ABOUT 7.30am yesterday, at the opening of the first Costco warehouse in Australia, an excited Canadian expatriate squealed with delight as she rushed through the front entrance pushing a super-sized trolley: "It's exactly the same," Lauren Copeland said. "It's laid out just how it is in Canada and America."
For Ms Copeland and her cousin, Billy Reizner, an American expatriate, the opening of Costco was a bit like stepping back into the same lolly shop they frequented as children.
"We've been waiting five long years for this," said Mr Reizner, who wore a T-shirt made by the Kirkland brand (the Costco house brand) especially for the opening.
The pair were not alone at the US retailer's much-anticipated opening at Melbourne's Docklands. The warehouse attracted a line of hundreds before it opened, all clutching giant trolleys and ready for bulk buying.
First in line were friends Kaylene Johnson, Helen Leighton and Josephine Gauchi, all of St Albans, who arrived at 4.45am armed with a thermos, biscuits and fruit. "My son wants a 32-inch television, so I am looking to get that and any other bargains I can find," said Ms Leighton. "I am just dying to get in there and have a look."
Colin Sandlant and Kate Griffin, of Ballarat, stayed with friends in Melbourne on Sunday night in order to get to the 14,400-square-metre warehouse early.
Ms Griffin, who emigrated from California 14 years ago, said she has missed the retailer's presence. "I shopped at Costco in the States for years," she said. "We went back to the States about a year ago and I think we made more trips to see Costco than anything else."
Mr Sandlant said Australians would welcome more competition in the grocery market. "People are hurting for money. There are a lot of people out there who are only working part-time jobs so the prices will suit them a lot better," he said.
The new Costco faithful were not the only ones to rise early yesterday. Costco's Australian head, Patrick Noone, woke at 3am, nervous about the opening. "This is such a big investment, and such a big project, that you are on pins and needles up until the last moment thinking that no one is going to come, and when people turn up it is a very exciting moment," he said.
"I think they are going to enjoy the prices and I think we will become a real shopping experience. After this excitement dies off, it will become a real place to come to and shop."
Nothing is marked up more than 15 per cent. Christopher Zinn, of consumer magazine Choice, said consumers should factor in the $60 membership fee (which each customer must pay to shop) and the fact they have to buy in bulk before they determined any savings.
Mr Zinn said the hype of Costco had created the perception that prices would be cheaper than Aldi groceries, but he said he believed this was not the case. "It's not cheap. It's inexpensive and it's good quality and prices, but it's not cheap," Mr Zinn said.
Mr Reizner said he thought the prices were more than fair. "The food is excellent value, there's no comparison," he said. He bought a kilogram of strawberries, 1.8 kilograms of grapes and a 124-pack of nappies.
Customers strolled past pallets filled with stock ranging from giant bags of potato chips, trays of muffins, wheelchairs, lobsters, kayaks and Fendi bags.