Costco Affiliate Program Review: Read Before You Sign Up

With over 800 warehouses worldwide, Costco is one of the largest membership-based retailers, offering wholesale prices on brand-name merchandise to over 100 million card-carrying members. 

From groceries and electronics to apparel and home goods, Costco aims to provide quality items at discounted rates.

As an affiliate marketer, you can tap into Costco’s huge customer base and earn commissions by promoting memberships. 

In this article, we’ll take an in-depth look at how Costco’s affiliate program works, the pros and cons of participation for publishers, what niches it might appeal to, creative promotional tactics, and how it stacks up against alternatives like Amazon, Walmart, and others. 

How Does the Costco Affiliate Program Work?

If you’ve been in affiliate marketing for any amount of time, you’ll quickly realize that the Costco affiliate program is pretty basic. 

It’s managed through Commission Junction (CJ), so you’ll need to create an account if you don’t already have one. 

Once approved for the program, you gain access to a range of text and display ads in various sizes that can be placed on your website or social media platforms. However, Costco does not provide deep linking capabilities or extensive creative assets. 

The way you earn commissions is by referring people to the Costco domain to purchase one of two memberships. 

I could see the Costco affiliate program working well for food blogs, cooking websites, and even personal finance or credit card sites. You could talk up Costco’s savings or the quality of its products and motivate readers to sign up for a membership. 

Overall, while promoting a brand as large as Costco lends some appeal, affiliate earnings are constrained by the limited creative assets and a pretty basic commission structure (which I’ll get into more). 

Costco Affiliate Commission Rates and Cookie Duration

One of the biggest drawbacks of Costco’s affiliate program is the less-than-stellar commission rates. Rather than offer a percentage of sales or variable tiers, Costco only pays flat fees for membership sign-ups:

  • Gold Star Membership (1 year): $3
  • Executive Member (1 year): $6

So, there’s little incentive to promote any of Costco’s actual products because it doesn’t earn you anything. Someone could spend $10,000 in the store and you’d still only get a $3-6 commission. 

This is where the Costco affiliate program falls flat in comparison to Amazon, Walmart, Target, and some of the other competitors. 

If all of this hasn’t made you click away yet, Costco also only offers a session duration cookie. This means that if someone clicks your link at work, looks through the membership options, waits to get home and talk to their spouse, and goes back to the site to sign up – you’ve lost that commission. 

Between low flat rates and temporarily stored cookies, Costco’s affiliate commissions leave something to be desired, especially compared to alternatives. 

While Costco does offer a trusted brand and products shoppers want, affiliate publishers need to weigh whether the time invested in driving memberships is worthwhile. 

I think it’s very important that people new to affiliate marketing do not try to build a business solely around Costco. While you could do that with Amazon or Walmart, you’ll want to use Costco as supplementary income.  

What Types of Products Can You Promote?

While we understand that the Costco affiliate program will not pay you commissions for the products you promote, it’s still important to understand what they sell so you can plan content around that. 

Here’s a quick breakdown of Costco’s products:

Groceries

Focusing content on popular grocery items can help compel sign-ups. From produce and pantry staples to frozen foods and household supplies, Costco offers savings in bulk.

Electronics

Big-screen TVs, computers, smartphones, appliances, and more – electronics are a hot seller with discounted prices that could entice membership purchases.

Home & Furniture

Outfitting living spaces with furnishings and decor from Costco can add up to major savings. Feature some of their most popular home & furniture finds.

Apparel & Accessories

Quality clothing for the whole family, at low warehouse pricing. Highlight must-have apparel items and accessories for seasonal changeovers.

Health, Beauty & Wellness

Vitamins, nutrition powders, beauty regimens – target health-conscious audiences with Costco’s offering of top wellness brands. You can read up here on some of the best beauty affiliate programs.

Benefits of the Costco Affiliate Program

It’s not all doom and gloom, there are some upsides to this beginner affiliate program

Established Brand – With 100 million members and growing, Costco has firmly established itself in shoppers’ minds as the go-to for bulk savings. Aligning with such an iconic brand can lend credibility even if commissions are lower.

Premium Products – Unlike bottom-dollar retailers sacrificing quality for price, Costco emphasizes offering premium brands and products. Featuring these in content still has value.

Low Threshold – Despite flat rates, the required earnings minimum ($50) to get paid by bank transfer is on the lower end. This reduces barriers for newer affiliates.

Coupon Allowance – Costco permits affiliate-created coupon codes which adds flexibility to increase conversion rates. Adding incentives helps overcome limited default assets.

Targeted Audiences – For bloggers and websites focusing on budgets, bulk buying, prepping, or families, promoting Costco as a “smart shopping” destination aligns well with niche content, and gaining members makes sense.

While these pros don’t whitewash the negatives, it’s still worth adding the Costco affiliate program to your arsenal. You can never have enough affiliate programs whether you’re in food, personal finance, electronics, or home decor

Drawbacks of the Costco Affiliate Program

Time to address the elephant in the room and that’s what the Costco affiliate program lacks. 

Limited Commission – Flat fees of $3 or $6 per membership pale in comparison to percentage-based programs. Earnings potential is capped despite customer lifetime value. There simply isn’t a lot of value in promoting this program.

Restrictive Cookies – Session-based cookies that expire shortly after click-throughs limit commissions if consumers don’t sign up immediately. Small window to gain credit for referrals.

Minimal Assets –  With no product deep links or extensive creative options, affiliates have a narrower toolset for campaigns and content. Requires creating more assets independently.

U.S. Only Payouts – International affiliates outside the U.S. cannot participate since Costco only allows payouts to U.S. bank accounts and addresses. Limits addressable market significantly.

Besides the flat rates without product commissions, the short-lived cookies, lack of assets, and U.S.-only payout eligibility create additional hurdles. 

Despite affiliate marketing being a legitimate way to make serious money, Costco seems disinterested in catering experience to affiliates driving memberships. The structure constrains earning potential.

Alternatives to the Costco Affiliate Program

We’ve talked quite a bit about the fact that the Costco affiliate program… kinda stinks. But, don’t be discouraged. If you’re trying to build a successful affiliate site here are some programs you’ll want to look into. 

Target Affiliate Program

Unlike Costco’s flat rates, Target offers tiered commissions up to 8% based on volume. However, many popular categories like groceries and electronics pay 0%. 

The 7-day cookie provides more flexibility than Costco’s session-based model. Target approves sites faster but their reach doesn’t span much outside the United States. Overall, Target can earn higher rates on qualifying niches, yet still has product limitations.

Walmart Affiliate Program

Walmart pays 1-4% commission across nearly all products, including ones Costco and Target omit like electronics and toys. The $50 threshold matches Costco. 

However, Walmart uses 3-day cookies and a 60 day payment cycle. Approval requires a US focus. In total, Walmart pays on more items but at slightly lower rates. The longer cookie and payout lag are downsides, but wider eligibility makes it an alternative.

Amazon Affiliate Program

Amazon offers the most categories and highest rates out of these choices, ranging from 1-20% commissions. 

The 90-day cookies (with 24-hour referrals) provide the most flexibility for earning. Approval and use complexity is on par with Costco’s CJ program. 

Ultimately, Amazon’s scale, rates, and breadth give the highest upside, albeit with competition. The biggest knock is still category exclusions like groceries and the fact that you’re at the mercy of Amazon if you decide to rely entirely on them for your business. 

I’ve seen entire businesses get wiped out after Amazon removed them from their network or dramatically decreased the commission rate on a specific niche.

Is it Worth Signing Up for the Costco Affiliate Program?

Well, I think it depends on your affiliate niche. I’d say Costco would work best for:

  • Frugal living
  • Food and beverage
  • Prepping
  • Personal Finance
  • Home Decor

Outside of these niches, I’m not entirely sure it’s worth signing up for this program. 

When there are alternatives like Walmart, Amazon, and Target available – unless you’re very serious about promoting products in bulk, I have a hard time seeing the value. 

But, like I said, you can never have enough options so you can sign up anyway and see what makes out of it!

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