People are obsessed with buying cars through Costco instead of at auto dealerships — these are the biggest differences between the two (COST)
- The Costco Auto Program allows Costco members to buy discounted cars through participating dealerships.
- The program makes a lot of the hardest parts of buying a car — like research and negotiation — easier.
- But it also limits the customer's options in some areas.
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Shopping for a car can be overwhelming.
Even if you know what kind of vehicle you're looking for, you have to decide on the brand, model, and model year you'd like, as well as the dealership you want to use, whether you'd like to buy new or used, and whether you want to buy or lease.
Where do you start your research? Which sources can you trust? What's a reasonable price?
The Costco Auto Program attempts to eliminate some of that uncertainty.
In the past five years, over 1 million Costco members have purchased a vehicle through the program, which allows members to research and compare vehicles, calculate monthly payments, and get a discount at participating dealerships through the program's website or call center.
While the size of the discount varies based on the vehicle's class, brand, and model, a Costco Auto Program representative told Business Insider in 2018 that the average discount was over $1,000 off a vehicle's average transaction price.
And since the program is available only to its members, Costco has plenty of reasons to vet dealers and salespeople so their customers don't end up feeling tricked and blame Costco.
"We're not just providing leads to dealers — we're creating a referral," Rick Borg, a Costco Auto Program senior executive, told Business Insider in 2018.
Here's how using the Costco Auto Program is different from the average car shopping process.
1. You have to be a Costco member to use the program.
This may sound obvious, but while nonmembers can use some of the program's research tools, only Costco members are eligible to get the discounted price.
2. Multiple strands of research are condensed into one place.
Costco Auto Program
One of the most difficult parts of shopping for a car is figuring out where to start and end your research, especially if you don't read car reviews for fun.
The Costco Auto Program brings reviews, safety ratings, a financial calculator, and a vehicle-comparison tool under one roof.
While it never hurts to compare research from multiple sources, the program's website provides a good place to start.
3. Your choice of dealerships and salespeople is limited.
Carlos Osorio / AP
Borg said Costco works with one dealership per brand in a defined geographic area around a Costco warehouse — and at each participating dealership, only a handful of salespeople are authorized to work with customers shopping through the program.
He said Costco picks dealerships based on prices, customer satisfaction index scores, and reputations on social media. Authorized salespeople are also evaluated based on their customer satisfaction scores and must work at their dealership for at least six months before they are eligible to work with the program.
But the limited number of dealerships and salespeople makes things a little more difficult for customers who don't end up satisfied with the first dealership Costco recommends. While Borg said Costco can point customers to other participating dealerships, they may not be geographically convenient.
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