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Luxury for Less

Ellen Lee

Warehouse clubs are more than just about stocking up on paper towels and shampoo. Amidst the pallets of super-sized sodas and snacks, they also carry their share of luxury items for that can’t-stop-myself splurge.

For example, Coach, Chanel, and Burberry handbags, Herman Miller chairs, and Waterford crystal have been known to grace Costco’s shelves over the years.

In some cases, the warehouse clubs partner with high-end brands to offer its members exclusive products at discounted prices. However, some retailers may also obtain items through gray-market buying — a controversial practice in which retailers circumvent manufacturers and buy products through third-party distributors. Costco, the subject of a CNBC documentary “The Costco Craze,” sometimes employs this strategy. That has led some companies to sue the retailer, but most have been unsuccessful.

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Costco’s founder and former CEO Jim Sinegal has no qualms procuring goods through the gray market.

“If the supplier is refusing to sell to us, there’s only one reason why they’re refusing to sell to us. And that’s because the price that we bring the goods to market,” he told CNBC.

The real problem, he said, is “when people try to manipulate the market so that they can control prices and keep prices artificially high. That’s wrong.”

The selection of luxury goods in warehouse stores varies from region to region and store to store. Sometimes finding them is all about luck.

No matter. Just toss them all into a doublewide shopping cart and head to the checkout line.

Mercedes-Benz SL550 Roadster  

Costco price: $105,245

Through partnerships with local authorized dealers, Costco members receive a reduced price on cars that’s meant to be haggle free.

Costco’s website lists the makes and models in its inventory, from a Toyota Prius to a Porsche Roadster. It then connects members to a local dealer, who offers a pre-negotiated Costco quote.

For a new 2012 Mercedes-Benz SL550 Roadster, with additional accessories such as a black leather interior and a panorama roof with sun shade, as well as added costs such as a gas guzzler tax, we were quoted 5.8 percent off the MSRP price of $111,725. Costco members are also eligible for additional manufacturer rebates and special financing.

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A Weeklong Villa Rental in St. Thomas, Virgin Islands

Costco price: $9,000 to $11,700

A Caribbean getaway through Costco? Indeed. Among its travel packages, members receive discounted rates for luxury vacation home rentals in the U.S., Costa Rica, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Europe.

Take the Cabrita Cliff Haus in the Virgin Islands. The five-bedroom, 7,500-square-foot abode features an infinity pool overlooking the Caribbean’s deep blue waters. A weeklong stay during the high season costs $13,000, but for Costco members, it’s a mere $11,700.

Remy Martin Louis XIII Cognac

Costco price: $1,799.99

Known as the “King of Cognac,” this aged French cognac is bottled in an individually numbered crystal decanter.

It sells for as much as $2,150 from other liquor retailers. It is only available at Costco warehouses in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Betsey Johnson Frames

Sam’s Club price: $67 and up (not including prescription)

No, your eyes are not deceiving you. Though Betsey Johnson frames cost almost $200 a pair elsewhere, members of Sam’s Club can pick them up for as low as $67.

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Wedding Dresses by Kirstie Kelly

Costco price: $499 to $699

In a match made in, well, Costco, the retailer launched an exclusive line of wedding dresses designed by Kirstie Kelly last year. Kelly, who had also previously designed wedding dresses for Walt Disney, has referred to her Costco wedding dresses as “CostCouture.”

Blushing brides-to-be don’t have to try on the gowns in between Costco’s warehouse aisles. The dresses have been sold through trunk shows held at Costco stores around the U.S. Women make appointments at the pop-up salons, which have been equipped with a changing room and lounge, as well as a bridal consultant for assistance.

Dresses in Costco’s Signature collection cost between $650 and $1,400 — 40 percent off retail — though the prices for some have since been slashed further. The budget-conscious bride has her pick of 12 designs, a mix of the customary lace, silk organza, satin, and taffeta gowns.

Click here to see the full list of Luxury Items for Less.