Employees reveal the best Costco hacks
Regardless if the U.S. is under a global pandemic or not, there’s a few Costco hacks to use that’ll make your shopping trip much shorter and affordable. Here’s what we learned from some of the wholesale store’s employees:
Call in advance to see if they have essentials
With community spread of novel coronavirus COVID-19, certain products have been seeing a shortage. It’s not that manufacturers and farmers have stopped making them, it’s because panic shoppers have stockpiled unnecessarily.
As a result, canned goods, flour, yeast, pasta, and toilet paper are among the hardest to find items at Costco and other retailers.
Costco employees told Business Insider to call ahead to ask if essential items are in stock. (Saves you a trip if it turns up fruitless!)
Next, this might be the best time to shop at Costco for the best deals and freshly stocked items.
Get there when the store opens
Most Costcos seem to open at 10 am so it shouldn’t be too hard for you to get out of bed for the deals! A Costco employee from a Texas store told Business Insider it’s best to get there 30 to 60 minutes before it opens, however.
“For the best chance to get the high demand item you really need, you’ll want to be one of the first people through the door at opening,” the nameless hero told the publication.
Some stores have changed their hours, so check your local Costco beforehand.
Or shop in the evenings
If you’re not an early bird — or you’re one of the few that still has a job and has to work — you can do your Costco run in the evenings.
“[There is] not a lot of traffic in the store and we get deliveries throughout the day so [the] store is stocked,” an Illinois Costco employee told Business Insider.
Personally, I’d feel safer shopping in a low traffic store. Trader Joe’s has employed social distancing measures to keep customers and employees safe. Not all retailers have done so.
If you can’t get to the store — or don’t want to go — there’s a workaround to help you with that. See the next slide to find out what it is.
Order from Costco.com to avoid the store
Granted, Costco’s website for online ordering isn’t exactly the greatest. However, it’ll save you a trip to the store and allow you to shop for things that might be out of stock at the retailer.
Some Redditers have had enough of people complaining about Costco’s website and order fulfillment, however.
“Depot workers are overloaded with thousands of online orders,” one user writes. “It isn’t their fault that things are slow and unfortunately it’s the luck of the draw when it comes to essential items.”
Next, this is an easy way to stay organized during your Costco trip.
Make a shopping list
If you know what you need ahead of time, you’ll spend fewer minutes wandering the aisle trying to remember if you’re out of freeze dried peas or not. Another reason why lists come in clutch:
You won’t have to make another trip to Costco if you forget something. Right now, we have to stay cautious and limit our exposure to the outside world and other shoppers.
Costco has updated its return policy — see the next slide to find out what it is now.
You can’t return certain items
Panic shoppers, here’s where karma is going to bite you in the you-know-what: Costco is known for its lenient return policy, but it will not be taking returns on certain essential items.
If you’ve finally realized that you don’t have room for 96 toilet paper rolls, you’re out of luck. Costco isn’t accepting returns on TP, paper towels, sanitizing wipes, water, rice, or Lysol.
Next, a Costco employee recommends this product when you can’t find water bottles.
Buy water filters instead of bottled water
As you can imagine, an item panic shoppers swiped pretty quickly was bottled water. If you’ve visited any retailer — even Costco — you’ve probably noticed the low supply of bottled water.
“With bottled water hard to come by, (filtered water pitchers) are a cost effective way to turn tap water into clean, drinkable water,” a Costco employee from Texas told Business Insider.
Up next, we’re going to discuss a way to stockpile perishable Costco foods with ease.
Buy vacuum tight bags for perishable food
Personally, I’ve heard reports of some panic shoppers stockpiling perishable food in addition to the non-perishables — which doesn’t make any sense considering it’s perishable.
One Illinois Costco employee told Business Insider they’d recommend shoppers to buy vacuum tight bags in order to properly preserve the food. However, he also said sales of this item have spiked in his store …
In the upcoming slide, Costco employees recommend doing this when planning your next Costco trip.
Bringing along your child or partner is very likely to slow your shopping trip down considerably. Although it might be a lonely trip, shopping solo is the best way to get in and out of the store quickly, thus limiting your exposure.
Costco employees from the East Coast and Illinois both told Business Insider that shopping solo also helps maintain social distancing at the stores. The recommended distance between shoppers is six feet.
No membership? Here’s a workaround:
If you want to indulge in Costco’s bulk products but don’t have a membership, there’s an easy workaround. It’ll require the assistance of a current Costco member, however.
Simply have them buy you a Costco gift card. (Hopefully you’re going to pay them back?) Via this gift card, you can stockpile to your heart’s desire without paying the $60 annual membership fee.
Up next, this is how to decode Costco price tags.
If a price ends in .97 it means it’s on clearance
Any Costco expert will tell you to look closely at the price tags. These might reveal surprising secrets.
For instance, any price ending in “.97,” e.g. $15.97, means that the item is on clearance.
Can’t get much lower than clearance so better grab it if you’re on the fence! (On the fence when it comes to prices, not whether or not you need that particular item.)
Here’s another price tag secret:
See an asterisk on a price tag? That item isn’t being restocked
If it’s clearance AND not being restocked, you best put that item in your shopping cart, Brenda!
The asterisk will usually be the upper right-hand corner of the price tag. So make sure you scan it carefully for all necessary symbols.
To make sure there’s no major issue with why an item isn’t being restocked (or why it’s discontinued), it’s a good idea to do some Internet research. Especially if you’re going to invest in a high-priced item like electronics, reads an article in Apartment Therapy.
Next, here’s an item you SHOULDN’T buy from Costco.
Don’t buy soda from Costco
It might seem like an awesome idea to buy a big ol’ case of sugary beverages. However, it’s not as good an idea if you’re trying to save money on your soda habit. Word on the street has it that they DON’T have the best prices in town …
… At least when it comes to sodas. So if you want to save money on soda (might need to if you’re going to be needing various cavities filled), shop for your sugar fix elsewhere.
Be on the lookout for plain-clothes security guards
It goes without saying that you shouldn’t steal from retailers, but let’s be real: some are harder to steal from than others. (Don’t ask me how I know this …)
It might be really hard to steal a bulk case of eggs from Costco in the first place, but it’s even harder considering guards are in plain-clothes.
Since they’re not wearing their security guard outfits, you have no idea if they’re a normal Joe or Nance or a security guard about to slap the case of eggs out of your hands.
In summary, don’t steal from Costco. Up next, this is what you CAN take for free from Costco.
Have as many samples as you like
Well, Costco stores probably aren’t serving samples during a global pandemic. During any other time, however, feel free to take as many samples as you like while shopping at a Costco.
Like this photo illustrates, you could probably make lunch out of all the samples at Costco. It will have to be a random lunch but hey — it’s free!
Most of the roadshow sellers giving out samples are OK with you coming back for seconds — or even thirds.
Monday mornings may be a good time to shop
Business Insider was told by a Costco employee in 2018 that Monday mornings and most weekday mornings are good times to shop.
In this post-shelter in place nation (at least some states), right when the store opens is a good time to shop.
(See slide number two for more insight on that.)
However, there might be a lot of individuals stopping by in the morning. So, evening time might be a better option. (More evening shopping insight on slide three.)
Location matters when it comes to where products are on the shelves of Costco — see the next slide for more.
Find better deals further down the aisle
Turns out, retailers usually place the more expensive items at the front of the store. The thinking behind that is that shoppers might be too lazy or in a rush and not bother checking the back of the store where the actual deals are.
So if you’re looking to save big, go on a day where you have plenty of time to have a run of all that the wonderful store has to offer.
Next, this brand is plentiful at the store but isn’t really the one we’d want.
Kirkland isn’t the best brand
When in doubt, the generic or store brand product is usually going to be the cheapest option when you go shopping. Kirkland is Costco’s store brand and while it is cheap, make sure you select products from the brand wisely.
Consumer Reports found varying grades of quality when it came to the Kirkland brand. For example, they did find that bacon and maple syrup from Kirkland are fine but not coffee and dishwasher gel packs.
They ring a bell when fresh rotisserie chicken has come out
If you’re looking for some fresh rotisserie chicken, listen for that bell. When it rings, someone has taken a fresh batch of chicken out of the oven.
Better act fast, however … Folks love themselves some rotisserie chicken.
It’ll fly off the shelves faster than you can say … um … chicken?
If you miss out, chances are another bell will be rung soon and you’ll have a fresh rotisserie chicken of your very own.
Buy off-brand for better prices
This goes back to the discussion about Kirkland we previously had. Kirkland is a favorite of many consumers but as we said previously, its products have varying levels of quality.
Check to see the reviews of a particular product if quality is a big thing for you.
Some people really do swear by the toilet paper and batteries and Consumer Reports said that the bacon and maple syrup is just fine. (They’re probably even tastier TOGETHER.) However, Consumer Reports didn’t like the coffee nor the dishwasher gel packs.
Gift cards give you more bang for your buck
We talked about how Costco gift cards are a good way to get into the store if you don’t have a membership.
However, the gift cards the wholesale retailer slangs for other businesses offer some pretty sweet deals.
You can get some killer bargains like two-for-one movie passes or discounted tickets to theme parks.
Giving the gift card aisle a quick glance is worth it especially if you’re planning something fun for your family to do (post pandemic, of course).
Ask roadshow sellers how long they’ll be there for
Not sure what the situation is with this lady giving out toilet paper samples or why the product is that expensive. Can you take a sample of toilet paper into their restrooms to try? Is it $89.95 per roll or per case?
There are so many questions, and so few answers.
Usually when it’s not global pandemic season, roadshows will come and go out of Costco. Some like Lindt and Krispy Kreme will just stay for a few weeks.
There’s a line for Costco gas for a reason
Because it’s CHEAP compared to other gas stations in town. Waiting in line is a total drag, but it’s worth it if you’re needed to save some dollars on a tank. (Who isn’t?)
If you’re planning on going food shopping and getting gas, however, I’d recommend getting gas first. You wouldn’t want all your frozen food to melt and your perishable groceries to perish, now would you?
The $1.50 hot dogs attract new customers
Forget shopping! Sometimes you just need to visit Costco purely for that fatty, fatty food at their concession stand. Where else can you get a hot dog and soda (with refill) for just $1.50?
Also on the menu, pizza, chicken bake, BBQ beef brisket sandwich, and more.
Costco doesn’t make much off the sales but finds that it does help get new customers through the door. Not many can resist a cheap dog, turns out.
Groceries are usually in the perimeter of stores
If you’re shopping for food, ignore all the stuff in the middle and head to the perimeter of the store. The middle of the store is going to be clothing and other random items that’ll just distract you from the task at hand.
The layout might vary slightly from store to store, but groceries are always along the walls of the store.
The more you go to Costco, the more you’ll learn their general layout. When you do, you’ll be a Costco super shopper. Won’t that be swell?
Don’t ask for items you can’t find “in the back”
Because there AREN’T any. Costco retail associates will place whatever shipments they’ve gotten out on the floor. I mean, that’s why it’s a warehouse?
So please, for Jah’s sake, Linda, don’t ask if there’s more TOILET PAPER in the back.
If you can’t find the items you seek on the floor, the store is probably out of it. It’s likely that Costco might get more shipments if it’s an essential item. If not, you might have noticed on prior trips it was on clearance (it would have had a .97 in its price tag).
You don’t need a membership to go to the pharmacy
You do need a prescription, however. So don’t go thinking you can waltz in, Karen, and get Xanax to go along with your white wine adventure.
Store associates might ask you if you have a membership upon entering, but just let them know that you’re going to the pharmacy.
After that, they’ll leave you alone and stop harping on you about getting the $60 annual membership.
To get started with the pharmacy, you might have to set up an online account. Costco.com/pharmacy will have more information on that.
They check your receipt to make sure you’re not overcharged
Retailers like Guitar Center check your receipt to make sure that you didn’t steal any of those precious guitars or accessories. At Costco, the receipt checking situation is a little different.
Workers at Costco seem to trust shoppers a bit more. Instead of checking receipts for stolen goods, they check them to make sure you weren’t overcharged for anything.
It’s a rite of passage for children to get that smiley face drawn on their receipts.
They have a great return policy
Costco is known not only for its wholesale items and fantastic prices but also its lenient return policy. You can return just about anything for anything reason. See their website for return details first before you try to return a half-eaten rotisserie chicken, however.
With the onset of the novel coronavirus COVID-19, however, there’s some items that Costco has refused to accept returns for. The retailer says it’s for health reasons — the items have already been handled by shoppers and might spread the disease.
Ciment, Shoshy. Business Insider “Costco employees reveal 9 insider tips for shopping at the warehouse store during the coronavirus pandemic.” March 28, 2020.
Hernandez, Arlyn. Apartment Therapy. “The Little-Known Secrets Hiding in Costco Price Tags.” April 18, 2015.
Stout, Ben. Family Handyman. “12 Things Costco Employees Won’t Tell You.” Accessed April 21, 2020.
Taco Relish. “Former Employees Reveal Best Tricks To Hack Your Next Costco Trip.” Accessed April 21, 2020.