A recent trip home to visit my parents gave me ample opportunity to perform what has become a homecoming ritual for many – providing on-site tech support to my parents. Instead of tweaking TV settings or cleaning malware off of a laptop, this trip's tech project was switching my parents over to a cable modem and mesh router. They already had the mesh router (a Christmas present that never got set up), but buying a cable modem sent us on a trip into town, and eventually, to the local Costco.
And it was on this latest parental tech support quest that I discovered something fascinating. Netgear's biggest flaw is completely eliminated when you buy Netgear products from Costco.
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There are plenty of reasons to consider a Costco membership. From great prices to cheap hotdogs and (someday) the return of Sample Day, Costco does an unusually great job in keeping shoppers happy. And tech products get another boost, with Costco's Concierge Services, which includes free technical support for everything from TVs and laptops to cable modems and routers.
And in the case of Netgear, that year of free tech support neatly closes one of the biggest gaps in the company's offerings. When purchased anywhere else, Netgear offers a scanty 90-day window to get free customer support on any of it's networking products. That's not a terribly long time for a product you might use for years.
The flipside to this is that Netgear also offers subscription-based coverage, giving customers the opportunity to get longer coverage periods for an extra fee. (Netgear will either charge you for additional tech support calls, or you can buy Netgear's extended warranty and support for $49.99 for two years.) And those subscription fees have clearly become a significant part of Netgear's business model, as its rolled out to pretty much every Wi-Fi product the company makes.
In Netgear's defense, most Wi-Fi equipment will run mostly maintenance-free once it's set up, meaning that the majority of tech support issues will come up within the first week or so of ownership. But it's still a problem, because whenever your Wi-Fi equipment gets glitchy, it has ripple effects through your entire home. In fact, Netgear's short customer service policy has been our biggest issue with Netgear's otherwise excellent products over the last few years.
Of manufacturers and model numbers
There's just one wrinkle in this Netgear/Costco situation, and that's the fact that Costco carries its own versions of popular Netgear products with their own distinct model numbers.
In a normal retailer, like Best Buy or Walmart, these unique model numbers would be something like commercial sleight-of-hand, a way to side-step promises of price matching or a means to offer a cheaper product (but usually with cheaper build quality).
But Costco has always been pretty open about the fact that it genuinely tries to offer its members better-than-average quality. The Kirkland Signature brand is well known for being manufactured by the same people that make top brands, whether it's for clothing or groceries, golf balls or mattresses. A few examples: The Kirkland Signature mattress brand is made by Stearns & Foster, Costco batteries are made by Duracell, and Starbucks brews Kirkland Signature Coffee. On top of that, Costco usually asks manufacturers to increase their usual standards, so that shoppers get slightly better products for their money.
Electronics, however, don't follow the rebranding strategy, since the Samsungs and HPs of the world aren't interested in offering private label TVs and laptops. So Costco instead doubles down on the extras, offering for free what most retailers use as upselling opportunities — extended warranties, tech support access and a generous return policy.
As a result, Costco winds up being a great choice for anyone hoping to score a great deal on big-ticket electronics. (And it's been my secret piece of tech buying advice for years.)
Which brings us back to model numbers.
Costco selection: The same, but different
There's the award-winning, category-beating speed demon, the Netgear Nighthawk RAXE500, is listed as the Netgear Nighthawk RAXE450. Both offer Wi-Fi 6E speeds in the same distinctive design, and with more or less identical features. The same is true for the Editor's Choice Netgear Nighthawk AX8 (RAX80) — Costco carries the essentially identical Netgear Nighthawk Tri-Band 8-Stream AX6200 WiFi 6 Router, which has the same feature set and extremely similar specs.
It's the same deal for mesh routers. The Editor's Choice from our Netgear Orbi WiFi 6 (RBK852) review shows up as the Netgear Orbi RBK843S, and the more affordable Netgear Orbi RBK752 becomes the Orbi RBK753S. In both cases, the features and capabilities are just as we saw in our review, but they come with the added bonus of Netgear's Armor Advanced Cyber Security — a service that normally costs $69.99 after an initial 30-day free trial.
Even Wi-Fi extenders get the Costco treatment, as the top-performer from the best Wi-Fi extenders. The awesome Wi-Fi 6 model from our Netgear AX1800 Mesh Extender (EAX20) review, can be purchased as the Nighthawk EAX18 AX1750 — there's a minor difference in total throughput, but it's a minor tweak in the face of the Wi-Fi 6 speeds it offers.
The real bargain: Concierge Services
In the case of Netgear routers, the big win is found in Costco's tech support offerings, part of Costco's Concierge Services package. A toll-free number gives you access to expert technicians for troubleshooting, giving set-up support and whatever else you might need help with. Whether it's 91 days after buying your device or 11 and a half months, you'll be enjoying a level of personalized attention that Netgear doesn't offer without an extra fee.
I've used Costco's tech support service myself, and I've always been pleased with the level of service I got — something I can't claim about every support line I've called.
There's only one catch to all of this Costco customer service goodness. You have to be a member. You need a membership card to get in the stores (or tag along with someone who does). You need that same membership card or number to buy at the register or on the Costco website. And there's no non-member option for getting the Costco Concierge Services that come with tech products.
But when you consider that a Costco membership only costs $60, and Netgear wants to charge an extra $49.99 for extended warranty and support, that membership starts looking pretty good. Especially when you consider all of the other savings and extras you can get with a Costco membership, including the $5 rotisserie chickens.