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In a Grocery Face-off, Is Costco Amazon-Proof?

Customers browse products at a Costco store in San Francisco
Customers browse products at a Costco store in San FranciscoPhotograph by David Paul Morris/Bloomberg

Seattle-based Amazon.com has a cross-town retail rival in Costco Wholesale, located in nearby Issaquah, Wash., and the histories of the companies are interestingly intertwined. During Amazon’s formative years, founder Jeff Bezos got some key advice from his Costco counterpart, Jim Sinegal. And Amazon Prime, the two-day shipping club, was inspired in part by Costco’s membership fees and the psychological inclination of shoppers to maximize the benefits of a club they have already paid to join.

As I was researching the connections between the companies last year for my upcoming book on Amazon, I called Sinegal and left a message asking if he could talk. He called back on a Saturday and left his cell phone number, then invited me to Costco’s headquarters for a one-on-one visit. That kind of availability and transparency is extremely unusual for the leader of a Fortune 500 company, and the conversation lead to my story in this week’s Bloomberg Businessweek about the company’s bizarro corporate culture and Sinegal’s like-minded successor, Craig Jelinek.