Secrets Costco Doesn't Want You To Know

What can't you buy at the warehouse nirvana Costco? Famed for its generous treatment of employees, low prices, and massive packages, members flock to Costco stores to sample a plethora of gratis nibbles while they stock up on everything from gallon vats of organic coconut oil to Disney vacations (And if the vacation doesn't go so well, you can even buy a casket).

But there's a lot more to Costco than its giant aisles, generous samples, and tasty $1 hot dogs. In fact, there's quite a lot about this members-only warehouse club that the company would probably rather you not know. From hacks for saving even more money to little-known services offered by the company, there are many under-the-radar ways to optimize your Costco experience. Lucky for you, we're here to spill all the secrets Costco has tried to hide. Here are the secrets Costco doesn't want you to know. 

You don't always have to be a member to shop

While you're required to show a membership card at checkout, there are a couple of tricks to buck the system and enjoy Costco's famed low prices without being a member.

The easiest way to take a peek beyond the metal gates is to walk right in. That's right. While there are gatekeepers who seemingly want to check your ID card, they aren't exactly hyper-vigilant about it. Plus, you might be there to use the pharmacy (prescription drugs must be available to the public per federal law) or even visit the eye doctor (though you'll need a membership to purchase eyeglasses.) Liquor can also be had without a membership in states where the law requires it, which means you don't need to be a member to nab the Kirkland vodka that famously tastes like Grey Goose. Grab a hot dog and a soda from the snack bar while you're there — the snack bar doesn't check for membership.

If you want to score retail goods, you'll need to tag along with a member. That means you can come in as your friend's guest, and even make selections, provided your friend pays for your purchases at checkout and you pay your friend back. Prefer to shop on your own schedule? Ask your member friend if they'll buy you a pre-filled Costco Shop Card. Non-members are free to shop at any U.S. Costco store with a Costco Shop Card.

You can return things anytime

In comparison to most retailers, Costco's return policy is pretty sweet. Costco's satisfaction guarantee covers a majority of the merchandise it sells, meaning even that sensible navy blue parka you bought last year and removed the tags from can be returned for a full refund. No receipt? No problem — the customer service desk can look up the purchase for you using your membership number. Opened food items can even be brought back to the store, which makes a great case for trying out something new.

There are, of course, a few exceptions to the rule. Costco is legally prohibited from accepting returns on alcohol and cigarettes in most states. It is also free to decline a return on a "limited life" product, like batteries, and requires an inspection of diamonds over a carat in weight before issuing a refund. Major electronics, like appliances, televisions, and cellular phones must be returned within 90 days of purchase.

A return policy this forgiving no-doubt attracts its fair share of mooches who try to push the envelope. Some of the most insane returns Costco employees have ever seen attempted include opened packages of underwear, a 15-year-old pressure washer, and plants that died after being neglected. There was even the woman who brought back a piece of fish she'd had in her freezer for 13 years — and successfully returned it.

It will refund your membership at any time

You can return practically everything else, so why not your membership status? Costco's generous return policy extends to memberships as well — they will refund 100% of your membership fee at any time. That means if you were really determined to score the savings on a major item, like a television or refrigerator, you could join, snag your item, and then cancel your membership for a refund. You could even shop for 364 days of the year and then take a visit to the customer service desk to get those membership bucks back. Of course, this also makes you kind of a jerk ... so proceed with caution.

For a more honest way to take advantage of your membership dollars, consider upgrading a regular, Gold Star Membership to Costco's Executive Membership. It clocks in at double the price but offers 2% cash back on many qualifying purchases, plus loads of additional goodies and coupons. You'd need to spend about $5,500 per year to make the card pay for itself — but here's the best part: Though it's not advertised on the website, many shoppers report that Costco has offered them a trial of Executive Membership in their first year. In the event that they didn't earn back at least the cost of the upgrade, Costco would refund the difference. Check in at your local store to see if you can grab this deal.

It changes the location of items on purpose

Ever wondered why the toilet paper and laundry detergent at your local Costco store always seem to be placed in a new aisle? This tactic is completely intentional, and known by the top brass of Costco as the "treasure hunt," according to Fast Company. This strategy is a devious attempt by Costco to make you buy more products that you weren't planning to pick up when you walked into the store. The search for your intended "trigger" items is going to lead you on a carefully orchestrated path past seasonal items, clothing, bestselling cookbooks, and of course, those tantalizing food samples. 

About 1,000 of Costco's items on any given day may be goods only available temporarily, so it's up to you if they are bargains that are truly too good to pass by. The best advice for avoiding temptation? Make a shopping list, and stick to it.

Costco has been accused of selling fake Tiffany rings

It might seem like Costco carries almost everything under the sun, but there is definitely one thing you won't find in its stores anytime soon — genuine Tiffany diamond engagement rings. Per Fortune, the famed jewelry store won a lawsuit against Costco in 2016, arguing that Costco intentionally infringed upon the Tiffany name by selling inferior diamond engagement rings labeled as "Tiffany." Costco argued that the term refers to a commonly accepted setting for a diamond, but the jury wasn't having it, awarding Tiffany over $13 million in punitive and compensatory damages. Costco continued fighting, and the case dragged on in other courts until 2021 when Tiffany settled with the warehouse giant. The terms of the settlement are not public (via CNBC).

All that drama didn't stop Costco from dazzling its members with diamond engagement rings. The store still sells upscale engagement rings, just without the Tiffany branding.

Costco's eggs may have come from questionable sources

When the above video leaked in June of 2015, depicting the inhumane and vile conditions at an egg factory farm that supplied eggs from caged hens to Costco, people got fired up — including celebrities like Bill Maher and Brad Pitt. Referencing a vague promise Costco had made in 2007 to transition to cage-free eggs in all of its stores, the celebs argued that Costco was taking too long to actually implement the switch.

Costco responded to the backlash with a renewed commitment to sourcing cage-free eggs, promising work toward being completely cage-free. But it seems even its cage-free operations have been met with some scrutiny. The New York Times reported in October of 2016 that an undercover video obtained by animal rights group Direct Action Everywhere showed that the conditions in a California cage-free facility that supplied eggs for the Costco Kirkland brand were not all that much better than a caged factory farm. The video, depicting chickens roaming in filth and walking over dead carcasses, was criticized by the egg producer as "being staged for production effect." Costco, in response, stated, "We have reinspected the barn and other operations of this supplier, and based on these inspections and prior audits, we are comfortable with the animal welfare aspects of the operation."

Costco eggs are more expensive than grocery store eggs as well, so you might want to think twice about picking up your eggs from Costco.

The secrets of Costco pricing

"Costco expert" Len Rapoport shared his knowledge of Costco's unique pricing structure — which he gained in his years as an eBay power seller, unloading items he bought for steep discounts at Costco. The secret, he says, lies in examining the cent amount at the end of the price.

According to Len, items ending in .99 are regular, full-priced items. The same goes for prices that end in .49, .59, and so on. If the end of the price reads .97, however, you're looking at goods that have been marked down. Costco is not quick to disclose this the way some stores will, but if you want to know precisely how much the goods have been marked down, Len says you can ask a manager. If an asterisk also appears on the upper right corner of the price tag, this means the item will not be restocked, so what is currently available in the store is all that is left. You may also see prices ending in .88 or .00. Len says those are manager specials and markdowns and are often goods that have been returned to the store or end-of-inventory items.

One of the best ways to ensure you get the absolute best price? Costco will price match an item for up to 30 days, so if you see it drop in price, bring your receipt to customer service and get a refund of the difference. If you see it drop in price and it has been more than 30 days, Len advises you to purchase the item at the new price and then to use your old receipt to return the newer item.

Members have some gripes

Members' love of the warehouse giant makes Costco one of the top three retailers in the US, according to a 2022 list from the National Retail Federation. But with that much going for it, there are bound to be some haters. What are the chief complaints most often heard about Costco? According to Consumer Reports, many members aren't crazy about Costco's limited selection, long checkout lines, customer service, and absence of fitting rooms.

Costco does not offer plastic bags, or bags of any kind, at the register. Customers can opt instead to reuse the cardboard boxes found near the checkout aisle, but this policy can become frustrating not only for shoppers, but also for employees, who are pressured to keep boxes at the ready. Costco, unlike competitor Sam's Club, does not offer delivery or installation services, which can be quite the dilemma when you've just nabbed that outdoor patio set and gazebo deal before your Memorial Day barbecue.

Other stores may price match a Costco deal

If you spot a too-good-to-pass deal at Costco, but still can't wrap your mind around paying the membership fee, there is one more way to score the Costco price. Kyle at Rather Be Shopping has compiled a handy list of all the retailers who will price match Costco or items. The list includes big names like Best Buy, Target, Walmart, and Lowes, to name a few. Home Depot will even do you one better — it promises to beat the price by 10%, provided the price of the item at Costco is the regular price, and not a manager special or liquidation.

With this in mind, it might be worth it to keep Costco's website up and running on your phone while you shop in other stores. If you're willing to put in the extra effort to visit the customer service desk, you could save some serious cash.

You could score a deal on your Costco membership

Costco is the best place to shop if you want a good deal on grocery items. But those savings do come at a cost as a yearly Gold Star membership will cost you $60 a year, and an Executive Membership will set you back $120 a year (via Costco). While you'll more than make up the cost of the membership if you shop frequently at Costco, it turns out there are often Groupon deals that can help reduce that yearly membership cost even more.

As of publication, Groupon is currently offering a Costco membership deal that gives you a $10 Costco shop card when you sign up for a Gold Star Membership, or a $20 Costco shop card if you sign up for a new Executive Membership. Executive Members also have access to a rewards program where they earn up to 2% on qualifying purchases, with a value of up to $1,000. That's a lot of savings. And according to the Penny Hoarder, Costco has had even better Groupon deals in the past, like a free 72-count pack of Kirkland Signature AA batteries valued at around $20, a free variety 4-pack of Kirkland Signature disinfecting wipes, $10 off meat purchases, and $25 off an order of $250 or more on So if you're finally about to pony up for a first-time Costco membership, make sure you check for membership deals beforehand.

You can find exclusive deals online

Costco may be the GOAT of wholesale warehouses, but it still has to compete with Amazon, like any other retail business out there. And unlike Amazon, it needs to help customers justify the $60 yearly cost of a membership. This is why it introduced Costco Next, a program that offers members the perk of exclusive online-only discounts from select Costco suppliers. The way it works is that Costco curates certain products and brands and allows members to buy directly from the manufacturers' websites, which can afford them discounts and special perks (via ABC News.)

At publishing time, Costco Next is offering deals like 20% off $50 worth of Anker phone chargers, specially priced cosmetic products from Boscia, and up to 20% electric bikes at Priority Bicycles. The company is constantly changing which brands and products it features on Costco Next, so be sure to check it out if you're a member.

You can get free tech support after purchasing electronics

If you've ever bought a bigger electronics item from Costco like a television or kitchen appliance, you already know you got yourself a great price. But what you might not realize is that Costco provides free tech support for the lifetime of most of the electronics and appliances it sells. That's right: free tech support. When it comes to membership perks, this might be the motherlode.

It's called Costco Concierge Services and it's automatically included in your Costco membership. So if you need help installing a new appliance or troubleshooting an issue, know that Costco has got your back. You can even speak directly to a tech support rep to walk you through whatever questions or issues you're having. Apparently, there is hardly ever a wait to speak to anyone. Plus, Costco extends the warranty on most products up to two years. With all these added perks, it seems insane to buy electronics and appliances anywhere BUT Costco.

You don't need a business to shop at Costco Business Centers

Imagine a Costco with earlier hours and even more deals. It's not a fantasy, it's a Costco Business Center. And no, you don't need to be an actual business to go to one, you just need your regular Costco membership card. There are over 15 Costco Business Centers across the country according to the company's website, and it's worth it to see if there's one near you. For one, they open earlier, as early as 7 am, so you can shop while beating the crowds.

Costco Business Centers also carry items you won't find at regular Costcos, like individually wrapped snacks, or a much more robust drink and candy selection. If you are planning a party, Costco Business Center should be your first stop for catering and party supplies. And you can also keep an eye out for exclusive Savings Events that you can only find at Costco Business Centers. There's also an extensive selection of meat at Business Centers. One Reddit user even pointed out you can get a whole goat or lamb at the Costco Business Center in Stafford, Texas.

Enjoy all the free samples you'd like

The low prices and bulk sizing aren't the only reason to get a Costco membership. One of the most iconic and fun reasons to shop at Costco is to partake in all the free samples handed out throughout the store. And while you might feel guilty or awkward going back for seconds or even thirds of a sample you particularly liked, know that Costco policy allows for customers to take as many free samples as they like (via CBS News.) So go ahead, live a little.

Of course, an unlimited free sample policy isn't an invitation to be a jerk. One Costco Sample Person took to Reddit to share about a time a teenager took nine trays of Ferrero Rocher candies, which was about $50 worth of free product. While company policy kept the free sample contractor from stopping him, let this be a PSA that this is pushing it and at the very least, and you may be judged and talked about on Reddit.