It’s another unremarkable, crisp Tuesday morning and I’m shaking my head at the disappointingly calm crowd that has been queuing in front of Costco all morning. I’m waiting for people to shove each other aside like animals at the watering hole or teenagers at a Justin Bieber concert. If I have to miss my morning coffee I would like it to be worth at least a back slap. Instead, I get a polite “excuse me” from an old lady who stepped on my toe. Am I still dreaming?
As I set foot inside, it certainly feels so. High shelves are stacked with colourful boxes as far as the eye can see, among piles of TV screens, designer bags and sparkling jewellery. A ridiculous boombox in the shape of a dog wearing sunglasses stares back at me while a life-size brass giraffe stands majestically among blossoming trees. From the other side of the entrance hall, gigantic teddy bears out of my worst nightmares sit on top of each other, like a cuddly mountain that threatens to swallow me whole with a big red smile.
I thought I’d be going to the opening of a supermarket. Instead, I have just been sent to the newest entertainment centre.
A simple formula
As I walk around, I take it all in. Consumerism isn’t a byproduct of Costco—quite the opposite. Yet, I feel like I have fallen through a rabbit hole right to the edge of the world, forced to play in a videogame where the more you spend the more you win. People walk around like robots—nose in the air, mindlessly guided by invisible strings, stacking things in their cart as if Costco planned to disappear after the weekend. One lady mulls over two identical pairs of socks. “It’s just so exciting,” she says. “The prices, the products… It’s just like in America! It’s so cheap!”
The formula is simple: it’s cheap, thus, you need it. After all, possession is power. Fighting for items we are told we desire wakes up some primitive animalistic instinct we barely recognise. Besides the adrenaline we get from the race, possessing or experiencing things before others elevates our social status and makes us feel relevant. Like that giant brass giraffe.
Like mice in a cage
All the way through I feel as if we’re being watched like mice in a cage. Not one employee is Icelandic and most of them are not allowed to talk to me. Costco called its best specialists from abroad to help with the opening, from British construction workers and car dealers to sushi experts flown in from Tokyo. “We often get help from other countries where we already have established projects but in a couple of days you’ll be on your own,” Nicolas from San Diego tells me after trying to sell me a car. The fact that I don’t even have a driver’s licence seems completely irrelevant to him.
Everywhere I go I get the same staged answer. “Costco is a very ethical company,” another worker says. “We look after people, both members and employees.” We are the best employer; we bring you quality and value; we take care of the employees. After the fourth time I hear it, it gets redundant, and I’m visibly frustrated. I feel like I’m on a Westworld kind of loop.
“Enjoy! Make sure you spend some money,” the same man adds as I walk out. I’m exhausted, slightly nauseous and I never want to set foot in here again. Yet, as we drive back to town, there is only one thing I can think of: where could I fit that giant brass giraffe?