Costco Business Model (What Is It, Strategies + More)

Costco Wholesale Corporation, operating under “Costco Wholesale,” has managed to gain status as a multi-billion-dollar global retailer operating several warehouse clubs in America and beyond.

Given this, the main question that would reveal how Costco manages to succeed in the competitive retail world is, what’s Costco’s business model? Well, look no further because I researched everything there is to know about the matter! Here’s what I discovered!

What Is Costco’s Business Model In 2024?

Costco’s business model is based on a membership-only warehouse club where consumers pay a membership fee to purchase a limited selection of products at low prices as of 2024. Ideally, only members can buy items at Costco, while non-members can only use the Costco Cash Cards loaded by members to shop at Costco.

If you want to gain more information on Costco’s business model, the critical success factors of the store, and recommendations for improvement, keep reading!

What Does Costco’s Business Model Focus On?

Costco’s business model focuses on a membership-only strategy that allows members to purchase selected goods in bulk at competitive prices.

Unlike other typical stores, Costco requires shoppers to get annual membership status to access a vast selection of highly discounted products.

Typically, Costco offers two types of renewable membership plans: the Basic membership, which goes for $60 a year, and the Executive membership for $120 a year.

Then, Costco subdivides these membership packages into Gold, Business, and Executive members depending on the customer base.

Further, Costco integrates its membership-only business model with a cost leadership strategy to remain competitive in the retail industry with these membership plans.

As a result, the low merchandise prices attract consumers to subscribe to the membership plans, which ultimately generates a rapid inventory turnover with high sales and higher revenues.

Additionally, the Costco business model reinforces customer loyalty, who in turn get access to the following products at low wholesale prices:

  • 23% of merchandise: Sundries (snack foods, candy, tobacco, cleaning and institutional supplies, alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages)
  • 18% of merchandise: Hardlines (major electronic appliances, hardware, health and beauty aids, office supplies, sporting goods, garden and patio, toys, automotive supplies, and seasonal items)
  • 21% of merchandise: Food (institutionally packaged and dry foods)
  • 12% of merchandise: Fresh Foods (bakery, meat, deli, and produce)
  • 10% of merchandise: Softline (domestics, houseware, apparel, jewelry, home furnishings, media, camera, and small appliances)
  • 16% of merchandise: Ancillary & Other Items (a food court, gas stations, optical, hearing aid, pharmacy, one-hour photo, and travel)

Why Is Costco’s Business Model Appealing?

Costco’s business model is appealing because it allows customers to access high-quality products at low prices while generating high sales volumes alongside a rapid inventory turnover.

In the retail industry, Costco’s business model is appealing due to the following qualities:

Enhances Customer Retention And Loyalty

Costco’s idea of having a membership-only business model has been the primary market strength for the company, with most customers looking forward to the deals and privileges of being members.

As a result, the business model has helped the company promote customer retention and loyalty since the membership renews annually.

Over the years, Costco has witnessed a growing number of cardholders, resulting in a large, devoted, and loyal customer base, which helps increase the company’s net profit. 

Offers Customers High-Quality Products At Low Prices

With an integration of the low-cost strategy, Costco’s business model gives customers access to high-quality items sold in bulk at low-profit margins.

So, the low-price strategy has differentiated Costco from stores in the crowded market since customers look forward to purchasing bulk items at lower prices rather than buying them individually elsewhere.

Further, Costco delivers high-quality goods at low prices by purchasing merchandise from manufacturers who offer the lowest possible prices.

Therefore, if Costco doesn’t get a particular item at a low price, it does not stock it.

Decreases Costco’s Operational Costs

Decreases Costco's Operational Costs

When Costco buys merchandise in bulk, it automatically reduces operational costs due to discounts realized from bulk merchants.

Ultimately, Costco can pass the discount to customers by offering goods at discounted prices.

Also, Costco saves operational costs by not stocking packing materials and extra bags.

Thus, Costco requires that customers bring their bags, use a shopping cart, or use empty merchandise shipping boxes in the store.

Due to these appealing characteristics, the business model creates a win-win situation that benefits both employees and customers while maintaining the company’s primary business goals.

What Are The Key Factors Which Have Contributed To Costco’s Success?

The key factors that contribute to Costco’s success include the following:

Costco’s Membership Strategy

Costco’s membership strategy awards customers with discounted prices that have resulted in a large customer base that increases the company’s revenue. 

Costco’s Target Market

Costco bases its target market primarily on upper or upper-middle-class individuals, ideally suburban homeowners with a membership-only business model.

Therefore, with the target market’s ability to buy merchandise in bulk, Costco maintains high sales. 

High-Quality Items

While most retailers prefer to sell thousands of different items, Costco limits its merchandise to under 4,000 meticulously selected items. 

Additionally, the procurement employees screen all products to guarantee high quality and low prices.

Bulk Purchasing Strategy

Costco’s strict policy of selling items in bulk entices its consumers to purchase items in large quantities.

With the highly-discounted prices, customers look forward to saving more money but end up spending more by purchasing items in bulk.

That said, the result of spending more money buying bulk items is that Costco realizes its huge profits in the long run.

Effective & Efficient Inventory Management

Logistically, Costco is one of the most efficient retailers in the industry due to high-level inventory management and warehouse design.

With that, the company uses its warehouses as storage spaces and retail stores.

Moreover, it utilizes cross-docking, which ensures merchandise distribution from a manufacturing plant or supplier directly to a retail chain, with limited to no storage or handling time.

Therefore, this strategy further decreases the inventory costs and increases Costco’s net profit.

Does Costco Have A Good Business Model?

Yes, Costco maintains a pretty good business model since it majorly concentrates on driving the company’s sales. 

Combined with a low-cost strategy, the membership-only business model appeals to customers through discounted prices that increase store traffic and net sales.

Furthermore, the business model has resulted in operating efficiencies, including efficient distribution, reduced handling, storage, and self-service warehouse facilities.

Ultimately, Costco has succeeded in the retail industry by implementing its membership-only business model.

How Can Costco Improve Its Business Strategy?

Costco can improve its strategy by widening the range of products and increasing visibility by utilizing different marketing platforms to counteract its competitors.

At the moment, Costco has limited the variety of products, which might drive customers to other retailers with a broader array of items.

Therefore, the store has to expand the variety and encourage customers’ individual preferences to counteract this effect.

Additionally, Costco can reduce the effect of aggressive competition from other upcoming warehouse clubs by utilizing advertising platforms to increase visibility.

To find out more, you can also read our posts on stores like Costco, the biggest Costco competitors, and Costco’s target market & demographics.


In conclusion, Costco’s business model runs on a membership-only strategy that entices customers with discounted prices.

That said, the business model allows members to shop at the store or online with ease, while non-members can only shop at Costco by using Costco Cash Cards loaded by a current member. 

Photo of author

Marques Thomas

Marques Thomas graduated with a MBA in 2011. Since then, Marques has worked in the retail and consumer service industry as a manager, advisor, and marketer. Marques is also the head writer and founder of

Leave a Comment