A Trusted Friend in a Complicated World

25 Secrets Costco Employees Won’t Tell You

Updated: Apr. 23, 2024

Learn how to spot clearance items, get fresh pizza when you want it, and more.

1 / 25
A shopper walks past shelves of bread at a Seattle Costco store . Costco Wholesale Corp. reported a 32 percent jump in its fiscal third-quarter profit Thursday, topping Wall Street expectations, as cash-squeezed customers flocked to its warehouse clubs in search of bargains on food and toiletries
Elaine Thompson/AP/REX/Shutterstock

We move items on purpose

Our stores constantly move their stock around, so you won’t necessarily find the peanut butter in the same spot it was last time. The company touts it as a “treasure hunt,” but it also knows the more time you spend scanning the shelves, the more likely you are to notice (and buy) other items. Check out these tips for saving money at Costco.

2 / 25
A shopper looks for grocery food items at Costco in Auburn Hills, Mich
Paul Sancya/AP/REX/Shutterstock

We’ll keep an item in one spot if it sells

As we move items around, we pay attention to how they’re selling. If they do particularly well in one spot, we’ll keep them there. These are things we sell that you can’t buy anywhere else.

3 / 25
A Costco worker displays cooked Dungeness crab for sale at Costco Wholesale in Mountain View, Calif. . The Dungeness crab season opened this week
Paul Sakuma/AP/REX/Shutterstock

We appreciate when you order ahead

We normally have enough party platters in stock, but we appreciate the heads-up the day before if you know you’ll be loading up so we can prepare. We don’t mind making extra, but we hate telling customers we’re sold out because one person wiped out our stock. These are the things you should never buy at Costco.

4 / 25
This, photo shows shopping carts at a Costco in Homestead, Pa
Gene J. Puskar/AP/REX/Shutterstock

Pretty much everything goes on sale

Wondering if you should stock up or wait? Most items will go on sale eventually, so it’s worth holding off if you can be patient.

5 / 25
A Costco butcher puts out beef at Costco in Mountain View, Calif. Wholesale prices rose last month for the second straight month as the cost of energy climbed enough to offset an unexpected drop in food prices
Paul Sakuma/AP/REX/Shutterstock

You can hunt us down

Got a meat question but don’t see a deli employee on the floor? Just knock on the door to the department, and we’ll be happy to answer any questions you have. These are the items you haven’t been buying from Costco—but should be.

6 / 25
David Lee holds on to his carts while shopping at a Costco Wholesale store, in Portland, Ore. The Commerce Department said Wednesday, May 9, 2012, that wholesale stockpiles increased 0.3 percent in March, just one-third of the 0.9 percent rise in February. Sales in March were up 0.5 percent, about half the 1.1 percent sales gain in February
Rick Bowmer/AP/REX/Shutterstock

Don’t sweat missing a sale

While Costco doesn’t price match with other retailers, it will honor its own sale prices on earlier returns. If you notice a costco.com item you bought had a price cut within 30 days of purchase, put in a request online to get the difference refunded. Some warehouses offer the same perk for in-store purchases, so stop by the membership counter to see if we can help. If you’re retired, then you don’t need to wait for a sale. Here’s the list of things that retirees should buy at Costco.

7 / 25
Costco A Costco butcher spreads out roasted chicken at Costco in Mountain View, Calif., . Monthly sales reports issued Thursday were better than expected, but still pointed to a consumer contending with rising gas prices, sagging home values and worries about jobs. Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Costco Wholesale Corp. were among the top performers last month, while most mall-based apparel stores struggled
Paul Sakuma/AP/REX/Shutterstock

Our rotisserie chickens are as good a deal as you hoped

We aren’t downsizing our birds or adding weird fillers to keep our famous $4.99 rotisserie chickens at their low price. In fact, our chickens can weigh twice as much as our competitors’. We do add seasonings like sugar, salt, and modified corn starch (like many other store-bought rotisserie chickens), but there are no preservatives, MSG, or artificial colors and flavors. Learn more secrets behind Costco’s $4.99 rotisserie chicken.

8 / 25

And listen for the bell

If you hear a bell ringing at the Costco deli, it means a new batch of freshly cooked rotisserie chicken has been put out. Costco rotisserie chickens are a great value and sell out quickly. If you miss out, simply wait for a little while for the next bell. Or you can opt for a true DIY solution: raising your own chickens!

9 / 25
A Costco worker changes the price sign at Costco in Mountain View, Calif. Businesses trimmed inventories at the wholesale level again in January even though sales rose for a 10th consecutive month. The dip in inventories underscored that businesses remain cautious about restocking their depleted shelves
Paul Sakuma/AP/REX/Shutterstock

Our price tags warn you if we aren’t restocking

An asterisk in the upper right corner of a price tag signals our location isn’t reordering the item. It might come back at a later time, like if it’s seasonal, but stock up now if it’s one of your favorites. Learn more about what asterisks on Costco price tags mean.

10 / 25
This photo, shows a shopper reading a product label at Costco Wholesale in Mountain View, Calif. Wholesale businesses boosted their stockpiles for a 19th consecutive month in July, but their sales were flat. Faltering demand could force businesses to cut back on orders when the economy is at risk of another recession
Paul Sakuma/AP/REX/Shutterstock

What you see is what we’ve got

Costco is a “warehouse” store in a literal sense—we don’t have any additional storage from what you see on the shelves. If it’s not there, don’t ask us to check the “back.” The “back” doesn’t exist. Every now and then, the items will be out of reach on the high pallets, but most stores won’t bring the forklift out for just for one item. Come back tomorrow; it will probably be restocked.

11 / 25
Shoppers wait at the check-out line at Costco Wholesale in Mountain View, Calif. Costco Wholesale Corp.'s fiscal fourth-quarter net income climbed 11 percent as the wholesale club operator made more money on membership fees and saw its sales rise
Paul Sakuma/AP/REX/Shutterstock

You can’t use manufacturer coupons

We know you’d love to get an even better deal on the items in your cart, but we don’t accept manufacturers’ coupons, and we won’t negotiate for a lower price. If you want to save extra money, check our warehouse savings books. These are the Kirkland items you should always buy at Costco.

12 / 25
Tomas Torres Reads a Brochure Which Shows the Prices and the Size Options of Coffins in Front of the Casket Display Inside a Costco Warehouse Store in Chicago August 24 2004 the World's Largest Warehouse Club Operator Said on Tuesday It Began a Test Program That Offers Coffins at Two of Its Chicago Area Stores the Issaquah Washington-based Company Said the Two Stores Are Now Offering Six Different Models of Steel Coffins That Are Made by Universal Casket Co Based in Michigan the Retailer Has Set Up a Special Order Program in Which Customers Can Select a Coffins in Either of the Two Locations and Have It Shipped to Their Mortuary of C United States Chicago
Jorge Lemus/Epa/REX/Shutterstock

We can help you through tragedy

Steel Costco caskets can cost as little as $950, which is a steal compared to other distributors. The company currently ship to 36 states, plus the District of Columbia. Here are more Costco perks every member should know.

13 / 25
A $1.99 slice of pizza at a Costco store
Francis Dean/REX/Shutterstock

Put your pizza order in early

On a busy Friday, you might have to wait 20 to 25 minutes for a fresh pizza. Make the most of your time by giving us your order before you start shopping so it’s finished cooking by the time you want to leave.

14 / 25
Store wine steward Robert Shelden places price signs on boxes of gin at a Costco warehouse store, in Seattle. Private retailers begin selling spirits for the first time under a voter-approved initiative kicking the state out of the liquor business. The initiative allows stores larger than 10,000 square feet and some smaller stores to sell hard alcohol
Elaine Thompson/AP/REX/Shutterstock

Our price tags have a special code

Most prices end with .9 (.89, .99, etc.), but a couple price tags signal you’re getting a particularly good deal. A price ending in .97 means the item is on clearance, so you’re getting an even better deal than usual. Meanwhile, a .00 or .88 price tag signals the manager decided to cut the price, sometimes because it’s the last one in stock, doesn’t have a box, or has pieces missing. Learn more about the secret codes behind Costco’s prices.

15 / 25
Shoppers stock up on cases of bottled water and other supplies in preparation for a hurricane and tropical storm heading toward Hawaii at the Iwilei Costco in Honolulu on . Two big storms so close together is rare in the eastern Pacific, and Hurricane Iselle could make landfall by Friday and Tropical Storm Julio could hit two or three days later, weather officials said
Audrey McAvoy/AP/REX/Shutterstock

You can get your non-member friends in

It’s no big secret that you can bring two guests with you to shop, but you can set up your friends who refuse to buy a membership with their own access cards. Only members can buy and refill a Costco Cash Card, but whoever you give it to has access to the store to spend the store credit whether they have an annual membership or not. Check out these other things you can do at Costco without a membership.

16 / 25
Costco shoppers buy eggs at Costco in Mountain View, Calif
Paul Sakuma/AP/REX/Shutterstock

You don’t pay much more than the store does

To make a profit, stores mark up their prices from what they pay the supplier. For instance, most grocery stores jack up meat prices by at least 30 percent. But at Costco, you won’t pay more than 15 percent more than the store does, and the prices average just a 10.6 percent markup. Read about these bizarre things you never knew you could buy at Costco.

17 / 25
Jonathan Weiss/Shutterstock

Keep an eye out for the markdown date

Also, keep an eye out for a date that sometimes appears under the final digit of the price. That date represents the most decent mark-down. Use this date to determine if you should buy now, or wait to see if the price drops again. There’s no one correct strategy, as popular items usually sell out shortly after a price drop, while items less in demand will have to be discounted repeatedly before selling. No matter when you choose to buy, knowing this trick will make you glad you have that Costco membership.

18 / 25

Choose Kirkland wisely

As the Costco store brand, Kirkland is associated with both quality and affordability. But it’s not always the best choice. The independent investigations of Consumer Reports have found a wide range of quality in the Kirkland brand. This makes sense, when you consider the sheer number of Kirkland-branded products available at Costco. When everything from work boots to mayonnaise carries the Kirkland label, it’s no shock that not all of them are best in class. According to Consumer Reports, safe Kirkland bets include bacon and maple syrup, while Kirkland coffee and dishwasher gel packs leave something to be desired.

19 / 25
HOUSTON, US - SEP 10, 2016: Costco Wholesale storefront with customers walk in. Costco Wholesale Corporation is largest membership-only warehouse club in US. It has a total of 705 warehouses worldwide
Trong Nguyen/Shutterstock

Location, location, location

Just as with real estate, understanding your location in a Costco store is key to getting the most bang for your buck. Almost always, the best deals are found deeper in the store. This is especially true of the heart of the store’s layout, frequently called “center court” by Costco employees. Start at the center, and work to the back. Only purchase items from the front of the store if it’s something you need or want, as they tend to have the highest mark-up. And while you’re working your way through the store, here are 15 tools that you probably didn’t know you could buy at Costco.

20 / 25
store aisle
BARKEH SAID/Shutterstock

Skip the soda

Costco soda isn’t a bad deal, but chances are that your local supermarket’s or discount store’s sales on soda are an even better deal. Many supermarkets use soda as a loss-leader, selling it below cost in order to draw customers in the door. The best deals are often around summer holidays like the Fourth of July or Memorial Day. Buy in bulk on those sales, and you’ll come out far ahead in the long run. Once you get all that soda home, consider storing it in a spare fridge.

21 / 25

Get the beef by the chub

One interesting tip is to request a chub of beef. Although most people are unfamiliar with this meat-packing term, a “chub” is a tube of ground beef, sealed in plastic. Looking a bit like an over-sized hot dog, chubs contain the same ground beef, but in packaging that’s less expensive than the traditional foam box with clear plastic topper. The Costco deli can package your beef at your request and the chub is usually sold at a discount.

22 / 25
Casimiro PT/Shutterstock

You can use your credit card

One common criticism of Costco is its policy of only accepting a few forms of payment. Critics point out that it can be inconvenient to bring cash, and the policy can make it hard to rack up points or rebates with your preferred credit card provider. The good news is that there’s a work-around! What your local store won’t tell you is that you can use any credit card when you shop at Costco.com. Of course not all items can be purchased online, and sometimes it still makes sense to shop in person. Some products are significantly cheaper in-store, while others are impractical to purchase online. For example, here’s why it’s a great idea to buy your gas at Costco.

23 / 25

Tire brand sales are always rotating

New tires can be an expensive purchase, even with Costco’s everyday low prices. But what most customers don’t know is that there’s a rotation period, with a different brand on sale each month. So if you’re able to wait a month or two, you’ll be able to pick up your preferred brand at a deep discount. In addition, the Costco service department will repair flats, check tire pressure and even rotate them for the life of the tires. It’s a big perk that many Costco members never take advantage of. If you’re not comfortable buying tires, here’s a why you should buy your tires from costco.

24 / 25

The places to get insider info

Costco has many loyal employees who work at one location for years—sometimes entire families work for there. So it’s no surprise that some former employees and insiders are willing to share their knowledge. Sites like Reddit and CostcoInsider collect the tips and tricks that employees use to get the most out of the Costco experience. If you tap into this network, you’ll get first notice of special deals and how to make the most of Costco policies. Are you more loyal to Home Depot? If so, check out these 13 things Home Depot employees won’t tell you.

25 / 25
a katz/Shutterstock

You can get your membership refunded

We’ve already mentioned Costco’s famously customer-friendly return policy. If you’re not happy with a product, just return it for a full refund. But what if the product you’re not happy with is Costco itself? Well, it turns out that they’ve got you covered for that, as well. If you’re not happy with your experience as a Costco member, just tell customer service and you can get a full refund of your membership fee. Now that’s great service! Next time you stop at Costco, here are the 5 things to buy and the 5 things to skip. Also, don’t forget to check out Costco scams you need to know about ASAP!!

[Sources: Matt from costcoinsider.com, costco.com, reddit.com]