the one on the other side of the mall. I hustled across the lot (dodging cars) to get the dough, came back, and paid the bill.

Costco's customer service hit exactly the right notes. The cashier was profusely apologetic, which she didn't need to be, but it certainly made us feel less horrible at having caused the snafu and nearly an international incident. The lesson for client relationships is that there's no benefit to beating up a customer when they're already doing it to themselves.

The epilogue is that we took a 20-minute wrong-way detour before getting on the right highway to go home, but, hey, you probably could've predicted that.


  1. Costco never takes VISA, even in the U.S. You can get a membership card that is also a credit card, but it evidently doesn't work outside the U.S. I was joking with the cashier that it was Canada's payback for the stupid new U.S. passport requirements.

    What was weird about this situation is that debit card got rejected because the swipe machine "saw" it as a VISA. I guess there are plain debit cards without it. All I know is that next time we go to Costco, I'm bringing a wad of cash!

  2. That's odd--Costcos in Quebec sell booze, although only the stuff you'd get in a regular supermarket (i.e the cheapie stuff--not the liquor commission stuff). Every province regulates its own booze laws, so maybe that's why...

    I think Costco only takes American Express, so far as credit cards go. It's nice to hear the employees were so nice! I have a friend who works at Costco here and you should hear him complain about the place... Good to hear the flip side!

  3. Alcool NB's cornered market=$36 for the same case of beer that would cost you $21 in Quebec! Not sure where the $15 goes, but evidently not into the roads around here...

    I've usually heard Costco treats its employees well, but I suspect it's heavily influenced by who the local GM is.