The Story Behind Costco’s Free Samples

When I was a kid, my father would devise a cheap lunch that consisted of taking me to Costco to snack on some free samples, and then we’d split the $1.50 hot dog and soda combo in the food court (it’s still $1.50 today—an amazing deal after taking inflation into account). This was done more out of necessity than frugality, though I was unaware of it at the time. I was more fixated on that fact that stores gave all those samples away for free.

The Atlantic writes that this is a tactic that actually boosts sales, builds loyalty, and occasionally gets people to buy things they wouldn’t have picked up at the store in the first place:

Ariely adds that free samples can make forgotten cravings become more salient. “What samples do is they give you a particular desire for something,” he says. “If I gave you a tiny bit of chocolate, all of a sudden it would remind you about the exact taste of chocolate and would increase your craving.”

But maybe the most interesting part of this story has less to do with the premise of the Atlantic article, which is to examine the psychology behind free samples; it’s about the labor behind free samples and you’d miss it if you didn’t read until the very end:

In Support of Credit Card Points, With Caveats

I would never recommend making heavy use of credit if you're coming up lean at the end of every month. But we do have enough that we could pay off last month's credit card bill and pay for this month's spending.

Price Comparison Battle: Safeway vs. Trader Joe’s vs. Costco vs. Casa Lucas

I divided up my grocery list into four broad categories: dairy, meat, produce, and dry goods. I chose identical products at the lowest price (i.e. if there were onions and organic onions, I chose the non-organic). If the product was only sold at scale (everything sold at Costco), I put the full amount and price you'd have to pay in parentheses. If I couldn't find an item (why doesn't Costco sell sweet potatoes?), I left it blank.

On Immigrants And Being Cheap

"Cheapness" typically conjures images of people who buy cheap goods at Wal-Mart, instead of the more expensive, higher quality goods that last longer. However, "immigrant cheapness" is more nuanced than that, existing over a continuum that goes from practical stories of sacrificing to get ahead, to just plain silly.

Costco Wants Its Employees to be Happy

Bloomberg Businessweek is examining some of the things big box retailer Costco does right—just as Walmart workers are preparing to protest for better wages and working conditions at Walmart's annual meeting tomorrow held in Bentonville, Arkansas.

Gifts from Joe Biden

“I know you won’t tell anybody what I bought for Christmas,” he told reporters.