Consumer cooperatives are very different from privately owned “discount clubs,” which charge annual fees in exchange for a discount on purchases. The “club” is not owned or governed by the “owners” and the profits of the business go to the investors, not to owners. In a cooperative, the owners own the business and the profits belong to the community of owners.
The specific goals of a cooperative are determined by its owners, but all cooperatives adhere to the principles of cooperation that are based on practices of the first successful consumer cooperative in Rochdale, England (founded in 1844). There are consumer, producer co-ops (usually agricultural) and worker-owned cooperatives. There are also housing co-ops, health care co-ops (the original HMOs were co-ops) and financial co-ops (credit unions).
The overall goal of the cooperative movement is to create organizations that serve the needs of the people who use them. Cooperative businesses provide goods and services in a way that keeps community resources in the community.