What Costco Employees Wish You Knew

Working at Costco has a lot of perks compared to other retail giants and grocery stores, and the company has shown up in list after list of best places to work for years. But like other customer-oriented companies, the workers there have to deal with customer behavior that isn't always pleasant. Sometimes, it's merely annoying because the workers see and hear about it every day — and other times, it's downright disgusting. The behavior affects not only the workers at Costco, but other customers as well.

Many times, customers don't even realize they've done something that they shouldn't really do, or that they didn't do something that they're totally allowed to do. If you want to make your shopping trip to Costco go a lot more smoothly, and if you want to help the employees have a better day, too, take a look at these things that Costco employees wish you knew.

Employees really aren't responsible for making your favorite product disappear

Costco occasionally clears an old product off its shelves to make way for a new product. The company also stops selling items that no one wants to buy. Both of these are totally normal practices in the retail and grocery worlds, usually initiated somewhere in the corporate side of the company. Yet according to this Reddit thread, that doesn't stop customers from getting upset at employees on the sales floor because a favorite product disappeared.

The customers' behavior can sometimes reach a very weird pitch, such as the one time a customer threatened to cancel their membership because the company no longer sold the coffee he wanted, or when, during the beginning of the pandemic, someone asked if Costco no longer carried Kirkland products. However, as the posters point out, none of them are responsible for any of these products going away, so please do not stop your local Costco employees and demand to know why the store no longer has this or that product. They most likely don't know. 

Nor do they move everything around just to frustrate customers

If you've gone into Costco to buy a few of your regular items only to end up wandering the aisles wondering where the heck everything you needed went, you've encountered Costco's "treasure hunt" strategy. This is a deliberate re-ordering of the merchandise — in other words, it's moved around frequently — in an effort to make you look for it and, hopefully, purchase a few new items on impulse that you found during your search. It's also the basis for a common Costco myth that the store is actually hiding items (via YouTube). They're not; the overnight merchandising team is coming in and just moving things around. Everything is in view, just in a different location.

This strategy has actually gotten some complaints from customers. In this Reddit thread, one customer complained that the dental items used to be in one place and later were unexpectedly scattered around the entire store. To make matters worse, when he asked an employee to see if the store had the items in stock, the employee could not give him the locations in the store where the items could be found because the store's computer system didn't have aisle numbers listed. He said he ended up leaving empty-handed and called the treasure-hunt tactic "maddening."

The sample stations are truly clean

Even though the people giving out samples aren't Costco employees, they are part of Costco as far as customers are concerned. A customer admitted in this decade-old Reddit thread that they weren't too sure of the hygiene at the sample stations. One of those sample workers confirmed that the sample stations are actually very clean and said that while they couldn't vouch for anyone else, the stations had strict rules about changing gloves, sanitizing, and keeping products fresh and safe.

The free samples disappeared at the start of the coronavirus pandemic, but when Costco brought them back, the company continued its commitment to hygiene. Crowds of people descending on a platter of free food, grabbing at it with their bare hands, does not seem like the cleanest situation to find yourself in when dealing with a contagious virus. So, Costco changed how the samples were handed out. When the stations reopened, the workers gave out premade and prepackaged samples to one person at a time (via Krazy Coupon Lady). The workers at the stations also had plexiglass barriers between them and the customers (via the Motley Fool).

Different stores have different checkout policies

When you get to the cashier after navigating through the store, you face a choice: Either you take the items out of your cart and place them on the belt, or you leave everything in the cart but turn each item so that the barcode is facing up. And unfortunately, each store and each cashier has their own preference. If you're not sure what to do, Insider says to take items out of your cart and place them on the belt (except for very heavy or bulky items, of course). A post in this Reddit thread confirms that taking items out and placing them on the belt helps cashiers scan everything. Leaving items in the cart increases the risk that the cashier won't see some of the smaller items and thus not ring them up.

However, if you leave items in your cart instead of placing them on the belt, there's a good chance the cashier will be fine with it (via Reddit). Just be sure the smaller items in your cart are very visible and are arranged so that the cashier can see everything easily.

They like it when you chat with them

Workers who are limited to specific areas of the stores, such as the sample carts or the rotisserie-chicken counter, are often a captive audience for customers who want to talk to someone. Whether the workers actually like it when customers try to chat depends on the customer's motive and attitude. This was discussed in a few Reddit threads, such as this one where a sample worker says they hate "forced" small talk but like it when customers genuinely want to talk with them. Another sample worker even said that conversation was welcome — and the customer letting the sample worker complain was even more welcome.

One employee in the rotisserie-chicken section, however, did express annoyance at the repeated question of when the next batch would be ready, as well as questions about preparing items from other departments, such as how to sous vide a roast. Despite those irritations, the employee said they actually really like it when people stop by to talk, calling the rotisserie section one of the roughest in the store. Their one request was that you not block the case with your cart.

Really, please stop blocking the aisles and displays with your cart

That employee's request that customers not block the chicken case with their carts is not an isolated employee wish. Apparently, carts blocking cases, aisles, other customers, and just about everything else in the store is a major pet peeve of employees. On one hand, it's kind of hard to not block something with the carts because those Costco carts are huge. There's even a Costco cart in the Smithsonian National Museum of American History, as an example of an oversize cart used in warehouse stores. The flatbed carts aren't much easier to deal with, and in 2021, a woman in Florida filed suit against Costco after being hit with a flatbed cart that a customer could not control due to its size.

On the other hand, a lot of the problem stems from customers' behavior. Costco employees venting on Reddit mention people stopping to talk to friends with both carts blocking an aisle, and people walking alongside their carts and pulling them by holding onto the side, thus blocking the entire pathway. The first and second comments in that thread sum up the employees' frustration; not only is the first in all caps with an expletive directed at the carts, but the second calls the first comment the best advice in the thread.

They really don't like picking up your trash

Some customers really have a warped sense of how to treat the physical store around them, according to employees. When Insider interviewed Costco employees about bad shopper habits, one complaint was that people would constantly leave trash in their carts. One employee claimed to have seen customers taking trash out of their cars and placing it in carts, rather than in the trash receptacles around Costco. This ties in with another complaint the employees told Insider, about how some of the customers treat the employees like garbage. Unfortunately, that type of customer is all too common in retail, and Costco isn't immune.

Costco employees on Reddit added to the complaint by noting how the overnight merchandising crew would have to clean up cups and plastic utensils that were randomly placed around the shelves by customers who finished up a sample or two. They noted that Costco consistently has trash cans in each aisle, and they really want you to place all your trash in those cans — not in the carts, and not on the shelves.

If you put an unwanted perishable on a shelf, employees may not find it for hours

Complaints aren't limited to having to pick up litter. In one Reddit thread, Costco employees recounted times when they found perishable items placed randomly around the store, rather than back in the refrigerators or freezers. One found a roast on top of clothing; another found popsicles melting over boxes of crackers. The practice is so annoying to employees that one poster actually wished employees could punch people who did this. (A bit extreme, but we understand the frustration.)

As more than one comment put it, if you don't want something, hand it to a cashier to put it back for you instead of leaving the item in random places around the store. The chances that an employee will find the item before it melts or goes bad are basically zero. The place is huge after all. And regardless of the condition of the item, if it's been out of the refrigerator or freezer for two hours or more, then it's no longer considered safe to eat. The store ends up with a ruined product, and if it melted or leaked on anything else, those products are ruined as well.

Please don't lend or switch membership cards

Costco memberships and membership cards are for specific people, not families. A common mistake people make is giving their card to someone else to use or grabbing a spouse's card and attempting to use that instead of their own card. While Costco employees have told Insider that it's not always possible to stop everyone at the entrance and see their card, a few say they put their foot down and do not let anyone in unless they have their own membership card or are a guest of a member. (Or, one presumes, if they're trying to access services that don't require a membership.) Someone attempting to walk into one of these stores using a parent or spouse's card, for example, would be stopped from entering.

But that doesn't mean that if you don't have a membership, you can't come in the store. In addition to the non-membership services that Costco offers, the company allows Gold Star members to have a second card issued for free to one person. If you have a basic membership, that means you can request a second card in another person's name, such as that of your spouse. But again, these cards are issued to specific people. Members can also bring two non-members with them when they shop.

If you have a Business membership, you can also add people to your membership and get them their own card. However, you have the opportunity to add more than one person, and each card will cost you a discounted fee.

You've got to keep an eye on your kids

A problem that pops up all too often for workers involves customers' kids. When Insider spoke with Costco employees about what they wanted to tell customers, the employees had a few complaints and warnings about children. One begged customers to get their kids to stop screaming, another wanted customers to stop assuming employees would look out for the kids, and a third warned that letting kids jump around in the carts was dangerous.

But not all of the advice stems from exasperation. One Costco sample worker who created a Reddit AMA reminded other posters that any child who is able to see the samples on the table can take them, no questions asked and no refusals from the workers allowed. That means that customers need to educate their kids about any food allergies they have so that the kids don't gulp down food that could make them ill. Children shorter than the table, meaning they can't see what's on the table before they grab something, are not allowed to take samples themselves.

Landing a job at Costco takes more than just applying

With all the warehouses around the country and all the workers needed to keep those warehouses running, you'd think submitting an application would be all that you'd have to do to get a job at Costco. According to a few Redditors, however, getting hired at Costco takes a little more footwork because as one of them points out, thousands of people apply online. Your application isn't lost, of course, but a manager at a busy warehouse likely wouldn't be able to wade through every single application. Instead, the job-landing advice leans toward a few different tactics.

One is to apply online and give a physical copy of your resume to a manager or supervisor at the warehouse where you want to work. A Redditor who claimed to be in management advised applying online every month and emphasizing any retail experience, as well as speaking to a manager if you're able to. A lot of Redditors noted that Costco has two main hiring seasons — around September and October for temporary holiday help and then again in April for permanent positions — although a couple of people pointed out that employees can quit at any time, and to keep applying even outside those hiring seasons.

You can shop online without a membership

The internet is filled with articles about how to shop at Costco without a membership, and the options are usually variations on getting in to visit a particular department that is open to the public (but not being able to do general shopping), or going as a guest of a member. There's one more way that will allow you to shop on your own for general merchandise without a membership: Go online.

Yes, that's right — non-members can shop on Costco.com. But if you do this, you'll end up paying a small surcharge of 5%. According to Insider, the prices online may be higher, too, than what you'd find in the store; it's not unusual to find prices that are up to 20% higher. However, if you really want a certain Kirkland product or find that even those prices are still great deals, Costco's online website can be a wonderful option.

For some employees, it's not just a job -- it's a career

Retail and food service are not seen as a career choice by many, and that's understandable; most of us have at least one summer retail or food-service nightmare story in our pasts. Yet at Costco you'll find employees who do consider Costco to be their preferred employer. They like what they do, or they like the atmosphere overall, and they want to stay. One Refinery 29 writer who used to work at Costco, wrote in 2016 that she actually liked working at Costco and, should she once again need to find a job, she'd go back immediately.

The writer pointed out that the job that makes someone happy isn't going to look the same for everyone and mentioned that she even knew a manager who had started there in a job that would normally be short-term. And that's actually not uncommon. Costco has a policy of trying to hire from within, helping employees move up the ranks instead of bringing in higher-ups from outside the company. In an interview with the Motley Fool, Costco founder Jim Sinegal said that, when the company wants to hire a store manager, they deliberately hire only those who have been with Costco for years.