It’s no secret that I’m a big fan of Costco. I probably make a trip there once a week, whether to get gas or to shop at the warehouse and while I never really fill up a cart, I usually walk out with something good. I like Costco for their staples goods, whether it’s toilet paper or tissues, and only occasionally buy food that isn’t fresh or frozen. I just don’t like buying some products in bulk because we don’t have the space to store it and, well, I don’t really want huge jugs of barbecue sauce in my fridge unless I know I’m going to be throwing a party where we’ll be using it up.
This will be a list of tips that I consider valuable. You won’t see me recommending you go there on an empty stomach and fill your stomach full of samples, which is a good tip but not something I’d consider a valuable secret.
1. Return Policy
This one hardly counts as a secret but Costco has an incredible return policy. With the exception of electronics (defined as “Televisions, projectors, computers, cameras, camcorders, tablets, game consoles, mobile phones), which have a limit of 90 days, and any item that is restricted by law, you can return any product to Costco for a refund at any time. I’ve seen some ridiculous returns, like underwear and spoiled food, but anything goes. In fact, if you are simply dissatisfied, you can return the product whenever you’d like. While you’re at it, you can even get a refund on the membership price if you’re dissatisfied!
2. Executive Membership “Refunds”
As a corollary to the above “secret,” you can get a refund on your Executive Membership if you don’t earn enough in the 2% rewards to cover the increased price. We signed up for the Executive Membership because it was pitched to us in that exact way – with 2% rewards you get a check each year. If that check doesn’t cover the increase, you can always ask for a refund of the membership fee and then sign up again (when the Executive Membership was pitched to me, the associate just said that I could get a refund of the difference but that’s not corporate policy). We’ve never had to do it because the check has easily beaten the $55 difference in price.
3. Closeout Pricing
Sometimes the tag will say “last one,” which usually means it actually is the last one. But did you know that Costco, like many other retailers, use pricing to indicate what items they’re trying to close out? Most items at the store will end in a 99¢. If you see a 97¢, that means Costco is trying to get rid of it and has cut the price on the item. The reduction might be a small reduction or it might be a large one, depending on the item, but know that chances are you won’t see it again in a couple weeks.
Sometimes the price label will have an asterisk in the upper right – that means the item was not reordered and what you see is what’s left (for seasonal items, it might be back next year but it’s on its way out this time around). After they sell it, it won’t be coming back. I wish I knew this before they started discontinuing a few items but it’s a good tip if you’re considering stocking up on something but passed because it takes up so much space.
5. Coupon Books
Forget your coupon book? Just ask the cashier if they have the codes at the register (they usually do). If they don’t have one, ask someone nearby. It turns out every coupon has the same code (check for yourself!) so your coupon book isn’t unique to you and it’s not unique to the product on the front of it either. I’m not sure why they set it up this way, other than to keep things as simple as possible, but this makes it easier to always get the discount.
6. 30 Day Price Adjustment
Did you buy something and then see that it dropped in price or they added a coupon for it? If it purchased it within the last thirty days, you can get a price adjustment. Just go to the returns counter and ask. Considering Costco has a generous return policy, this just seems like a matter of convenience for them because you could always return the product and then buy it again with the coupon. This also means I keep my receipts just in case a coupon comes out (it also means I won’t delay a purchase on the off chance there will be a coupon). Technically, this is at the discretion of the management but what isn’t at their discretion is the return policy. If you go for a price adjustment and they don’t allow it, return the item. Then buy it again inside the store.
7. Gas Opens Earlier, Stays Later
If you buy gas at Costco, you know that the lines can get pretty ridiculous. I hate waiting in line and I especially hate waiting in line while idling my car, so I get gas at odd hours. Fortunately, the gas station is open earlier and remains open later than the warehouse store’s regular hours. This will vary from location to location but it’s typically open for an hour earlier and an hour later. There are almost no lines at these later times, especially at the larger ones with more bays.
Here are the official hours (which, you’ll notice are longer than the warehouse hours):
- Monday-Friday: 6 am to 9:30 pm
- Saturday: 6 am to 8 pm
- Sunday: 6 am to 6 pm
8. Shop with a Gift Card
You can buy things at Costco using a gift card if you don’t have a membership but a manager might get involved and stop you if you use it to buy a television (I watched this happen, hence my use of the TV as an example). You probably won’t get much resistance if you buy a shirt or a bag of string beans but a thousand dollar item will certainly draw attention. The most realistic way to take advantage of this is to buy Costco gas without a membership, but the membership really is worth it.
Update: Unfortunately, the gift card loophole has since been closed inside the warehouse (I guess people started using that strategy too often). In order for a non-member to use the cash card, they need to purchase a one-day pass.
Do you have any Costco secrets that I missed?