Art of Costco shopping

alliances and diplomacy

The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.

Sun Tzu, The Art of War
Photo by San Fermin Pamplona on

I have reached a point in life that shopping in “big box” stores disappoints me. Twenty-five years ago, the big stores were a curiosity, since as a single man, I never imagined the option to buy a year’s supply of toilet paper at one time, a 10-pack of chicken thighs or steaks, or ketchup by the gallon. People were nicer then, too. As you drove in the parking lot – at 2 mph – a customer might say, “hang on a minute and you can have my spot”. The clerks at the checkout would chat with you – both your kids play baseball at the same high school. The three people in line at checkout would not fume at a little friendliness. You might see your child’s teacher, or coach, or your co-worker shopping also. It was a time when buying something foreign-made ( Japan, Mexico, or Latin America) was a good deal, and not going to start a debate on politics or foreign policy.

navigating contested waters

All warfare is based on deception. Hence, when we are able to attack, we must seem unable; when using our forces, we must appear inactive; when we are near, we must make the enemy believe we are far away; when far away, we must make him believe we are near.

Sun Tzu, The Art of War
world’s busiest Costco (via

Fast-forward to 2019. I find that I go Walmart to buy the grape juice for Sunday communion – the grocery stores do not carry plain white grape juice bottles in sizes or prices I am looking for. My wife and I shop at Target for most routine items for our weekly meals, and will go to Costco for their selection of meat, cheese, and bulk needs. Most of our shopping like my workday commute has to be scheduled to avoid “rush hour”. At the wrong time, what should have taken five minutes becomes a quarter-mile walk and dealing with long checkout lines. Or the item you came for, is the one thing you forgot to buy. Walking back for that one item means another forty minute exercise in “saying no to ungodliness”.

unconventional warfare

If your enemy is secure at all points, be prepared for him. If he is in superior strength, evade him. If your opponent is temperamental, seek to irritate him. Pretend to be weak, that he may grow arrogant. If he is taking his ease, give him no rest. If his forces are united, separate them. If sovereign and subject are in accord, put division between them. Attack him where he is unprepared, appear where you are not expected .

Sun Tzu, The Art of War

In the last decade I have become increasingly irritated by my local stores’ patrons. While my community is made up of all sorts, ages and occupations, I seem to notice more irritated and oblivious self-important folks now. Some – not much older than me I’m afraid – sit in the middle of the lanes waiting for one specific space (even when the patron is only just arriving with their shopping goods). Others, particularly inside Costco, who will unashamedly block the aisle completely because they are waiting for the employee to finish dishing out a bit of pot roast, coffee, or crackers n cheese – as if they haven’t eaten all week. And they get pissed when you ask them to move so you can reach that product behind them!

introverts and extroverts

If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.

Sun Tzu, The Art of War

As one of my friends noted to me this past week, it might be more of a personality thing – mine can be a little overwhelming, he said. An extrovert might find opportunities to enjoy engaging with people in a Costco or a Walmart or the Target stores. And others just want to get in, get out, and back to what little isolation an introvert can muster today.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s