The Hidden Fees To Look Out For When Shopping At Costco

Most warehouse stores are built on the foundational principle that buying in bulk is less expensive for both the retailer and the consumer. A store like Costco has low prices in part because can leverage its buying power to pass on major savings to its members. In exchange for a membership fee, Costco club members have come to expect that they're getting the lowest prices at the stores' warehouses. That's not always, true, however, and if you're not careful, you can find yourself paying surcharges at the big box store.

These hidden fees mostly involve online transactions. While people think of Costco stores (rightly) as a members-only shopping experience, non-Costco members can buy a large number of items online (and even some in store). But Costco builds in additional costs to its online pricing structure to account for non-member purchases and services like delivery, adding up to a 5% surcharge on your online purchase if you're not a member (or forget to input your membership info online). While it can be difficult to compare directly, since warehouse prices  vary across the country, a number of items also carry a higher price tag online – and that's before any surcharges. There is sometimes a way to tell; when there's a discrepancy between the online and warehouse price, the product description will often say, "Item may be available in your local warehouse for a lower, non-delivered price."

Avoiding the fees

Before you get too indignant about Costco's up-charges, we should note that there are some solutions. To avoid fees, card-carrying members should always make sure to key in their Costco number before making an online purchase from If you forget, all is not lost: You can contact customer service to refund the difference. If you're using a third-party app, however, you won't be so lucky. Purchases made at Costco though Instacart, for example, will cost you extra even if you're a member, and there is nothing you can do about it. 

We should also point out that we haven't seen any reports of additional fees added to in-store purchases. While Costco may ask for donations to its monthly charity causes at checkout, or suggest that you purchase stamps when you're wrapping things up, they don't charge you extra for bags (they don't have any) or for using more than one cart and blocking up the aisles. So if you're buying in store, you're safe — at least for the time being.