19 insider facts about shopping at Costco only employees know

Start your hunt in the middle of the store. Joe Raedle / Getty Images
  • Costco deals aren’t too hard to find.
  • But there are a few less-than-obvious hacks and tips to apply if you ever spring for a membership.
  • From watching the price tags to shopping on Mondays, here’s a look at some insider tips from employees that you should know if you’re going to shop at Costco.

Costco deals are easy to come by.

The retail chain is famous for having just about everything. And certainly, some of its offerings stretch beyond what you’d expect from a big-box store – Costco sells cars, vacations, food kits for the apocalypse, cheap eats in the food court, and even caskets.

Given the breadth of Costco’s selection, it pays to come in armed with as much information as you can get. That way, you can keep an eye out for the best possible deals and shopping strategies the next time you visit your local Costco.

Costco employees tend to have the most insider knowledge, like knowing how to shop without a membership, how to avoid annoying them, and how to know when buying in bulk isn’t worth it.

Here’s a look at some tips that only Costco employees and seasoned shoppers know about:

You don’t need a membership for everything


A standard Costco membership, which costs $US60 a year, can help a customer rack up huge savings.

But you don’t need a Costco membership to get an eye exam or grab a bite to eat at outdoor food courts.

A San Francisco-based employee added that you also don’t need a membership to buy alcohol at the store. And a Costco employee in Illinois added that membership isn’t required to buy gas at the chain, either.

The pharmacy’s also open to non-members, according to another Costco employee Business Insider spoke with.

If you need a flu shot or a shingles vaccination, you can show up with a signed immunization consent form and take care of it.

So if you’re trying to shop at Costco without a membership, just tell the Costco employee at the door what you’re there for,Eat This Not That recommends.

Start your hunt in the middle of the store


Many Costco employees place the store’s biggest bargains in the “center court” of the store, Business Insider’s Kate Taylor reported.

You’re better off skipping the more expensive displays at the store’s entrance and starting somewhere in the middle.

There’s a reason stuff gets moved around so much


The displays employees set up at Costco are far from static.

The chain touts the flux as a sort of “treasure hunt” – and in a sense, it’s right.

Costco typically moves items around in order to get shoppers to see – and buy – more.

Pay close attention to the price tags


How can you tell whether an item has been marked down? Easy – if it has, the price tag will end in $US0.97. And if the tag has an asterisk, it’s not going to be restocked.

Costco employees from California, Arizona, and Washington confirmed the existence of this store-wide secret code.

Buying in bulk isn’t always the way to go


At Costco, you can save money by buying items in bulk.

But you should avoid seeking out such deals for some products, especially anything that’s “best used when fresh,” Eat This Not That says.

Because of the bulk sizes sold at the store, you might not be able to finish all of the perishables before they go bad. That’s the reason why a number of Costco employees told Business Insider they often skip buying produce at the store.

Avoid making assumptions about employees


Want to avoid ticking off a Costco employee? Don’t assume they’re looking for a better job.

In an op-ed article in Refinery29, a former Costco employee named Meghan DeMaria said she loved working at the store and resented the implication that her job was “any less real or important” than any other.

A Costco employee who’s been at the store for 25 years told Business Insider that members might be surprised by “how well we are taken care of, monetarily.”

An employee from Illinois agreed regarding the high compensation, and an employee from Minnesota told Business Insider, “We are genuinely happy to be at work. It’s not an act.”

Plus, two Costco employees who work at warehouses in Utah and Arizona said that most of their colleagues were college graduates.

In a Reddit thread, one Costco employee said the store’s “pay scale is awesome for the industry.”

“Benefits are good, vacation is awesome after a few years, and they have a lot of employee-care-type stuff,” the employee wrote. “We have a lot of 15- to 25-year employees at my store.”

A result is a large number of employees who stick around for the long haul.

“Even as a 10-year employee, I’m in the middle of the pack when it comes to average seniority,” the anonymous employee wrote. “We made a name tag for an old-timer employee that said ‘Employee Since 1887.’ Took him a while to catch it.”

Forget about using coupons


Sorry, coupon-cutters. You’re out of luck here.

Employees won’t accept coupons at Costco. And you ought to leave any manufacturers’ coupons at home too, according to Reader’s Digest.

If you’re looking for the best possible deals, just keep checking Costco’s members-only savings updates.

Don’t worry about missing a sale


Miss a sale? No problem. If the product you purchased goes on sale less than 30 days after you bought it, “Costco will pay you back the difference,” Eat This Not That says. No receipt required.

Costco has some unusual items up for sale


Costco isn’t just a place to buy your standard groceries and everyday items.

Thinking about becoming a doomsday prepper? Costco has you covered, with massive emergency-food kits starting at $US1,000.

Need a car? Look into Costco’s auto program, which hooks you up with discounted vehicles from participating dealerships, Business Insider’s Mark Matousek reported.

Costco even has a funeral category that sells caskets and urns in many states.

Basically, think outside the box when it comes to items you can buy at Costco. There’s a good chance it sells whatever you have in mind.

Mondays and the end of the summer are key times to shop


When’s the best time to make a Costco run?

One Costco employee says Mondays and weekday mornings tend to be quiet.

In addition, the end of the summer is a great time to grab marked-down outdoor furniture.

The demo people don’t actually work for Costco


The samples are often the best part of a Costco run. But the demo services employees technically don’t work for the chain.

One Pennsylvania-based demo services employee told Business Insider that many demo services employees aren’t able to help customers find things on the shelves.

“While it’s good customer service – and as much as some of us would like to help – we aren’t supposed to leave our work station to help customers find what they’re looking for,” the employee told Business Insider.

They added that demo service employees are also barred from giving samples to children without parental permission due to concerns about food allergies.

Employees don’t get discounts on products

Seven Costco employees told Business Insider that they don’t get an employee discounts. However, employees do get free memberships at the chain.

Employees don’t control what’s in stock

“We have little control over what comes into our warehouse,” a Florida-based Costco employee told Business Insider. “We can put in requests, but that doesn’t always mean it will show up.”

“We have zero control on what products we have in stock,” a Costco employee in Ohio told Business Insider.

That being said, a Costco employee in Ontario told Business Insider that the warehouses do pay attention to the “needs and wants” of local areas.

“Ask for items that you want in, and if enough people ask for it, there’s a good chance they will bring it in,” the employee told Business Insider.

Because of that, the inventories of different Costcos tend to differ.

“You cannot purchase something at one warehouse and pick it up at another,” a Hawaii-based employee told Business Insider.

Food safety is taken seriously

“We are very strict on food quality and safety,” a Florida-based Costco employee told Business Insider. “We have safety walks every hour that audit the temperatures of our food coolers and storage. Our famous rotisserie chickens are not allowed to be sold after two hours of sitting in the warmer.”

Prepping the store for opening is a big deal

Costco employees don’t just slink into the warehouse in the morning with the customers.

Two employees told Business Insider that a lot more goes into prepping the store for opening than meets the eye.

“People come in at 4 a.m. to prepare for a day of shoppers,” a Texas-based employee told Business Insider. “During the holidays, it’s running 24/7.”

Employees talk up executive memberships

Three Costco employees told Business Insider that they recommended prospective members spring for the executive membership. It costs $US120 a year and will net you an annual 2% reward of up to $US1,000 on your purchases

“The executive membership usually works out to be the best deal,” an Iowa-based employee told Business Insider.

Costco employees have their own version of the lottery

Costco employees have their own version of the lottery, Business Insider’s Mary Hanbury reported.

Whenever a new Costco opens, employees are given the chance to put $US1 in an envelope and guess how much money the new warehouse will make on its first day.

The employee with the best guess wins the entire envelope of cash.

Some warehouses are subtly different


Not all warehouses are exactly alike.

A Costco employee from Minnesota that Costco Business Centres operate somewhat differently than standard “core warehouses,” although all members are welcome in both.

Costco Business Centres are designed to cater to business owners, and offer different deals than their consumer-centric counterparts.

The Costco employee told Business Insider that the Costco Business Centres have hours that are friendlier for businesses, “so business shoppers can get in and out before they open for the day themselves.”

What’s more, while standard warehouses are set up to encourage members to embark on a “treasure hunt,” the business centres tend to opt for a more straightforward layout “so that shoppers don’t have to take the time to search for what they need,” according to the employee.

Some ‘shoppers’ are really security employees


A Costco employee told Business Insider that their store employs two undercover security employees who are dedicated to loss prevention.

“They walk around looking like a member shopping,” an Ontario-based Costco employee told Business Insider. “But they’re watching out for people stealing.”

Are you a current or former Costco employee with a story to share? Email [email protected]