The Dos and Don’ts of Costco’s Cart Etiquette, According to a Superfan

published Sep 13, 2023
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NEW YORK CITY - SEPTEMBER 30 2017: Costco stores joined other national retailers in offering an emergency survival kit for $1000.00 with supplies set to last up to 25 years. Interior of Brooklyn Costco
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Some cities, like where I live in Atlanta, are notorious for their terrible traffic — but even those backups are tame compared to the hustle of a Costco on Saturday. The big-box warehouse is designed with wider aisles and oversized carts to make shopping at Costco easier, but those carts still remain the source of disenchantment among members. 

I’ve been a loyal Costco member for 12 years, so I’ve seen the good, bad, and the ugly when it comes to navigating the store with a cart-full of favorites. While you’d never knowingly make an etiquette error, there are some unwritten rules that can make your Costco run more efficient and enjoyable. Here’s a quick rundown of the rules so that you can make sure you aren’t making a faux pas with your shopping cart. 

Credit: Patty Catalano

1. Do always grab a cart on your way in.

The restraint required to leave Costco with only the items you can carry must be immense. For the rest of us mortals, make sure to take a cart from the staging area outside of the entrance or, better yet, collect a cart left abandoned in the parking lot on your way in. Not only does using a cart make it easier to shop, but it also makes it more efficient for the folks running the register to corral your purchases and move on to the next member. 

Credit: Patty Catalano

2. Don’t abandon your cart mid-aisle. 

Sure you can zip around the store much faster without a cart, but take a moment to consider your fellow shoppers. It can be difficult to maneuver in even the widest aisles when carts are left unattended. (Plus, there’s the safety issues of leaving purses and personal items behind.) This advice also extends to the food court area where it’s common courtesy to parallel park your cart against the tables while you eat your strawberry sundae, so other members have a straight shot to the exit.

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3. Do merge safely.

Merging into highway traffic has nothing on Costco’s rush hour. The warehouse’s main thoroughfares are often packed with bumper-to-bumper carts. When you reach the end of the aisle, wait for a break before joining the steady stream of shoppers. Costco’s oversized carts can be heavy and unwieldy, so fellow customers can have a difficult time controlling their cart if cut off.

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4. Don’t forget about the flat cart.

If you’re buying a fragile or oversized item like a television, don’t try to balance that atop a standard shopping cart. Not only will this make the cart unwieldy to maneuver for the rest of your shopping, but you also risk blocking aisles and damaging that big-ticket purchase. Instead, find an associate who can safely help you load the items onto a flat cart.

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5. Do be strategic about how you fill and unload your cart. 

Did you know that how you fill your cart can also affect how quickly you make it past the register? For a faster checkout experience, load heavy or bulky items, like soda and toilet paper, in the cart, with their barcodes visible and facing up for easy scanning. While the policies around unloading your cart at the register have wavered in the past several years (during the height of the pandemic Costco associates took the lead in unloading the carts), many warehouses have returned to the rule of thumb that shoppers should unload any item weighing less than 15 pounds onto the conveyor belt. 

And remember: Stash fragile items, including eggs and bread, in the built-in child’s seat so that they aren’t crushed before you make it out the door. 

Credit: Patty Catalano

6. Don’t leave your cart in the parking lot or the curb. 

Parking is a premium at Costco. Because valuable parking lot real estate has been set aside for a cart corral, go ahead and use it. There’s nothing worse than dodging empty carts in the parking lot, so returning it is common courtesy, plus what you do with your empty shopping cart may provide insight into the kind of person you really are.

Got any other shopping cart dos and don’ts for Costco? Leave them in the comments.