20 Insider Secrets You Should Know About Costco


Think you know everything there is to know about Costco? Think again. Here are twenty secrets only the inside folks know.

20. You Can Shop There Without a Membership

Membership Cards
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While you won’t have access to all Costco has to offer, there are some products and services non-members can enjoy. For example, you can grab a bite to eat at their outdoor food court. You can also get gas at the chain’s gas station, an eye exam at the chain’s optical center, and immunizations and prescriptions at the chain’s pharmacy. Also, some states require Costco to allow non-members to purchase alcoholic beverages.

Keep in mind that you can’t check out at Costco without a membership in your name, so if you plan on shopping there as a non-member, you’ll have to do one of two things: tell the Costco employee at the door what you’re there for (eye exam, prescription pick-up, etc.) or go with a friend who has a membership. Members are allowed to bring two guests with them to shop. Plus, members can set up their friends with a Costco Cash card. You won’t be able to refill the card, but you’ll be able to use it to access the store and spend whatever dollar amount is on it.

Non-members can shop online at costco.com, too. You’ll have to pay a 5 percent non-member fee, though.

19. Buying in Bulk Isn’t Always Worth It

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Costco offers great savings on some bulk items like movie tickets and holiday treats such as Halloween candy. You can even save big when you buy meat in bulk and freeze it when you get home. But, some Costco employees say it’s not a good idea to buy perishables, especially foods that say “best used when fresh,” in bulk. That’s because they might go bad before you have a chance to eat them. Other items to avoid buying in bulk are cereal, soda, rice, and shampoo and conditioner. Experts say you can get these items much cheaper at your local supermarket and/or drugstore.

18. There’s a Best Time to Go

Calendar Time
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…But it depends on your individual likes, dislikes, wants, and needs. For example, if you hate crowds, it’s best to go on a Monday or Tuesday, or any weekday morning for that matter. They tend to be the most quiet times in the store. If you don’t mind the crowd, go on Saturdays and Sundays to enjoy the free food samples. That’s when they have the most samples to choose from.

TIP: The end of the summer is a good time to snag a deal on marked-down outdoor furniture.

17. There’s No Limit to the Samples

Free Food Samples
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Speaking of free samples, did you know that you can come back for them as many times as you like? Employees can’t enforce a limit on the free samples. As a result, one teenager decided to take full advantage of the chain’s generosity by taking nine trays worth of Ferrero Rocher samples, a Costco employee said on Reddit. “That was 63 candies and about 50 bucks worth of product, right into his pockets,” the employee added.

Even though workers know there’s no limit, most shoppers are not aware of this. As a result, many of them try to be sneaky. “I’ll have customers come up 6 times and ask me each time if i think it tastes good. Usually around [time] 5 or 6 I’ll say, ‘You tell me!’,” a former Reddit user and Costco sample guy said.

And, while you are free to take more than one sample, the workers would prefer that you stay and talk. One reason is because they’re obligated to try to sell the samples to customers. So, if you’re gonna be like that teenager and take more than your share, the least you could do is hang around and listen to their sales pitch.

-Employees can be fired for eating samples on the job. It’s not that they can’t eat them at all, it’s just that they just have to wait until they’re on break.
-The sample workers are not allowed to give samples to children without parental consent due to concerns about food allergies.
-The sample workers are not Costco employees. They actually work for a contracted company called Club Demonstration Services, formerly known as Warehouse Demo Services (WDS).
-Costco has strict hygiene policies when it comes to the sample stations. All of the equipment must be sanitized before it can be used, the sample workers must change their gloves every five minutes, and if a shopper touches something they aren’t supposed to, it gets thrown away or changed for something clean.

16. The Price Tags Have a Special Code

Price Tag
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If an item has been marked down, that is, it’s on clearance, it’s price tag will end in $.97. If a price tag ends in $.00 or $.88, it means that the manager decided to cut the price for a number of reasons. It could be that it’s the last one in stock, or it doesn’t have a box, or some parts are missing. Lastly, if a price tag has an asterisk, it means the item is not going to be restocked.

15. Manufacturers Coupons are Not Accepted

Manufacturers Coupons
Source: Wikimedia Commons By Carol Pyles from Winter Haven, FL, US (Coupon Pile Stock Photo) [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)]

Costco sends out coupon booklets via mail to its members, but if you were thinking about using manufacturers coupons, you might want to think again. They don’t accept them–nor do they negotiate for a lower price. But, if you are looking for additional ways to save, try asking for extra coupons at the customer service counter. On the plus side, if you happen to purchase a product and it goes on sale less than 30 days after you bought it, Costco will refund the difference. And, the best part of all? No receipt is required.

14. They Have Some Very Unique Items for Sale

Costco Items For Sale
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Did you know that you can go casket shopping at Costco? Yep, it’s true. You can get one for as little as $950–and that includes shipping to the funeral home! If you’re in the market for a car, Costco has an auto program that provides members with low, prearranged pricing on new and used cars from participating dealerships. And, if you’re a doomsday prepper, Costco has emergency food kits starting at $999.99. Other unexpected items you can find at Costco include barns, saunas, extravagant jewels, kayaks, vacation packages, and beehives.

13. Not All Costco Warehouses are the Same

Same Different
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Some cater to consumers while others, namely Costco Business Centers, cater to business owners. According to an article published by Business Insider, Costco Business Centers have hours that are convenient for business shoppers so they can “get in and out before they open for the day themselves.” The layout of the store is also different. Costco warehouses that cater to consumers are designed to encourage customers to wander about aimlessly on sort of a “treasure hunt,” if you will. Costco Business Centers, on the other hand, have more of a straightforward layout since business shoppers generally don’t have time to hunt for what they need.

FYI, all members are welcome in both types of warehouses.

12. Items Get Moved Around a Lot

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Costco rearranges their products almost every day. And as we just mentioned, the chain’s consumer warehouses are set up to encourage you to go on a treasure hunt. But, it’s not for your enjoyment. It’s to get you to spend more time scanning the shelves in the hopes that you’ll pick up additional items that aren’t even on your list. And, if you think you can outsmart them by asking an employee where something is, think again. A former Costco employee said on Reddit that because things get rearranged so much, the workers aren’t even sure where they end up.

FYI, if an item is selling particularly well, they’ll keep it in the same spot.

11. It’s Best to Start in the Middle of the Store

Shopping At Costco
Source: Wikimedia Commons By FASTILY [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)]

There is one way to outsmart them, though, and that is by starting your shopping trip in the middle of the store. The impulse items, which also happen to be the more expensive items, are displayed at the front of the store and at the end of the aisles. According to Lifehacker.com, Paco Underhill, author of Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping, says that displays on pallets in the middle of the membership stores are where you’ll find the best deals. Those displays mean less work for the store and, in turn, deeper discounts for consumers.

10. Its Food Court is a Secret Weapon

Costco Food Court
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Costco uses its food courts to get you to spend extra time in the store, which could possibly increase the odds that you’ll make an unplanned purchase. One of the best sellers is the hot dog and soda combo (Last year alone Costco sold 135 million hot dog and soda combos), which you can get for a mere $1.50–the same price it’s been for more than three decades. Another popular food court item is the pizza. You can get an 18″ one for less than $10. And, they’re baked right there in the store. Or, if poultry is your thing, Costco sells rotisserie chickens for about $5. By the way, those famous rotisserie chickens have a lot of secrets of their own. We’ll get to those next.

9. There are Quite a Few Secrets Behind Costco’s Famous Rotisserie Chickens

Rotisserie Chicken
Source: Wikimedia Commons By Joe Schneid, Louisville, KY [CC BY 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)]

If you’ve ever had one of these birds, then you know how tasty they are. Here are some things you may not know, however:

-Their chickens weigh at least three pounds cooked while rivals’ chickens weigh only about one-and-a-half to two pounds.
-Costco sells about 157,000 rotisserie chickens a day! Last year they sold 87 million of them.
-Surprisingly, they’re not profitable to Costco. The warehouse chain loses between $30 and $40 million a year on the chickens because they insist on keeping the price the same.
-The chickens are injected with a special saline solution to boost its flavor.
-They’re considered processed foods because they’re seasoned in factories before they’re shipped to Costco.

8. There is No “Back” of the Store

Out Of Stock
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Costco is a warehouse, so there’s no stockroom with additional products. What you see on the shelves is all there is, and if it’s not there, you can come back the next day and check as it will probably be restocked by then.

Interestingly enough, Costco employees have no control over what’s in stock. They can put in requests, but there’s no guarantee the chain will carry comply. However, if enough people ask for an item, there’s a pretty good chance they’ll start carrying it, an employee told Business Insider.

7. Employees Have Lots of Benefits

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Costco announced earlier this year that it was raising its minimum wage to at least $14 an hour for its 130,000 employees. And, according to Business Insider, one Costco employee said that they are well taken care of, monetarily. Another employee wrote on Reddit that the benefits are good, vacation time is awesome, and there’s lots of employee-care stuff. They also get free membership at the chain. And, here’s something else: When a new Costco location opens, employees put $1 in an envelope and guess how much money the new warehouse will make on the first day. The one who comes the closest gets to keep the envelope of cash.

FYI, employees don’t get discounts on products.

6. They Prefer That You Order Ahead

Order Here
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Costco workers appreciate it when customers place their orders for party platters and such ahead of time. It isn’t that they mind filling a special order, they just hate having to tell other customers that they’ve sold out of a particular item because one person bought out the whole stock.

And, here’s another tip: Put in your pizza order before you start shopping so it’ll be ready by the time you’re ready to leave. If the store is especially busy, you might have to wait 20 to 25 minutes for a fresh pizza.

5. There are Plenty of Healthy Food Options

Healthy Foods
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Of course there is plenty of junk food at Costco, but you can find some healthy items too, like lean meats, protein powder, coconut water, and Greek yogurt. For additional healthy food options, check out the produce section. There you will find fruits, vegetables, salads, and more. The food court has added some healthy items, too, in recent years. These include acai fruit bowls, organic burgers, and vegan salads.

FYI, organic and health foods tend to be cheaper at Costco.

4. It Isn’t Suited to Just One Demographic

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If you are like most people, you probably think that membership stores are more suitable for large families. And, that is true, to a certain extent. It really just depends on your purchase needs. For example, childless singles and couples most likely won’t benefit from buying cereal in bulk, but they can benefit from purchasing other items in bulk, like cleaning supplies and shelf stable products like olive oil. Plus, you can always take advantage of the services offered by the pharmacies and optical centers. And, you can fill up at the gas pump, too.

3. You Can Get Discounts for Things Not Directly Associated with Costco

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We already told you that you could get movie tickets at Costco, which, by the way can also be purchased online and printed straight from your computer. But, did you also know that there are some locations that offer discounted bridge toll passes for local freeways? For example, you can get the FasTrak tag for use on all eight Bay Area bridges and on all FasTrak electronic toll collection systems in California for $24.99.

Even more savings can be found on the gift card aisle. That’s because Costco sells them for less than face value. For example, you could get four $25 gift cards to The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf for $79.99.

2. Preparing the Store for Shoppers Starts Early

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Costco employees don’t just show up right when it’s time for the store to open. Many of them work the early morning shift to prep the store for shoppers. A former employee from Richmond, VA said on Indeed.com that at “a typical day at Costco [I] went to work at 4a.m. I stocked the sales area, made decisions where every thing is displayed, and stocked it.” According to others on Indeed.com, the bakers usually arrive around 5:00 a.m. And, if it happens to be a holiday, the store is running 24/7, a Texas-based employee told Business Insider.

1. There are Other Ways to Save Besides Buying in Bulk

Half Price
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One way to get additional savings at Costco is to buy store-brand items. These products will have the “Kirkland” label. According to MSN, Kirkland products are high quality and sometimes come from name-brand factories.

Another way to save at the warehouse chain is to purchase holiday items in September. That’s because Costco starts stocking for the holidays at that time. So, they’ll have discounted Christmas trees on display. You can also get a good deal on frozen turkeys then, too.


Are you a current or former Costco employee with some secrets of your own to share? Please feel free to share them in the comments below. Thanks for reading!