CostCo Business Model: Strategic Insights

Updated On: August 24, 2022

Updated By: appsrhino


Costco was founded in 1976 by the name of Price club. Since its inception, Costco has become the fifth-largest retailer globally. It has been recently ranked among the Top 10 fortune 500 companies in the USA. So what is it that Costco does that has made it so successful and what is so unique about Costco's business model that the competition has not been able to replicate.

Costco, per se, is a wholesale retailer selling across 12 countries and 804 locations. But scale is not the only thing that has helped Costco achieve the heights of success. Costco's business model is a well-thought-out strategic piece that has been at the center of the enormous revenues Costco earns.

Costco offers products in several categories, some of which are listed below:

  • Clothing
  • Fresh Foods
  • Organic food
  • Sundries
  • Hardlines(appliances, electricals, and electronics)
  • Home furnishing products

Let's delve deeper into Costco's unique business model and its success formula.

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Costco’s Business model

The retail industry in the US and other markets is highly competitive, with names such as Walmart and Target operating in it. It is quite unbelievable that retail giants such as Costco, Walmart, and Target can compete in the same market successfully but employ utterly different business models. While Walmart's business model and Target's business models differ significantly, we shall focus more on Costco's business model. Some of the  unique features of Costco's business model are listed below:


memebers.jpg The primary component of Costco's business model is the membership-based shopping experience. It simply means that to shop at a Costco store; one needs to be a member; else, they shall have to purchase Costco cash cards to shop and get prices that Costco offers. 

Each member can also get a complimentary membership card issue for a family member.

There are several benefits of this approach to Costco. 

  • Since Costco charges a specific membership fee for each membership type, this ensures upfront payment from a massive base of users. The membership fee also ensures an endless cash flow irrespective of the market mood or scenario. The revenue alone from membership fees is more than 880 million dollars, thanks to Costco's almost 90 million paying customers. But this amount was still small compared to the total revenues of Costco.
  • Because customers pay membership fees up front, they are motivated to shop at Costco stores whenever they need something; this helps Costco ensure a permanent revenue stream and customer retention
  • The membership fee also means customer loyalty and repeat business transactions.

High Inventory turnover

One of the critical components of Costco's business model is the inventory turnover ratio. In simple terms, the inventory turnover ratio means the number of days Costco takes to sell products once they pick them up from the manufacturers.

It is astonishing to know that Costco has an inventory turnover of fewer than ten days. This means that the products are off the shelf within ten days of procurement from the manufacturers. One thing that also contributes to this is the membership model. Assured returning customers means that Costco does need to worry about the inventory turnover.

In turn, the low inventory turnover allows Costco to source large product volumes from manufacturers at better credit rates than competitors. It also means that Costco can pay the manufacturers even before the credit period expires.

One of the primary reasons behind high inventory turnover is that Costco sells products in bulk bundles to its customers. It helps drive sales volumes, and the manufacturers are happy to supply Costco at better rates and credit.


Source: Statista

Cost Leadership



Another important strategy that Costco's business model works upon is giving more discounts and better selling rates on products than its competitors. This is possible due to two reasons. First, Costco sources products directly from the manufacturers, getting rid of the middlemen in the process. Also, Costco consciously takes lesser profits out of the sales to offer the lowest prices to the consumers.

Second, Costco has contractual partnerships with the manufacturers. Costco commits massive sales volumes to manufacturers, and consequently, the manufacturers offer extra margin on products to Costco. This helps Costco procure and sell products at lower rates than its competitors.


Space utilization:


Suppose you have ever been to a Costco store. In that case, you might have noticed the seemingly congested but organized placement of various products and product shelves. There might be cloth-filled tables in-between frames and even larger shelves full of all kinds of products.


This layout of the store is carefully planned to utilize every square foot of the warehouse space. As a result of this, Costco makes more profit per square footage than any of its competitors. 




E-commerce is an essential sales channel for any retail seller nowadays. It has become an integral part of Costco's business model. In recent years Costco has entered the e-commerce business and has been consistently performing well in this segment. Costco offers its customers delivery and an option to order online if a product is not available in the store.



Ancillary business:

  When you visit a Costco store, invariably, you would also visit their gas station. One gets cheaper retail products at Costco, but even gas is cheaper at Costco gas stations than at other gas stations. Costco's business model is so well carved out that it appeals to the customer from multiple angles. It provides a complete experience to them, from filling their car's gas tank to loading the car trunk with groceries and supplies.



Customers find value in buying the membership, given that they will get access to not only in-house products but ancillary products such as gasoline.



Costco's business model works on various levels and utilizes various channels to engage customers and churn out those huge revenues year after year. Costco's business model leaves almost no room for any loopholes. Costco's willingness to go the extra mile to deliver the lowest prices to the consumer is commendable on the management's part. The real genius of Costco's business model is the holistic experience that it gives to the customer.

Costco has been aggressively expanding across multiple countries and steamrolling competition in different markets. It is only a matter of time that Costco will be omnipresent across the globe, providing value to one and all.

AppsRhino has delivered close to a hundred on-demand mobile app projects to multiple clients across the globe. AppsRhino can help you build your own retail sales mobile app within no time. To Contact please click here.

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