Costco personal shopper service – a blind person’s perspective
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Costco personal shopper service – a blind person’s perspective
Kathy Stephanides, a blind person, describes how the Costco personal shopper service made shopping accessible and enjoyable for her.
Whether it is looking into store windows or picking up groceries, one of my favorite activities is shopping. I like to shop until I drop or the ones around me drop. I do not frequent fancy stores or expensive boutiques, but flea markets, arts and craft fairs, and the like are my version of paradise. Thrift shopping and bargain-hunting were engrained within me all my life based on necessity. With my visual compromise, I have had to convert from in-person shopping to Amazon or other online retailers.
I have never been intimidated by the size, noise, or the traffic within Costco, but rather I am enticed by their bargain selections, so Costco has always been at the top of my shopping destinations list. Unfortunately, I had no companion that would take me. I have had to omit Ted, my daughter, and another close friend from accompanying me for various reasons. Respectively, for Ted the warehouse shopping scene does not appeal, and prefers small businesses, Eleni gets overwhelmed by the size and traffic, and the friend regretfully admits that she becomes agoraphobic and anxious at Costco.
However, late last year, I was delighted to find out that my local Costco had a personal shopper service. I had called the warehouse to find out what support they could provide a blind shopper like me. It thrilled me to learn that a staff person could act as my guide, so I could pick my own items!
I took an East Bay Paratransit taxi to the entrance, already crowded with customers looking for carts and waiting at the entryway. After presenting my Costco membership card, and my white cane, Groovy, I repeated my need for shopping with the Costco personal shopper service. Voila, a young man named Polo arrived to begin my quest.
Immediately, his name sparked the childhood Marco Polo hiding game, often played in the pool. I showed Polo my list written on a legal-sized yellow pad, listing bolded items in black for easy readability. I placed Groovy horizontally on the cart, holding onto the handle for security, and Polo led the way by grabbing the front of the metal cart. As Polo pushed the cart and I held on, he was guiding me too. I did not need to use my cane in the crowded store, and he became my sighted guide. I felt sheltered from all the commotion around me.
Having Polo guide me offered reassurance in contrast to the experiences I have had shopping with friends and family, who often get exasperated and heave sighs of annoyance. Polo replaced the ranks of my family and friends who do not find the same satisfaction with shopping, are overwhelmed by the stimuli of and the length of my shopping expedition. My exuberance faced apathy or aversion from my previous shopping companions and the frustration I felt of being separated from the retail experience motivated me to find another way around the obstacle.
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First, we began with large items, such as multipack toilet paper and paper towels. Polo loaded them into the cart, after reading the overhead signs to me about the type of product and price. The cart was already so full, and we had only just begun! I asked Polo to put these items in the bottom of the cart to create more cart room.
Then we got one of my favorite snack items, popcorn, and Polo hoisted two large, red bags, almost child-sized, into the cart. I had never seen this Newly Naked brand before. Polo’s introduction of Newly Naked popcorn changed my life. It is now the only brand I enthusiastically enjoy. Skinny Pop and TJ’s Airpopped are my second and third choices. At my direction, Polo located the Honeymaid Graham Crackers four-pack into the cart as this is also one of my must-haves.
We meandered over to the refrigerated food items. Since Polo was mainly a cashier, he often had to get on his walkie to ask his teammates where certain food items were. Patiently, Polo located magnum cartons of gorgonzola and feta cheese crumbles, packages of organic chicken thighs, tenderloins and breasts, and boneless lamb chops, which is a favorite meat in Greek households. He also located the La Croix sparkling water, a magna pack of sabra hummus and large cartons of fresh pre-cut mango and pineapple.
I checked my list twice, much like our kids did with their Dear Santa letters, and determined that all items were present and accounted for. Feeling an exuberance for a job well done with a patient assistant, Polo led me to a cash register and unloaded what needed to be unloaded onto the carousel and I paid the bill.
Since I had also planned a lunchtime treat as part of my excursion, Polo headed me to the Costco snack bar, where I met Trina at the counter. I asked for a slice of vegetarian pizza and a frozen yogurt cup. She totally surprised me with an exuberant and warm welcome, as I showed her my cane and took out a ten-dollar bill to pay. She shared that not only did I look beautiful today but that she was aware of the needs of a visually impaired person, as her brother now had macular degeneration. She counted out my change and announced that without my asking so, that she would bring my food to my table and watch my cart for me. Her kindness and public relations astounded me and helped me feel welcomed to this usually cavernous warehouse.
When she saw that I had completed my meal, she walked with me to the exit with my cart. I thanked her enthusiastically and waited outdoors for my Paratransit to arrive. Voila, my driver arrived, announcing himself, and carried my bags to his trunk. I chattered all the way home about my experience, one that I previously thought that I could never have again, given my blindness. He listened with polite attention and unpacked all my booty at the top of the stairs when we arrived at my home. I brought the four bags down methodically, unpacking and distributing the items throughout the house.
As I reflected on the success and fulfillment I had on this outing, I knew what I would do next. I called via voiceover the manager of that Costco and informed him of my totally positive experience, both with Polo and Trina, and the Costco personal shopper service. I then asked him how their exemplary services be documented. He suggested placing a note in their employment files about my experience, including my name, email, and phone number as a resource. This, to me, is an example of karma and asking/receiving/paying it forward and ensuring they knew what it meant to me.
As I recall, this day I equate my Costco run as a source of bliss almost heavenly in nature. The two staff I met gave a soft and kind feature in an otherwise vast and overwhelming warehouse experience. My ability to continue to enjoy Costco, despite family or environmental obstacles, allows me to acquire some of what I want and need. I found a way to open doors that previously had been closed to me if I really listened to the hesitation or the fogginess of my vision.
Kathy Stephanides resides in Oakland, California with her husband and she has two grown daughters, one in LA and one in Oakland.