Let me preface this story by saying that I love Costco. From the moment I stepped inside their giant warehouse for the first time I have been dumbfounded by the amazing deals and the unbelievable sizes of their items. To me, it is exciting because you never know what they are going to have there, even if you have been there only a day or two prior, and it is always full of people, whether you are there at 2 pm on a Sunday or 10 am on a Tuesday.
I loved it so much that I allowed them to convince me to upgrade my membership to the "Executive" level. How exhilarating! An Executive Member! And I am not even an executive! I am a stay-at-home dad slash opera singer! How they sold me on this membership was that for an extra $50 a year, I would receive 2% back on all my purchases in the form of a Costco gift certificate at the end of said year. As I was there to buy a television, that seemed like a good deal to me. It had half paid for itself in just one visit!
A year later, my reward check came and I happily spent the over $50 that I had suddenly come into. But then the next year, during which I did not buy a TV, I only accrued enough 2%s for a $38 reward check. Suddenly it looked to me like I had just lost $12! So I walked in and asked the customer service folks to downgrade my membership. "Oh, no, no, no!" they told me. "Don't do that! It is our policy that if you don't get up to the $50 in your reward check, we will refund you the difference." They handed me $12 and I walked out happy.
Well, last year I more than spent enough money to make it worthwhile, but last week I got my check for this year (even though I am not due to renew until October) and it was for only $41. "Ha ha!" I said to myself, "I will just go back to Costco and get my $9 back and use it to buy more things at Costco!" And so that's what I did. The going to Costco part anyway.
When I got to the counter and asked for my policy-guaranteed $9, I was informed that this was certainly not their policy, but they would be happy to downgrade my membership and give me the $9 if I wanted. I said no, I want my $9, but I would like to keep the Executive membership, you know, in case I spend a lot of money next year. The woman I was speaking to decided to get someone who knew more stuff than her, and so I was bumped up to level 2 in the membership food chain, where I got help from a very friendly woman who told me that, since I was not renewing until October, I should wait the two more months, see if I spend any more money, and perhaps I would cross that threshold of $50 by that time. She said if I waited and spent more money, they would give me that extra bonus money I had earned in October, and so maybe I could come back and get ten dollars back! Or even fifteen!
This made sense to me, so I walked away from the counter satisfied and got into the hot dog line. By this time my kids were wondering where I had gone off to and so was my mother-in-law who was waiting with them. As I stood in that line, my stupid math brain began to do some of it's dumb old thinking, and suddenly I was upset again. After I had gotten food for everyone, I dropped it off at the table and went back to customer service to argue some more, and here's why.
The check I received in August was for $41. It was for my current yearly purchases, running from October to October. However, because they mail invoices out two months early, I still had two months of rewards earning to go, which is why the woman had cautioned me to wait and collect all my bonuses in two months. Which meant that the $41 I received was only for a 10 month period, right? Wrong, because they always send invoices and checks out two months early, which meant that last year I had gotten a check two months early, and also the year before. Which meant that the $41 check I had received was NOT my rewards from this year of shopping, but included two months of last year's shopping. What I am trying to say here is that when I spent my $50 to upgrade, I didn't make $41 of it back in rewards. I made less than $41 of it back in rewards. I don't know how much was from August and September of last year, maybe $1, maybe $10, but the point is, they were more than happy to give me $9 back, when in fact $9 is not the amount that I had lost by upgrading. In fact, I had no idea how much I had lost, and I wanted to find out.
When I went back to the counter, I tried to explain all of this to the nice woman who had helped me before. Sadly, it was hard to explain. I asked her how much of my $41 was from the past ten months, and how much was from the previous paid year of membership, and she said her computers did not have that data. She went up one more level in the chain and got her boss to come over, and let me tell you, I am glad that they promoted this woman to supervisor, because she had no business dealing with customers.
She glared and sighed a lot and spoke very sharply to me. I tried to apologize and said that I just wanted to understand the program that I was a part of, and she kind of grimaced and said it was fine, while not making eye contact. I told her that it all seemed like shady math to me, and she took great offense at that statement. She dug deeper into my records and informed me that actually I hadn't been to Costco during those last two months of last year's membership (plausible...I lived nowhere near Costco at that time) and in fact they had cancelled my membership and sent me a check for $6, which was my remaining rewards balance from those last two months, in October 2011, which I spent when I came back in to renew my membership at that time.
So okay, that made sense to me. I got a nice check last whenever, spent it but didn't go back to Costco for a few months at which time my membership lapsed. They sent me those extra $6 in rewards (exactly what the other lady had mentioned would happen this year if I came back in October) and when I did renew, it all started over again. But the thing is, she hadn't known that when we started the conversation. They were going to give me my $9, having no idea that I had lapsed previously and had not spent any money in August or September of 2011. To me, that is shady math that does not benefit me, the consumer, and is a policy that puts a couple of extra dollars in Costco's pockets. And what are we arguing about? A couple of dollars? It hardly seems important at all, but it truly was the principle of the thing. I don't want to be a part of any program that A) I don't understand fully, and B) Employs sketchy math that does not benefit me, even if it is only for a couple of bucks.
It was at this point that they told me that the real value of an Executive membership was in the services it provides, such as auto insurance and whatnot. They said that many people do not make back the $50 in rewards, but they save so much money when they, for instance, buy a boat, that it more than makes up the difference. And that's fine, but I do not want to take part in those programs. And besides, the last time I came in here with my same argument, I was handed $12 and told that it was policy! I'm not trying to start a fight, I just want to know what the real policies are, and what sort of program I am involved in! And why are they using weird math!?
So I told this to woman #3, and she came back with this: "Sir, because you received that extra $6 check last October, you have really received $47 back in rewards this membership year, so your current refund will be $2.05" Are you kidding me? You just told me I was getting back $8 and change. And to top it all off, as you yourself mentioned, that $6 check was for last membership year rewards. When I renewed in October 2011, I paid $50. That was after the $6 check was mailed. Since then, I have accrued $41 and change in bonuses, so you owe me $8! "Well, sir, that's our policy. Both the $41 check and the $6 were mailed in the same membership year."
Now THAT is some bullshit right there. So I battled on. And eventually I got to membership lady #4, the head boss of bosses, the one with the key around her neck that can open any lock and the codes to launch the missiles. She walked over, signed a paper, opened the drawer, and I was given my $8. Then they made me pose for a new card photo and they took away my fancy Executive membership card that was all black and shiny and important looking. I got one of those ugly white ones that all the normal common people have. My status was revoked, at my request of course, and I walked away with my $8 and sat down to eat my cold hot dog. I had been at that desk for over an hour.
I don't know what the moral of this story is. I can't tell if I really won or not. In the dream world in my mind, they ought to have all come over to me and said, "You know what, you're right. Nothing we do makes sense. We will immediately change all of our policies." But for some reason that did not happen. I don't think my explanations moved any hearts or minds, and even if they had, I'm pretty sure that nobody in the Vermont Costco warehouse has any power to change anything anyway. In the end, I am just one person who decided that he didn't like what he saw when the curtain was pulled back, and I guess that all we can do in a scenario like that is just to refuse to participate. Maybe I can't change how they do business, but I don't have to be a part of it.