How Costco became a mecca for Asian American shoppers

For the uninitiated, a warehouse retailer tracing its roots to 1970s sunny San Diego is hardly the picture of a staple for a community as diverse as Asian Americans. Yet it happens to be the case in 2022, when the group makes up 7% of the entire U.S. population but reportedly comprises 11% of Costco’s shoppers.

Somehow, Asian American shoppers have made a home out of Costco, now headquartered in Issaquah, Washington state. At present, the wholesale club operates more than 800 outlets in 12 global markets, four of which are in Asian countries or territories.

This is why it comes as no surprise that Costco’s profile shopper happens to be Asian. Both this year and the last, analytics firm Numerator reported that the average Costco shopper is a married, 39-year-old Asian American woman who lives in the Pacific Northwest, holds a four-year degree or higher level of education and earns more than $125,000 a year.

How such a market share came to be can be attributed to Asian cultural practices and Costco’s own business nature. Asian households, which often include extended family members, are typically larger than the average U.S. home, which makes them more likely to buy in bulk and look out for bargains.

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As a warehouse club, Costco offers just that. But more importantly, it helps that the company has acquired a strong understanding of the market it serves.

“Almost all my friends have Costco memberships,” Cindy Zhou, 50, told CNBC. “I like Costco because they have very good quality at a much lower price than other grocery stores.”

Zhou shared that she first heard about Costco from a friend who immigrated from China. Such an overseas story does not come as a surprise when one learns that the retailer has been popular in Asia since as early as 2007, when Seoul — which saw its first Costco outlet opened in 1994 — became the company’s most profitable single store worldwide (Taiwan became the second most profitable in 2010).

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Today, Asian Americans are discovering more and more Asian products in their local warehouse. And with a community that’s tight-knit, new releases tend to spread by word of mouth — or maybe a WeChat group.

“When I saw it in Costco, it just made me laugh that durian has gone mainstream,” Wendy Leung, 45, told CNBC of the Southeast Asian fruit debuting at her San Fernando Valley warehouse. “I've definitely been noticing more Asian products at Costco lately.”

Writer Julie Wu noticed the same trend and wrote a list of 10 Costco-available Asian foods to stock up on for, a resource website for deals, discounts, bargains and other money-saving offers. Among her picks include beef bulgogi, miso ramen and milk tea mochi.

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“Nowadays, I browse the aisles and can always seem to find a new yummy Asian treat that I have to try. I love that Costco is making a real effort to introduce Asian foods to new markets and making them accessible for everyone,” Wu wrote.


Featured Image via ABC

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