How to Shop a Bulk Retailer

NEW YORK (MainStreet) – Consumers may shy away from shopping at bulk retailers because of the accompanying membership fees, but the truth is, you can easily recoup the $35 to $100 charges by saving on your purchases.

“Even if you make one huge purchase – for example, if you purchased a flat-screen TV – you can justify the price,” says Matt Levitte, editor-in-chief of Cheapism.com. He adds that ideally, shoppers should plan to visit their wholesale club of choice every two to three months to maximize savings on the low prices the membership provides access to.

But this doesn’t mean avid wholesale club shoppers don’t need to tread carefully.

“The atmosphere [in a store] is modeled after a casino,” says Regina Lewis, personal finance expert and communications consultant. “There are no mirrors. There are no clocks. They’re designed to make you lose your sense of time.”  

The hope is that consumers will stumble upon reasonable prices on items they never expected to buy and may not immediately have a need for, like a new printer or a pair of designer sunglasses.

To spare you from overspending, MainStreet asked experts for shopping tips you can use year-round at bulk stores to get great deals.

Make a list and stick to it

This is especially important if you live far from your wholesale club, Lewis says, since you may psychologically want to justify the trip by buying things you ultimately won’t use.

Levitte suggests adding any item you see selling at a low price but weren’t planning to buy to a future shopping list, since low prices are likely to be available later on as well.

You also shouldn’t shop when you’re hungry. “You're bound to throw unnecessary items into your cart,” warns Regina Novickis, consumer savings expert for PromotionalCodes.com.

Shop online

Another way to avoid impulse buying is to purchase items on the retailer’s website. Interestingly, non-members can also order products online from all the major wholesale clubs, though Costco (Stock Quote: COST) and BJ’s both impose a 5% surcharge and Sam’s Club tacks on 10%. 

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