Costco Wholesale Corporation (trading as Costco) is an American multinational corporation which operates a chain of membership-only warehouse clubs. As of 2015, Costco was the second largest retailer in the world after Walmart, and the world's largest retailer of choice and prime beef, organic foods, rotisserie chicken, and wine as of 2016. In 2019, Costco was ranked #14 on the Fortune 500 rankings of the largest United States corporations by total revenue.
Costco's worldwide headquarters are in Issaquah, Washington, an eastern suburb of Seattle. The company opened its first warehouse (the chain's term for its retail outlets) in Seattle in 1983. Through mergers, however, Costco's corporate history dates back to 1976, when its former competitor Price Club was founded in San Diego, California. As of December 31, 2019, Costco has a total of 785 warehouses: 546 in the United States (including the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico), 100 in Canada, 39 in Mexico, 29 in the United Kingdom, 26 in Japan, 16 in South Korea, 13 in Taiwan, 11 in Australia, 3 in Spain, 1 in Iceland, 1 in France, and 1 in China. The company plans to open a warehouse in New Zealand in 2021 (delayed until early 2022).
A typical Costco warehouse carries only 3,700 distinct products, while a typical Walmart Supercenter carries approximately 140,000 products. If Costco feels the wholesale price of any individual product is too high, they will refuse to stock the product. For example, in November 2009, Costco announced that it would stop selling Coca-Cola products, because the soft-drink maker refused to lower its wholesale prices. Costco resumed selling Coca-Cola products the following month.
Lighting costs are reduced on sunny days, as most Costco locations have several skylights. During the day, electronic light meters measure how much light is coming in the skylights and turn off an appropriate percentage of the interior lights. During an average sunny day, it is normal for the center section of the warehouse not to have interior lights in use.
Although the brand engages in visible efforts to reduce costs, the stores themselves are expensive. In 2013, Costco spent approximately $80 million on each of the new stores it opened. The cost is partly driven by the cost of real estate, as each new store means that they need enough space to support a building of approximately 150,000 square feet (14,000 m2) in size, a large parking lot, and often a gas station.
The company has no public relations department and does not buy outside advertising.
The company's rule is that no item may be marked up more than 14% over cost and no Kirkland Signature item may be marked up more than 15% over cost. The company runs very lean, with overhead costs at about 10% of revenue and profit margins at 2%. Costco's annual membership fees (US$60/year for Gold Star, US$120/year for Executive as of 2019) account for 80 percent of Costco's gross margin and 70 percent of its operating income.