- Costco stores can be tricky to navigate.
- That’s because the store is known to move items around constantly, in a bid to get you to buy more.
- But employees know how to navigate – and which people you should (and shouldn’t) ask for help.
Costco stores are like sprawling labyrinths, with bulk-sized pallets and free samples instead of a fearsome Minotaur.
But, as a result, they can be pretty hard to navigate. That’s not a result of poor planning, though. It’s by design.
“I think people assume stuff isn’t there when they can’t find it right away,” an employee with two years of experience told Business Insider. “Costco is a scavenger hunt.”
Costco warehouse designer Stan Laegreid wrote in Fast Company that the store layouts function as a large “racetrack” that exposes shoppers to “a greater number of products.”
Business Insider recently spoke with 46 Costco employees. A number of these store employees had tips for navigating the store and having a better shopping experience, whether you’re a first-time shopper or a pro looking to hone your browsing skills.
Here’s how to get around the store without getting lost or spending a fortune:
Have your membership card ready when you walk in
Get off to a good start by entering the store in an efficient manner. Employees recommended having your membership card ready to go as you walk in. Otherwise, you could end up delaying other customers.
“Concentrate on handing me your membership card instead of telling me a story,” a Costco employee with eight years of experience said. “I can listen to your story as I do whatever you need me to do, but I can’t do that until I have your membership card.”
A 25-year Costco veteran said that shoppers should get off their phones and focus on handing over their membership cards.
Six Costco employees also told Business Insider that members should always follow the rules and not share their membership cards with family or friends. The resulting confusion can cause problems at the front of the store.
Learn the general layout
Costco stores may be somewhat confusing, but most tend to follow a certain layout.
The front of the store is usually a danger zone for impulsive shoppers. That’s where Costco keeps more expensive and temporary displays.
Laegreid wrote that members will see “‘luxe’ offerings of televisions, computers, and electronics” at the front of the store, as well as “exotic” items like fancy handbags and watches.
“They may be for sale at a much reduced price, but likely for only a fleeting moment,” he wrote.
Business Insider’s Kate Taylor reported that the middle of the store – or “center court” tends to house the best deals.
Essentials like fresh food are toward the back, in order to draw people in.
“The very outside of the track is home to practical staples, including toilet paper, whose location requires consumers to pass many impulse buys,” Laegreid wrote.
Know what items tend to move around
“Be alert,” an employee who has been with Costco for 10 years told Business Insider. “Most of our regular items stay in the same spot. The things that move are seasonal – furniture, flowers, and holiday decor.”
But a Costco employee from Minnesota said you should never assume that “every Costco carries the same items.”
Sometimes the reason you can’t find the product you’re looking for actually is that it’s just not there.
Check the ends of the aisles …
A four-year Costco employee told Business Insider that the best deals could usually be found at the end of the aisle.
A Costco employee who’s worked at the store for a year said their colleagues sometimes move products to the end of the aisles because they’re on sale and the store hopes to “grab members’ attention.”
Other times, products are moved as part of a promotional deal.
“For example, a company will pay Costco big bucks to display cheese strings at the end of the cooler,” the employee told Business Insider. “So even if someone doesn’t come to Costco for that item in particular, they will have a chance to see it and think twice about getting it.”
… but forget about aisle guides
Don’t bother craning your neck to look for aisle guides. Costco doesn’t have aisle guides. It’s supposed to be a treasure hunt, remember?
CBS reported that the lack of signage within the warehouse is also meant to encourage people to explore.
Emma Christensen wrote about her first time shopping at Costco for The Kitchnn.
“There are no aisle guides,” she wrote. “You never know what you will find upon trundling your planet-sized cart down any particular aisle.”
Generally, however, she wrote that similar products are “grouped together.”
As you move around, keep an eye out for clearance items
Take a close look at Costco price tags. They can help you decide which sales are really worth it.
An employee who has worked at Costco for 12 years said it wasn’t a good idea to buy only items that are on sale, as “some sales are not a good value.”
“Look for an asterisk or a 0.97 or 0.79 on the sale price,” they said. “That indicates it is a clearance item.”
One employee of 10 years told Business Insider that an asterisk could also indicate that the store won’t be restocking the item.
If you need help, ask …
There’s no shame in asking for help if you just can’t seem to find the item you’re searching for.
“Look for someone in a red vest or find a manager who can call for help,” an employee of 15 months told Business Insider. “Employees are required to wear a name badge while on the clock, so you will be able to find someone just fine.”
“For the most part, we love helping if you’re kind to us,” an employee of two years told Business Insider.
… just don’t ask the Costco demo employees for directions
“The demo service employees don’t work for Costco, and don’t know where everything is located on the shelves,” a Costco demo worker of 12 years told Business Insider. “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.”
Never shop hungry
No matter how good of a Costco navigator you are, an empty stomach could derail your whole mission.
If you don’t get sucked in by the food court, you could end up blowing your money on bulk packages of goodies.
“Eat before you come,” an employee with 10 years of experience told Business Insider. “You will spend $US300 just on snacks because you’re hungry.”
If you’re simply in the mood for fast and cheap pizza or hot dogs, go for it. But if you’re really not looking to spend extra cash, then chow down before you get to the store.
Be organised at checkout
“We appreciate it when the member has their card ready at checkout,” a Costco employee of 15 months told Business Insider. “Members are asked for their membership card at the door so that they have it ready for checkout, but, alas, they usually don’t.”
An employee of four years added that customers who take their time showing their cards and unloading during checkout “hold up the line for everybody.”
A Costco employee who’s worked for the chain for 25 added that, while members “complain about lines,” many people “do nothing to speed up the process” like having their cards ready to go and staying off their cell phones.
Don’t stuff your receipt in your bag or pocket
You can’t just saunter out of the store once you’re all checked out. There’s still one final step to go.
“When you’re done shopping, someone will check your buggy and check your receipt off,” a Costco employee of one year said.
So make sure you don’t cram the receipt in your bag or pockets and forget about it. That could start some serious drama, like this 2014 case in Oregon when a shopper alleged that he was detained for refusing to show his receipt at the door.
A jury ruled in Costco’s favour in 2015.
Are you a Costco employee with a story to share? Email [email protected]