BY STEVE FISHER
NEW AUTO-BUYING programs seem to
pop up every day, but there is only one service dedicated to assisting Costco members,
and that’s the Costco Auto Program (CAP).
“The sole purpose for many other ser-
vices is to provide dealerships with as many
consumers as possible to sell cars [to]; their
focus is not the customer,” says Gina
Paolino, CAP president. “The Costco Auto
Program’s goal is to benefit Costco members
by providing the best car-buying experience
possible, with prearranged pricing and a
no-hassle experience. We’ve been doing it
for nearly 30 years.”
CAP achieves that by working with the
best dealerships. Paolino tells The
Connection how CAP ensures this.
COSTCO CONNECTION: How many participating dealerships work with CAP?
GINA PAOLINO: For the Costco Auto
Program, the quality of dealerships we
offer is more important than quantity.
We’ve carefully selected more than 3,000
dealerships to participate in the program
CC: Do you initiate the relationship or do
dealers have to apply?
GP: The majority of the time we initiate.
However, many dealerships come to us
monthly requesting to be in the program.
After the vetting process, maybe 10 percent will qualify because of our strict
criteria. Additionally, they must be
trained and certified on our policies and
procedures before they can connect with
CC: What are CAP’s criteria for accepting a dealership?
GP: We make sure that the dealership has
a great reputation for customer service
and agrees to provide prearranged pricing
that represents a Costco value for members. Specific personnel who we believe
will be the best representatives at these
dealerships are trained and certified to
further ensure Costco members receive a
great car-buying experience.
In addition to agreeing to provide
great pricing, they must agree to follow
our refined process for the member experience at the dealership, which includes
enhanced customer service, detailed
information and additional opportunities
for significant savings on service, contracts and accessories.
What a deal-er!
How the Costco Auto Program
CC: How do you vet the dealer?
GP: First, vehicle manufacturers provide
Customer Satisfaction Index ratings. The
ratings are derived from customers who
complete a manufacturer survey after
their visit to a dealership. A dealership
must be in the top tier to be a part of our
program. When a dealer submits an application, we compare its value to the value
offered in its market area, using our proprietary metrics.
We also make sure the dealership has
qualified sales associates who will follow our proven process for delivering an
exceptional Costco member experience.
We review program requirements and
processes with senior decision-makers at
the dealership to ensure everyone is supportive of our goals.
And our dealers are under constant
evaluation to ensure that they are performing to the high standards we set for
CC: What might cause a dealership to
lose its partnership in the Costco Auto
GP: If they don’t provide an exceptional
experience and the value we expect, they
will lose the exclusive opportunity to be
part of the program.
CC: What oversight to the sale process
does CAP provide?
GP: Our sales process is supported by
our member satisfaction surveys and by
mystery shopping our own dealerships.
Throughout all of this, we’re identifying
what dealers are doing well and where we
need to make improvements. Then, we
provide dealer training—it’s a continuous
After the sale, our Member Advocacy
Group follows up with each member who
contacts us to see how their experience has
been and to answer any questions.
The follow-up includes a member satisfaction survey. To rate the professionalism
of the dealership, we ask members if the
dealer contacted them after they submitted
their inquiry, if they were shown the CAP
price sheet, etc.
Members are never alone when they use
the Costco Auto Program. We’re here to help
and advise them—before, during and after
the purchase. C
If you’re in the market for a new or
pre-owned vehicle, or just want to
accessorize and maintain your current
vehicle, visit the Costco Auto Program