I love tomatoes! Here is an interesting idea on how to make them last longer and taste better – from IO9:
Seriously, folks, you need to stop refrigerating your tomatoes
A fresh tomato is a delight — until it’s spent a few days in the refrigerator. Then it transforms into a mushy, tasteless mess. Here’s the scientific reason why you should never, ever refrigerate your tomatoes. But — if you absolutely must — there is a way to do it.
The Chemistry of a Tomato
The flavor of a tomato is the result of a mix of sugars, acids, and volatiles (the compounds that produce aromas). It’s in that last category, the volatiles, that the trouble with refrigeration begins — and unfortunately that’s also that same category where a lot of the tomato’s distinct flavor comes from.
Researchers in France recently undertook an analysis of just was happening to the volatiles in tomatoes stored at room temperatures, versus tomatoes in cold storage. When stored at 68 degrees fahrenheit, they found that a ripe tomato not only maintained existing volatiles, it actually continued to produce more. In other words, the tomato’s flavor just kept on getting more and more tomato-y.
When stored at 39 degrees, however, volatile production didn’t just stop, existing volatiles actually began to break down. What’s more, the loss in volatiles wasn’t equal across the board — it was targeted. Different volatile compounds import different kinds of flavor notes. The volatiles associated with the notes typically described as “grassy” or “green” in tomatoes took an especially hard hit, which is why that “fresh picked” flavor is the first to go when a tomato sits in your refrigerator.
The loss in flavor is not purely a chemical problem, though — there’s also the texture of the tomato to worry about. It turns out that, for a sensitive fruit like a tomato, temperatures don’t necessarily need to be drop below freezing in order to be damaging. Anything below 50 degrees can put the tomato at risk of a chilling injury, the symptoms of which include softening and pitting. The end result? A spongy, flavorless tomato.
The Sauce Exception
So far, both science and our tastebuds seem to be converging on one simple point: For God’s sake, just keep your tomatoes out of the refrigerator. There is, however, a seeming exception to this rule: soups and sauces. Sticking a soup or a sauce in the fridge for a day or so doesn’t tend to hurt the flavor — in fact, in a lot of cases, a soup or sauce that’s had a little time to mellow in the fridge tastes even better. So what gives?
Some of it is simply down to the fact that the flavors have had more time to mingle and soften together into a more cohesive whole as they aged. But, in the case of tomato-based soups and sauces, it’s also due to the fact that what you’re tasting in that soup or sauce, while delicious, probably isn’t really tomato.
Harold Klee is a professor at the University of Florida whose research looks at the chemical components that make up the flavors of fruit, especially the tomato. He explained to io9 the process of how cooking alters the flavors you associate with fresh tomatoes:
In processed tomatoes the first thing they do is boil the fruit to remove most of the water. That’s how you get 10 or more fruit into one of those tiny cans of paste. The volatiles are long gone from any cooked tomato product in a can. I asked a processor once why the don’t capture the volatiles and add them back after cooking – a process widely used in the orange juice industry. He said they don’t rely on real tomato flavor. They add taste back in the form of basil, oregano, garlic etc. You aren’t tasting the natural taste of a tomato in those things [sauces and soups] you asked about. Just once, try a recipe for tomato soup where you add fresh pureed tomatoes at the very end. See how different it tastes.
If you must refrigerate, then do it like this
Ideally, tomatoes should be kept out at room temperature. But, if you must refrigerate them, there’s still a few things you can do to minimize the damage. The simplest method is, of course, eating them cooked instead of fresh. Tomatoes stuck in the fridge for a week might not suit a salad, but they’re still a delightful addition to a sauce, a soup, or a curry.
Intriguingly, there’s also some evidence that the damage done by refrigeration could be reversible, at least in part. In the volatiles study, researchers found that, even after up to 6 days in the fridge, spending 24 hours out on the counter at room temperature was enough to kick at least some of the tomato’s aroma producing compounds back into gear (though never quite back to their original levels). So, if refrigerating your tomatoes is a must, you might try letting them spend a day out on the counter to see if they re-coup some of their original flavor.
There’s also one other potential solution out on the horizon, though it’s probably pretty far away. Most of the currently available varieties of tomatoes are very sensitive to the cold. There are, however, other varieties out there that could conceivably fill the gap for a refrigeration-resistant tomato if not now, then sometime in the future. “We are looking for varieties that are resistant to chilling injuries by exploring the wild [tomato] relatives that live high in the Andes mountains,” Klee says. “But that’s a very long process.”
In the meantime, though, the best, easiest, and most delicious, fix might just be to start storing your tomatoes out on the kitchen counter in the first place.
Top Image: Tomatoes in a refrigerator, pj_vanf/ Bottom images: 1) pasta & sauce,stu_spivack 2) Hanging tomato plants, sylvar
Probably one of the most confusing things – almost seems like gambling – is figuring out the right time to buy your airline tickets. Looks like it is 7 1/2 weeks according to CheapAir:
When should you buy your airline ticket? Here’s what our data has to say
It is a question that has been agonizing travelers for the last 30 years: when is the best time to buy an airline ticket? Buy too early and you feel like a sucker when the guy sitting next to you paid $100 less for buying his ticket three months later. Buy too late and…well, you might find yourself priced right out of the market.
Every year, when to buy a flight is the most frequently asked question our customer support team receives. And every year, we crunch more and more data to try to find the best answer. In 2013, we monitored 4,191,533 trips. For each trip – that is, a flight from city A to city B on a specific date with a specific trip length– we looked at prospective fares over about a 10½ month booking window, ranging from 320 days in advance, to 1 day in advance, including every possible booking date in between. It adds up to a database of 1.3 billion air fares — and a serious headache for those who were tasked with making sense of it!
The simple answer is that in 2013 the best time to buy a domestic airline ticket was 54 days in advance, or 7 1/2 weeks on average. But before you send yourself a calendar invite 54 days before your next trip, read on; there is a lot more to the story.
The “Prime Booking Window”
For most domestic trips, we found a similar pattern. The worst time to book your trip was the last minute. No big shocker there. The day before was the single worst day, two days before was the second worst, etc. etc. all the way up to 13 days in advance. Our data completely debunks the myth that if you wait until the last minute, there will be big price reductions to take advantage of, as airlines dump empty seats. That simply doesn’t happen, and buying a flight with less than two weeks advance purchase is the last strategy we would recommend.
Besides not buying at least 14 days in advance, however, the next biggest mistake was usually to buy too early. On most airlines, flights open up for sale 331 days in advance. That is the earliest you can book a flight – about 11 months in advance. We found that for about four months from that time, domestic fares tended to stay pretty steady, and pretty high. That makes sense. Airlines just don’t get aggressive about offering fare sales for flights that far in advance. (Note, we are specifically referring to fares within the U.S. here. The pattern for international flights is different and we’ll discuss in a follow up post.)
According to the data, sometime around 225 days out (7 1/2 months), on average, fares started to drop and by 104 days out (3 1/2 months) they had fallen to within $10 of their low point. From there they continued to drop, slowly but steadily, until reaching a low 54 days before departure. After 54 days, fares started to climb again, remaining within $10 of that low until 29 days out. Then, the increase began to accelerate and once you were within 14 days the fares really shot up dramatically.
In short, between about one month out and three and a half months out (29 days to 104 days) fares were at their lowest point. We call this period the “prime booking window” where the average fare on each day was within $10 of the lowest fare possible. This is the period where 2013 domestic flights were generally the least expensive and this was usually the best time to buy.
What it All Means
Of course, that’s a pretty good sized window. On the surface, it may seem like we are saying as long as you don’t buy too early and don’t buy too late, you’ll be fine, so it’s not really that critical when you actually purchase your flight. But when we drill down on the numbers we see clearly that that is the wrong conclusion to draw. We keep saying “on average” because when you throw 4 million trips together, and run the numbers, the volatility tends to get smoothed out. But if you’re going to a specific destination, on a specific set of dates, general averages across the whole U.S. industry don’t matter – what really matters are prices for your exact trip. And here you’ll see that, if you look within the “prime booking window” at the individual trip level, there is a ton of volatility and fluctuation. We found that each individual trip had an average of 92 fare changes between the time fights opened for sale and the time they departed. For domestic flights, the average difference between buying a ticket on the best possible day to buy and the worst was $312! The smooth graph that you see above which is based on averages for all markets, would have a lot more spikes and valleys if it were drawn for just one trip, like we did here. The $312 difference between buying at the right time and the wrong time drives home the point that the decision of when to buy really does make a huge impact on what you end up paying.
So What Should You Do if You’re Planning a Trip?
We know this is a lot to digest, but here’s the bottom line:
It is less important to remember the 54 days number, and more important to understand that the market for each exact trip is so unique and so volatile that averages are not that meaningful. Unfortunately, there isn’t any silver bullet, best-time-to-buy, that you can mark in your calendar and not have to worry about. We constantly tell would-be flyers to search for flights early and often. As soon as you know you might be taking a trip, start checking fares. This doesn’t necessarily mean to buy early – in fact, most of the time we suggest waiting. But you want to become familiar with the market on your exact travel dates so you know what’s a good fare, what’s not, and what’s realistic. If you check back frequently, you will likely catch fares that are both on the high side and the low side, and you’ll have the right perspective to know which is which. Be ready, though. When you do see a good deal, you’ll want to grab it, as great fares don’t typically last for very long.
We have all heard of them, and now from Gizmodo come these tricks for you to
Become a Master of the Secret Menu
You may already be familiar with In-N-Out’s fabled secret menu, but it’s just one of several popular food chains whose order options aren’t limited to what’s on display. In fact, there’s a menagerie of exotic items and flavor combinations just waiting to be uncovered, if you know what to ask for. Here are five of America’s most popular hidden menus.
Some ground rules before we dive in: First and foremost, don’t be a jerk. Understand that while most franchises are willing to accommodate virtually any request a customer has—”the customer’s always right” and all that—some shops may simply not have the necessary equipment, inventory, or know-how to make your off-the-menu item.
Second, fast food chain workers in general get paid the state minimum wage—even less if they get tipped—and aren’t actually required to know what grey menu item you’re talking about, so don’t be offended if the guy behind the register doesn’t jump out of his shoes to make your double-soy, half-caff, triple-caramel, choco-macchiatio monstrosity just the way you like it.
In-N-Out, the popular Southern California burger chain that has rapidly expanded to farther reaches, has perhaps the most widely known “secret” menu in America. Seriously, it’s even listed on the company’s website. While the listed menu itself is limited to whether or not you want cheese, grilled onions, or an extra patty on your burger, the chain is famous for its off-menu additions, such as:
Double Meat, Double Cheese, or any multiple thereof: More commonly known as a Double-Double, this will score you an extra patty and an extra slice of cheese. If you want three patties and three slices of cheese, ask for a triple-triple. Any more than that, or if you want buns interspersed between the patties (like the half bun McDonald’s uses to layer Big Macs), ask for a “3 by 3″, “4 by 4″, etc.
Grilled Cheese: If you’d rather skip the patty altogether, you can also easily order a grilled cheese sandwich instead. As the company website describes, this item includes “two slices of melted American cheese, hand-leafed lettuce, tomato, spread with or without onions on a freshly baked bun.” But no meat.
Animal Style: Slather your burger with a special sauce replete with chopped pickles and grilled onion bits. You haven’t eaten an In & Out burger until you’ve eaten it animal style.
Customized Fries: Like their burgers, In & Out’s fries are made to order. Ask for them Well Done (super crispy and greasy), Light Well (aka medium-well), with or without salt, or with a layer of melted cheese—you can even get them animal style if you’re feeling adventurous.
Protein Style: Looking to maintain your figure? Then you probably shouldn’t be eating fast food. But if you just gotta have a burger, minimize its impact on your waistline by foregoing the bun and swaddling your patty in a lettuce wrapper instead.
Root Beer Float: Mixing equal parts vanilla shake and root beer soda, this creamy concoction doesn’t need a spoon.
Image: AP Photo/Adam Lau
Starbucks will make most anything your heart (and taste buds) desire, generally of the frappuccino variety, in a number of sizes that aren’t listed on the board. Here are a few of the more popular and widely available off-menu options, as dug up by Starbucks Secret Menu:
Red Velvet Frappuccino: This chilled concoction consists of a Half White Chocolate/Half regular Mocha Frappuccino blended with raspberry syrup and topped with whipped cream.
Strawberry Shortcake Frappuccino: Have the barista fill strawberry juice to the first line of the cup and milk to the next. Then have him blend two scoops of vanilla bean powder, three pumps of white mocha syrup, one pump of toffee nut syrup, a dash of creme base, ice, and whipped cream together before pouring it into the cup and topping with whipped cream. Tip well; this is a pain to make.
Tiramisu Frappuccino: While the actual version of this drink is only available seasonally in Japan, you can have your local shop make a very close facsimile. You may want to just print this out and hand it to the barista:
Start with a Coffee Frappuccino
Add ½ pump hazelnut syrup, ½ pump toffee nut syrup, 1 pump caramel flan syrup, 1 pump mocha syrup
Add 1 espresso shot affogato (poured on top)
Top with caramel whipped cream, caramel flan sauce, and mocha drizzle
Cotton Candy Frappuccino: This delectable treat is surprisingly simple to make. Just ask the barista to add a pump or two of raspberry syrup to your vanilla bean frappuccino.
The Short: Want just a little bit of coffee? Like, less than a tall? You’re in luck. Starbucks offers an even smaller serving—essentially a kid’s cup—known as the “Short.”
Section image: AP Photo/Elise Amendola
Ordering special drinks from Jamba Juice can be a bit tricky—not because the shop doesn’t have the necessary ingredients, but because there’s no guarantee that the clerk will know what you’re talking about. It’s not like one can inherently divine the ingredients of these drinks by name alone, though they do taste just like they sound, so be sure you have a solid understanding of what goes into these drinks before you order.
Here are four of the most popular off-menu items offered by the fruit juice chain—there are more than 40 custom concoctions in all—as explained by Secret Menu-holic. Heck, there’s very little stopping you from making these yourself, at home, for a fraction of the price. All you need is a decent blender.
White Gummi Bear: One of three gummi bear variations (the other two being blue and red), a white gummi bear combines soy milk, peach juice, mango chunks, and four types of sherbet.
Mix 6 ounces of peach juice and 4 ounces of soy milk.
Add 1 scoop each of Lime, Raspberry, Orange, and Pineapple sherbet (you can easily replicate this with generic a tub of tutti-frutti sherbet from your local bodega’s freezer section), as well as one scoop each of crushed ice and Mango chunks.
Skittles: With a base of peach lemonade and lime sherbet combined with frozen yogurt and strawberries, a Skittle’s smoothie is both sweet and tart, just like it’s namesake.
Mix 1 cup of Peach Lemonade and one scoop lime sherbet.
Add 2 scoops each of frozen yogurt, frozen strawberries, and ice
Pink Starburst: A bit creamier than the Skittles, a Pink Starburst leverages all the sherbets as well as lemonade and soy milk to make arguably the best tasting item not on the Jamba Juice menu.
Mix 6 ounces each of Lemonade and Soymilk
Add one scoop each of Pineapple, Raspberry, Lime, and Orange as well as a single scoop of both frozen strawberries and crushed ice
Sourpatch Kids: Lip-puckeringly tart, the Sour Patch Kids smoothie may not be for everyone. Ask for a scoop of frozen yogurt or a dash of soy milk if you find the mix too sharp for your liking.
Pour 12 ounces Lemonade into a blender jug.
Add one scoop each: Pineapple, Raspberry, Lime, and Orange sherbet, as well as one scoop of blueberries.
Drown It in Mashed Potatoes: Easily the best item on the KFC menu, mashed potatoes make everything better. Add them to your meal, add them to your sides, add them to your sandwich—hell add them to your drink. There’s nothing that KFC’s mashed potatoes and gravy don’t improve. All you have to do is ask.
Double Down: Who needs bread when you’ve got a breaded chicken breast, nay, two breaded chicken breasts? The KFC Double Down, essentially a chicken sandwich that replaced the buns with breaded breast meat—and replaced the lettuce, tomato, and onion with bacon and melted cheese—may not have lasted long as an official menu item, but it is still very much available to those who know to ask. For an extra dash of self-loathing, you can make it a triple.
Baconize It: You’re clearly not eating at KFC for its health benefits, so you might as well up your caloric ante with an extra smattering of bacon, right? Considered mashed potato’s meat equivalent, you’ll be hard pressed to find a menu option that can’t also include bacon.
Poutine that Poultry: Poutine, Canada’s national snacktime treasure, combines the deliciousness of french fries with the curdledness of, um, milk curds (you know, the solidified precipitate of the cheese-making process), and tops the whole ordeal with gravy. If you want it, all you have to do is ask, but won’t somebody please think of your arteries?
Extra Cheese and Patties: Like In-N-Out, Jack in the Box is happy to add as many slices and patties the that burger as you wish. Just ask, but don’t let your eyes outpace your stomach.
Bacon Bacon Cheeseburger: The single best item on the JitB menu isn’t actually on the menu. The Bacon Bacon Cheeseburger (or BBC) augments the simple deliciousness of a basic cheeseburger with the savory goodness of two strips of bacon. You can also swap in sourdough bread if you so choose, though either way avoids the cholestoric overload inherent with the chain’s Bacon Ultimate Cheeseburger.
Loaded Grilled Breakfast Sandwich: It’s early, you’re hungry, now is not the time for halfhearted breakfasts. Don’t mess around in the morning when you can order a Loaded Grilled Breakfast Sandwich—a conventional Grilled Breakfast Sandwich but with an additional pair of fried eggs, two slices of ham, two slices of cheese, and two strips of bacon. Of course, there’s nothing stopping you from adding any other meat/cheese/deep fried product from the menu if you so choose.
Mint Oreo Shake: A flavor mix exceeded in popularity only by peanut butter and chocolate, it’s surprising that Jack in the Box’s Mint Oreo Shake isn’t on the regular menu, given how much people request it. Yes, it tastes exactly how it sounds—delicious.
7 Shocking Stats & Trends about the Internet – Infographic
If you are involved in an Internet business, or just curious about where the Internet is heading, this infographic will interest you.
If you’re involved in a startup, it’s important to analyze major trends that are likely to make an impact in the next few years. For example, you could look for the emerging tech that might give you a strategic business advantage if you’re an early adopter.
Identity theft has topped the list of consumer complaints filed with the FTC for 13 consecutive years and there’s no evidence that this year it won’t make the list for the 14th. Just how many victims of identity theft are there each year? While we don’t yet have the figures for 2013, a Javeline report puts the numbers from 2012 at 12.6 million. Factor in the more than 70 million Americans impacted by the recent Target and Niemen Marcus data breaches, and it’s clear why identity theft is a major concern for many Americans.
Identity theft takes many forms. Some of the most common include:
Credit card fraud
False applications for new credit
Fraudulent withdrawals from a bank account
Fraudulent use of telephone calling cards
Fraudulent use of an IP address in order to engage in illegal acts online
Fraudulent use of medical care
Social security fraud (for tax and employment fraud)
If you know or suspect that you are the victim of identity theft, there are steps you should take immediately to stop the theft and minimize the damage.
Be sure to request a copy of your credit report from each agency. If you find fraudulent items on your credit report(s), the simplest way to begin the dispute process is to click the item while viewing your credit report online. The agency will tell you what steps to take next.
With a security freeze in place, no one can obtain new credit in your name. New applications will be automatically denied. Each agency has a procedure for temporarily “thawing” your file in order to allow a legitimate application to be processed.
2. Contact any institution directly affected. For example, if you know your credit card was stolen, report the theft to the credit card issuer. If your checkbook was stolen, contact your bank.
For this step it’s really helpful if you’ve prepared a list of institutions and phone numbers in advance. You don’t have to write account numbers down on the list – that would be just one more way for a thief to gain access to your personal information. But do keep a list of what’s in your wallet, along with the contact information for each item.
3. Contact the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), to file an Identity Theft Affidavit and create anIdentity Theft Report. You can file your report online, by phone (toll-free): 1-877-ID THEFT (877-438-4338); TDD (toll-free): 1-866-653-4261, or by mail — 600 Pennsylvania Ave., Washington DC 20580.
The FTC will provide you with information about what to do next, depending on what type of fraud was (or may have been) committed.
4. File a police report. To complete the Identity Theft Report, you’ll need to contact your local law enforcement office and report the theft. Be sure to get a copy of the police report and/or the report number. Both your police report and the FTC Identity Theft Affidavit combine to create your Identity Theft Report. Your Identity Theft Report will help you when working with the credit reporting agencies or any other companies the identity their may have used to open accounts in your name.
It’s important to talk to the SSA if you have reason to believe your social security number has been compromised, even if you don’t yet see any evidence of financial fraud. A thief could be planning to swipe your tax refund, or to obtain employment in your name.
In addition to these five steps, if you have reason to believe the identity thief may have submitted a fraudulent change-of-address to the post office or has used the U.S. mail to commit the fraud against you, contact the Postal Inspection Service, which is the law enforcement and security branch of the post office. Fill out the online form.
Costco – one of my favorites places! It is almost the “happiest place around”. I go there often, but not as often as I did when we had a houseful of hungry growing kids! I still go there. Many fun/funny stories, but that is for another time.
Here is a great article by the designer of almost ALL of Costco’s 648 stores – from FastCo:
THE CHOREOGRAPHY OF DESIGN, TREASURE HUNTS, AND HOT DOGS THAT HAVE MADE COSTCO SO SUCCESSFUL
THE DESIGNER OF OVER 500 COSTCO WAREHOUSES ON WHAT MAKES THE BRAND SUCH A TRUSTWORTHY BUSINESS.
BY STAN LAEGREID
Costco, the sixth largest retailer in the world, succeeds because of its adeptness in breaking the rules of retail common sense. Costco has no advertising for non-members, though contained in a vacuous space, they offer no signage, then when you check out they do not bag your purchase. On top of that, the Costco store contains a mere 3,600 SKUs. Supermarkets offer around 25,000 and a typical Walmart can tally 142,000 SKUs under its roof. At Costco, if you want ketchup, you get just one choice, not 12. And all this comes with a membership fee; the shopper has to pay to even enter the store. But it works, and here’s why:
PANORAMIC STORE PLANNING
After transcending those barriers to entry, once you walk through Costco’s doors, the store is clearly set before you. It’s a carefully choreographed movement. The store–a three-acre, 148,000 square foot warehouse–at first glance appears overwhelming. The store layout however, offers a panoramic view of each of its shopping districts.
In comparison, Ikea stores create a circuitous but forcefully maneuvered “yellow brick road.” You survey each Ikea district only at your point of arrival there, whereas at Costco, the consumer can visually survey the entire store at its entrance, taking in the racetrack retail plan that will lead them past each of the Costco shopping districts they have already visually anticipated.
Upon entry, the Costco visitor is met by the “luxe” offerings of televisions, computers, and electronics. Add the unexpected but exotic offerings: a Cartier watch or a Prada handbag, or, on at least one occasion, an original Picasso. They may be for sale at a much reduced price, but likely for only a fleeting moment.
As the customer continues along, the racetrack infield features home, seasonal, and lifestyle selections on low-profile racks that allow for open sight lines across any point of the store. Beyond, floor-to-ceiling racks of hard goods ring the outside of the racetrack while fresh food is found at the racetrack’s far end. The very outside of the track is home to practical staples, including toilet paper, whose location requires consumers to pass many impulse buys.
PERISHABILITY TRIGGERS THE HUNT
Another element of Costco’s magic is the constant, storewide rotation of target staples–such as light bulbs, detergent, and paper towels–referred to as “triggers.” The shopper must search storewide for triggers, which, again, exposes them to a greater number of products. This is a “treasure hunt” in Costco’s parlance.
Costco rotates upward of 25% of its hard-goods and its products inside the racetrack as triggers. The result is that, of the 3,600 items for sale, a full 1,000 may be offered only for that particular moment and may not be available upon a future shopping visit. In fashion retail, Zara has mastered this version of perishability, which creates a high turnover of unique and current offerings that, when sold out, are replaced by a new set of fashion looks or unique new offerings. The ensuing sense of urgency to impulse buy is stemmed by the fear that the item might be gone if you wait to reconsider.
A DANCE THAT DEFIES CRITICS
This choreography has resulted in astounding, perennial success: Last June, the Seattle Times ranked Costco as the 10th best company in the Northwest, placing it ahead of Amazon.com, Microsoft, Nordstrom, and Nike. The Times acknowledged that this kind of ranking is relative, but the recognition is still impressive. To qualify the retailer’s success further, we can look at rankings by specific factors, which offer more concrete comparisons.
In this case, it actually produces an even more staggering result: Costco is the fourth largest retailer in the country, and this year it’s No. 22 in the Fortune 500. The Costco private label, Kirkland Signature, is one of the most successful brands in the industry. Jim Sinegal, Costco cofounder and former CEO, just won the National Retail Federation’s Gold Medal Award for 2014, that organization’s highest honor. Since its inception, the company has never posted a negative same-store sales result, and Costco averages among the highest sales figures per sale in the industry.
Despite this success, greed has not overtaken its operation. Costco engenders loyalty among both its employees and members with a strategy that looks out for both. For its members, Costco religiously limits its mark-ups to a maximum of 15%, straining its profit margin compared to the average mark-up of 25% for supermarkets and in excess of 50% for department stores.
For its employees, a full-time hourly Costco worker with customary raises can make upward of $40,000 annually after three to four years. With an average pay approaching twice the minimum wage, Costco also offers health care for upward of 90% of its employees. That results in one of the lowest turnover rates in the industry.
FRUGALITY BEGETS SUSTAINABILITY
Costco thrives on a sense of simplicity and sustainability. The store recycles packaging boxes for customers to use instead of bags, and displays are often just stacks of pallets from the loading dock. Costco also recycles tires and grease, and each warehouse uses around 150 individual skylights to provide a majority of the store’s illumination through natural lighting. Customers are unaware of many sustainable strategies, such as advanced heat recovery from the refrigeration system, or the increased introduction of solar panels. These efforts to maximize efficiency, from operations to store design and production, help Costco scale worldwide and still offer the benefits to its customers and employees.
CURATE MY KETCHUP
Costco also serves as a commodity editor that we can trust. There is a sentiment in shopping psychology that we as consumers suffer from a burden of choice and resultant overload anxiety. More than ever, we rely on social editors–people in whom we have faith or institutions whose values we identify with–to make simple decisions for us. Shoppers can freeze at the sight of an entire corridor of breakfast cereals, but Costco pre-selects and makes only one or two offerings. While Costco’s motivation may be efficiency, it ends up offering the customer simplicity and less stress, increasingly valued commodities.
INNOCENCE BELIES STRATEGY
After the checkout, the food court offers–in this case very similar to Ikea–a hot dog at $1.50, the same price since 1985. It’s again indicative of the company’s concerted effort, if not culture, to provide ever more value for its members while holding prices steady–or reducing them. It creates a situation where even the most determined single-item hunter shopper will be persuaded into many additional purchases. This carefully orchestrated layout of temptation and choreography results in an unexpected shopping spree that makes Costco a genius at seducing and catering to its customers at the same time. All this contained in a seemingly innocent warehouse.
–Stan Laegreid, AIA, is senior principal of MulvannyG2 Architecture, Bellevue, WA, which has designed nearly every of Costco’s 648 warehouses and counting, worldwide, since the retailer opened for business in 1983.