Low, flexible pricing structure has enabled Costco Wholesale Corp. to become one of the most successful retail chains during the economic recession.

Costco is the 9th largest retailer in the world by market capitalization, and recently was ranked by Fortune Magazine as the 22nd most admired company. On the University of Michigan’s American Consumer Satisfaction Index, it ranks tops among retailers.

Costco has grown over the 27 years of its existence into a global company that owns 573 warehouses and plans to open another nine over the coming six months. It operates in the United States, Puerto Rico,  Canada, Japan, Korea, Mexico, Taiwan, United Kingdom, and in Australia.

Despite the economic downturn, revenue for 2010 reached $78 billion,  including membership fees of $1.5 billion, an increase of 9 percent over fiscal year 2009. Costco’s investors have still been paid a dividend,  which has increased around 12 percent over the past five years.

Costco’s returns have exceeded those of Wal-Mart Stores Inc., which owns rival Sam’s Club warehouse chain. Costco’s “return on investment is over 10%, compared to over 13% for Wal-Mart,” according to the Dividend Monk Website.

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