If you love Costco, congratulations — you've clicked on the right article.
I recently spoke with Hunker Senior Lifestyle Editor Anna Gragert on the Being Home With Hunker podcast where she divulged the most interesting facts, tips, and advice for shopping at Costco. (We call her the Costco expert around these Hunker halls.)
If you haven't had a chance to listen yet, no worries. Below are (slightly edited) excerpts from our conversation where Anna breaks down what you need, and want, to know about everyone's favorite warehouse store: Costco. To listen to the full episode, click here. Or, read on. Your path to becoming a savvy Costco shopper awaits.
Q. Why are people so obsessed with Costco?
Anna: "Costco knows what it's doing. Costco is sneaky, they have a plan. So, when you walk in, it's the ultimate adult treasure hunt. There's products from floor to ceiling. They don't have aisle signs, they don't have in-store maps, so you're just wandering, and you never know what you're going to come across. So, they have specifically designed their store – and there's actually a really great Wall Street Journal YouTube video on this, where they talk about the economics behind Costco and how the store is laid out so that you're excited to be there.
"The other thing that Costco does that is genius is that they put products that are about to go out of stock on sale. So, you'll be going through the store, you'll see something on sale and you're going to say to yourself, 'That's not going to be here next time I'm here. I have to get it right now. It's not on my list. I wasn't thinking I was going to buy this, but I'm getting it because it's on sale.' They're masterminds. They know. They know what people want and they know how to get you to buy stuff."
Q. How do you identify what's trending at Costco?
Anna: "A lot of it has to do with crowdsourcing. There [are] so many amazing people out there who are dedicated to the Costco lifestyle and they have blogs, they have Reddit threads, they have Instagram accounts. Two of my favorites are @costcobuys and @costcodeals on Instagram. And me and our lovely news editor, Emma, we are just constantly looking at those accounts because these people, it seems like they go to Costco every day and they just let the masses know what's new and exciting. They're like, 'Oh, here's this brand new Halloween hot cocoa bomb.' And they'll post about it and we'll go, we'll read through the comments, we'll see if people are excited about it and if they are, we'll cover it. And then we notice the same thing on the site. People are genuinely excited about these things. There're just some angels out there, some Costco angels who are just chronicling everything that comes into the store. It's amazing."
Q. Can you share any secret tips or hacks that you've learned about shopping at Costco?
Anna: "So if you want to make sure that a product is in stock, I know it's old fashioned, not great for people with phone anxiety, but give them a call. Just call your local warehouse and be like, hey, I saw this on Instagram. Do you guys have it? Otherwise, you're going to be disappointed if you go and everyone's grabbed it and it's sold out. But I will say that if you do go before making the call and you find that the item you want isn't there, just go to the front desk and say, 'Hey, I want this item. Is it at a nearby warehouse? Can I go somewhere else and get it?' And they'll be able to help you.
"With Black Friday coming up, Costco has this thing where if one of its items goes on sale within 30 days and you bought that item, you can actually bring in your receipt and get a refund for the difference in price that you paid. For instance, if you go in like a few days before Black Friday, you buy something, you come in on Black Friday, you see that it's a lower price, just bring them your receipt and they'll refund you the difference."
Q. What the inside scoop on how Costco prices items?
Anna: "From what I've seen now I'm sure it differs from location to location, but Costco has a little secret language when it comes to their price tags. So, if you're going through the store and you see a price tag that has an asterisk next to it, that tends to mean it's about to sell out. So, you're going to want to grab it right away. You're not going to want to wait. If it ends in .69 cents or .89 cents, they both symbolize that the price is a special offer from the manufacturing company and that it is going to be the best deal you are going to get across all the retailers. So, when you're there, look at those prices and be like, hmm, what are they trying to tell me about this?"
Q. Are Costco memberships worth it?
Anna: "It depends. Our amazing writer, Kirsten Nunez, wrote up this piece going through the pros, the cons, the perks, what all the memberships, the different levels entail and all of that stuff. And I was hoping for just like, yes, it's always worth it, but it really depends on your lifestyle. If you have a large family and a house with plenty of storage to store bulk items, yeah. A membership's going to be great for you. Also, if you live near a Costco and you are going to be going there all the time anyway, or if you actually plan on using the perks, which we can talk about later, then definitely yeah, grab that membership. But if you're living alone or just two people to a household and you don't have any storage space, you live far away from a Costco, then yeah, it's probably not going to be worth it for you. But if the stars align and you have that storage space, why not fill it with all the good bulk goods that you can get?"
Q. Do we have to have a membership?
Anna: "No. You can get a gift card. If someone doesn't have a membership but they are interested in things at Costco, get them a gift card. [Also,] I don't think you need a gift card if you want to just go in and grab, like, a bottle of alcohol. That might be different for different locations. But if you're on your way to a party and you want to bring a hostess gift, just drop by and I think they'll let you in. And you can get that special bottle."
Q. What are some of the Costco perks?
Anna: "Costco has a program called Costco Travel. They offer deals on hotels, cruises, rental cars. They offer vacation bundles. So, you want to go on a trip? Use that perk. They also offer free tech support, which is something that I thought was really interesting. So if you buy any sort of electronic from Costco and you're having issues with it, you can call them seven days a week and they will help you out. So don't be afraid to buy your next computer at Costco.
"They also have an auto program that allows you to buy a car, lease a car, get a used one, you can get an RV, you can get deals on parts and services. With cars, they also have auto insurance and home insurance. So, they partnered with this company, I think it's called American Family Insurance. And they have this brand … called Connect. And they provide you with home and auto insurance deals. And if you're an executive member, it's basically like AAA, you can get roadside assistance, they'll help prepare like your glass, if you get locked out of your home, they'll come and help. And then probably the most timely thing is the Costco gas station.
"Because again, depends on where you live, depends on the location. But they often have really great prices that are cheaper than other gas stations in the area. And you can actually see these prices online. So, if you go to the Costco website and you search, find a nearby warehouse, they have a little gas station fuel icon next to the warehouses. And if you click on it, they'll tell you the exact prices. So great for budgeting."
Q. What about the Coscto app?
Anna: "People love the Costco app. And it's a great resource for so many reasons, because I truly believe that if you're going to go to Costco and you want to restrain yourself, you need to come prepared. Knowledge is power. So come with a list which you can make on the Costco app. You can also see all the deals on the app. And speaking of deals, I would highly recommend either subscribing to Costco's email list or just checking their online coupon book before going into the store. Come armed with all those deals, keep them in your brain when you're shopping. That way you're not going over budget or anything like that."