Discover the Costco Secrets No One Wanted to Tell You

By Tina RuhlowLast Updated Apr 27, 2020 2:34:47 PM ET
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First opened in 1983, Costco quickly became a premier retailer in the grocery world. With almost 800 warehouses and almost 100 million members, Costco has earned high praise from countless publications and consumers. The company doesn’t have plans to slow down building new warehouses anytime soon, either.

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With its great reputation, most people already know the deal behind Costco’s deals. Fortunately, a few hidden surprises are waiting for customers. Check out these secrets about shopping — you might never look at Costco the same way again.

Pass on the Soda

When you're having a party or a cookout or simply love fizzy beverages, soda is always the go-to drink of choice. With so many flavors available, it can be tricky to determine the right one for the moment. Fortunately, major deals can keep soda lovers happy.

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When it comes to Costco, however, the merchandisers don’t show soda much love. This product is one of the least-purchased things in the store. This means these drinks don't get marked down as much as everything else in the warehouse. If you're looking to get some soda, head to a regular supermarket instead.

Grab Unlimited Samples

When it comes to buying new food, trying samples can be an important factor in your decision. At shopping malls, many restaurants deliver samples for passersby in the middle of the food court. While some people might not initially be interested in a product, one sample can change their minds.

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Restaurants are often very strict with the number of samples they give out. After two or three samples, you might be denied another taste of something. Costco allows people to take as many samples as they want. When it comes to finding their new favorite food, it's important to make a fully educated decision.

Walk for Better Deals

When you head into a store, you're surrounded by a slew of its biggest deals. Placing sale items in the front entices people to purchase them right away. Folks who weren't thinking about grabbing five bags of potato chips for $10 will find themselves tossing those bags into their carts, because who doesn’t love a deal?

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While Costco does this to a small degree, they're hiding the best stuff on the other side of the store. This happens because managers want customers to buy other items they see as they traverse the whole warehouse. The walk down the aisles might feel a bit like traveling the Oregon Trail, but grabbing an incredible deal is worth it.

Get Tires on the Cheap

You can't — or at least you shouldn’t — take your car out for a spin without having some great tires. They keep you safe on the road, and they help hold all that extra weight after a Costco trip. Most Americans have spare tires to accommodate the occasional flat, too.

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Costco has tires for sale, but they’re sold in a unique way. Every month, the store offers a different tire brand at a discount in the warehouse. If you're loyal to a specific brand, you'll have to wait until those prices get slashed. But it’s worth it, and Costco can install the tires for you in its auto center.

Listen to the Bell

When you're looking for something quick for dinner, chicken is always a great choice. While it might get a bad rep as a "processed food," rotisserie chicken can be good for your health; Costco’s cooked chicken has vitamin A, iron and calcium.

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If you’re like most shoppers, you probably want the freshest rotisserie chicken you can find. At Costco, that means you'll have to wait for the bell to ring, letting shoppers know the hot chickens are out. If you manage to miss out on a fresh bird, just wait for the next bell.

Try an Eye Exam

Costco's eye exams can help you find out what’s going on with your vision. Unfortunately, many people find themselves unintentionally avoiding eye exams. Only about half of Americans get their eyes checked annually; people just don’t want to believe they need glasses, even if they do.

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Fortunately, you don't need a Costco card to get an eye exam at the store. While the vision centers do take appointments, walk-ins are welcome at all warehouses. A typical eye exam will cost you around $70 or so. You can't buy glasses or contacts in your new prescription at Costco without a membership card, though.

Remember That Bulk Isn't Always Better

When it comes to shopping, people love buying things in bulk — and Costco certainly makes this easy. This is kind of the whole premise of the store, after all, and there are always weekly and monthly deals plastered around the warehouse. And while you might not actually need 20 oranges, getting them for a lower bulk price can be tempting.

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Like many stores, Costco runs plenty of bulk deals for customers. You don't have to stock up on bulk items, though. Unless you have a huge family or an event to attend, grab a smaller number of goods for a decent price. This way, you run less of a risk of fresh foods going bad because you’re not using them fast enough.

Get Cash After Price Drops

When you walk out with your purchases, you feel like a million bucks. Things can get sour when the items you bought go on sale the next day, though. Knowing you could've saved a few bucks by waiting another 24 hours isn’t the greatest feeling.

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Costco incorporates an interesting sales price policy. If something you bought goes on sale a few days later, bring your receipt to customer service. You'll be able to grab the difference in the price. This only works for deals taking place up to 30 days after your initial purchase.

Bring Your Visa Card

Credit cards are everywhere these days, and some people believe the United States will turn into a cashless society. They couldn’t be more convenient, but some stores only accept certain companies’ cards. Costco is one of those stores.

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Costco warehouses only accept Visa cards. The store previously only allowed American Express cards. If you don't have a Visa credit card, you can still pay with a debit card, cash or mobile payment. If you’re ordering from the Costco website, you can also pay with Mastercard and Discover cards.

Call for Technical Support

Every few years, you might head out to get a replacement for an electronic item, such as a TV or laptop. Costco delivers some of the biggest tech brands for reasonable prices, and it’s a great place to head to purchase these items — not just because of the good deals.

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Many people don't realize Costco has a special phone number for technical support. Just call 1-866-861-0450 between 5 a.m. PST to 10 p.m. PST to get some help with your item. Costco offers help seven days a week, but this service isn't available during the holidays.

Don’t Forget the Two-year Warranty

When it comes to buying electronics, the warranty is one of the most important elements. If your item turns out to be defective, you can get it repaired or trade it in for a new one when you have the right warranty. Because used electronics often come without these protective policies, purchasing electronics new gives you security.

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Warranties often last one full year. But at Costco, you get a two-year warranty on most items. Products that are eligible for this warranty include TVs, freezers and washers. While computers are also covered, touchscreen tablets are exempt. Unfortunately, any sort of physical damage or software replacement isn't included in the warranty.

Get Sneak Peeks at New Items

Costco stands out from other stores with Costco Roadshows, which take over a portion of the store. These special events showcase some rising manufacturers in various fields. Whether you're into fitness or coffee, a Costco Roadshow will probably have something for you.

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But you need to be quick, because a Costco Roadshow only lasts up to 10 days. If you like something you see, it's best to purchase it right away, because these products may or may not be for sale later. Costco uses Roadshows as an opportunity to introduce exciting new products but also to keep you returning for surprises about what might be there. Roadshows also allow Costco to test a product’s performance before merchandisers decide to carry it in stores.

Refill Your Ink Cartridges

If you're doing a lot of printing, you can find yourself running out of ink in no time — probably right when you have an important document to print. Ink refill kits are available, but they can lead to a mess if you're not using them properly.

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While some places refill ink cartridges for high prices, Costco offers a much more affordable service. The Photo Center can refill your empty cartridges while you shop. After an hour or so, you'll be able to retrieve your filled cartridge for less than $10.

Stock Up on Medication

Trying to buy prescription drugs for a reasonable price can be tough. Many stores intentionally raise the prices, leaving consumers in a stressful situation. This can leave some people unable to access their medication for days at a time.

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But Costco offers some of the cheapest medication you'll find. The cost is typically one-third of what customers pay at other drugstores and big-box stores. If you're not a Costco member, don't worry. You'll be able to still fill your prescription at the store without a membership.

Say the Magic Word

Ground beef is always a big seller in the meat department. From spaghetti sauce to tacos, this is a staple in various cooked foods around the world. It's hard to attend a cookout without seeing burgers on the grill, right? And let’s not forget Mom’s famous meatloaf dinner.

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If you're trying to grab some ground beef at Costco, ask for a "chub." This will give you a 10-pound portion of ground beef at a reasonable price. On average, ground beef is normally sold for $3.50 per pound or so. Chubs, which are the leftover portions, go for $2.99 per pound.

Get in With a Gift Card

Costco is famous for its tremendous membership. For around $60, a Gold Star membership can land you benefits such as cheap vacations, medical insurance and discounts on movie tickets. A Gold Star Executive Membership has even more benefits and discounts.

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If you’re unsure whether or not you want a full membership, have a friend or family member purchase a gift card for you. You can use it in the store, even as a non-member, and while you shop this way you’ll have the opportunity to check out all the goodies available to determine whether you want to sign up.

Eat at the Food Court

With so much shopping and walking, you might feel famished after a Costco trip. Fortunately, the store is equipped with a marvelous food court. While there isn’t a huge menu selection, there are some super-tasty quick bites to get, including churros and pizza — and, because it’s Costco, everything is affordable.

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The most well-known product in Costco's food court is probably the hot dog and drink combo. At just $1.50, it’s easy to get a meal for everyone in your family or head back for seconds. This combo has been available at Costco for over 30 years. While prices on other foods have gone up, this pairing hasn’t made the leap yet.

Learn About Availability

Not everything in the store is available on a consistent basis. Some special items, such as limited-time candy, only last throughout the winter holidays. Some things, including sports-related memorabilia, only last for a couple weeks. Other items are new, and Costco is doing test runs to see how well they sell.

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There’s a secret way to tell if Costco is planning on reordering an item: Look for an asterisk on the price card. Also, a date on the sticker lets you know when the markdown date starts and the item's price goes down. Act quickly, though; some items can disappear before the date.

Gas Up

Gas is one of those essentials that we all hate paying for but can’t live without. That’s why most of us are always looking for a good deal when it’s time to fill up our tanks. One excellent way to find that good deal is to head to Costco.

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The shopping club sells just about everything you can imagine, and that includes gasoline. Most Costco stores have their own gas stations, and you do need to have a membership to take advantage of deals at the pump.

Buy Great Organic Food

One of the most popular areas of stores is the organic food section. Over the years, organic food sales have risen to unexpected heights thanks to a surge in healthy eating. In 2018, the organic food market earned $52.5 billion. As expected, fruits and vegetables were some of the top sellers.

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Costco's organic food section includes some of the cheapest organic products available on the market. In 2015, the company managed to overthrow organic titan Whole Foods as the top organic food seller. Some of Costco's biggest-selling organic items available include chicken stock, peanut butter and maple syrup.

Use Costco Deals Elsewhere

Competition can be healthy, and Costco has plenty of stores looking to take away its crown. Because of Costco's excellent reputation, many competitors try their best to draw Costco shoppers with deals of their own. Some will sell unique items that aren’t available at Costco or have eye-catching flash sales.

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If you're not a Costco customer, you can still get its deals at other stores. Just show up elsewhere with a copy of Costco's deals printed off its website. Because most stores offer price-matching, you'll be able to walk away with more cash in your wallet.

Return Just About Anything

There's nothing worse than purchasing something only to realize you don’t like it, and trying to handle a return can be tricky at most stores. With ever-changing policies, you might miss out on a return and get stuck with your item.

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Costco's return policy is one of the best in the country. You can return nearly everything within 90 days of its original purchase date. Aside from electronics and food, you can also return diamonds. For those purchases, you need to bring your original paperwork. This only works for diamonds above a certain size.

Make Room for Boxes

After purchasing food, getting it home is easy — from a regular grocery store. Those small shopping bags have been the norm for decades. And these days, customers bring their own reusable shopping bags to help save money and the environment.

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If you're expecting to be asked if you want paper or plastic at Costco, you're in for a surprise. The store doesn't carry bags. It does, however, have cardboard boxes that are better at holding the larger container sizes Costco goods come in. These can be big, so make sure you have room for them in your trunk.

Don’t Bring Coupons If You Don’t Want To

For decades, coupons have been the tried-and-true way to walk away with some big savings. You might still see them in the Sunday newspaper. Over the years, however, physical coupons just don’t have the same presence they used to.

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Every month, Costco sends out a massive coupon book to members — just to let you know what deals are coming up. While these coupons are available to use, don't bother bringing them during your next shopping spree. At the register, the company automatically adds all the advertised discounts that appear in the coupon book. Because of this, manufacturer coupons are invalid at the warehouse.

Get Alcohol Without a Membership

Whether you’re having a party or stocking your new home bar, alcohol can be a big expense. But before you decide to forego a bubbly beer or stiff cocktail, consider heading to Costco — you could get some great deals.

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Costco is proud to be the biggest wine retailer in the United States. And when it comes to buying alcohol, certain states allow you to do it without a Costco membership, including New York, California and Texas. Unfortunately, Costco doesn’t allow returns on any alcohol purchases.

Shop Online Without a Membership

Many outsiders see what's happening at Costco and wish they were part of the action. Some of them might be tight on cash and can't afford a membership card just yet. Others might not be within driving distance of a Costco warehouse.

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Fortunately, folks without Costco memberships can still purchase many items through the company’s website at slightly higher prices than what members pay. However, some items that are available online to members aren’t available to non-members, so a membership still might be worth it.

Shop on Certain Days

Shopping for groceries can either be a breeze or a complete disaster. You'll never know when the store is completely packed with shoppers looking to stock their pantries. While self-checkout exists, that doesn’t make things much easier during holidays or around big events.

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It's best to avoid shopping at Costco on the weekends and before holidays. These days are guaranteed to find you standing in long lines or searching for sold-out products. It's best to do your Costco shopping on Tuesdays and Wednesday evenings. These are the least-chaotic times for the store.

Don’t Get Sticky Fingers

When it comes to shoplifting, stores like Costco are some of the biggest targets. In 2017, shoplifting accounted for 35.7% of industry shrink across the United States. This crime leads to prices going up across the board, which can hit consumers where it hurts most: their wallets.

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While many supermarkets and big-box stores have uniformed security guards, Costco makes sure aspiring thieves don’t notice these personnel. In the stores, guards are dressed in normal street clothes. As expected, they're not actually shopping; they're making sure their assigned sections of the store are safe.

Go for the Store Brand

Buying store-brand items is usually a good way to save money; they’re almost always cheaper than name-brand items. However, they’re not always known for being as high quality as the name-brand goods, either.

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Costco's own Kirkland Signature brand is another story. It’s the go-to brand for everyone in the store because it’s famous for its high-quality products. Released in 1992, the brand is named after Costco’s original headquarters location of Kirkland, Washington. As expected, the Kirkland brand brings in big numbers for Costco — it accounts for one-third of overall sales.

Look for the Manager Special

When it comes to shopping, one thing people keep their eye on is the sticker price. This lets buyers know if a big sale is happening at that very moment. Very few people make the mistake of ignoring price tags while shopping.

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If you find a sticker price at Costco ending in either $.88 or $.00, it's part of the manager's special. These items may have damaged packaging, which makes them harder to sell at full price. While they might not look pleasant, getting a few dollars off is a welcome surprise.