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

published Nov 11, 2023
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Costco cart in check out line.
Credit: Patty Catalano

Grocery stores aren’t a tornado of chaos because shoppers follow behavioral norms without even realizing it, but that order doesn’t always translate to the Costco shopping experience. As a loyal Costco member (I just celebrated my 13th membership anniversary), I expect hustle and bustle when warehouse shopping. I’ve also noticed that there are unwritten rules specific to Costco that — if followed — can make for a more pleasant shopping experience for everyone. 

Beyond the food court hacks and shopping cart etiquette, key insiders follow the dos and don’ts of Costco’s checkout process. Here are 10 things to know about checking out at Costco, whether you’re a first-timer or have been a longtime member, like me.

Credit: Michael Gordon/Shutterstock

1. Do use a cart for even the smallest shopping trips.

Shopping Costco without a cart limits you to only purchasing what you can hold; it can also cause congestion in the checkout area. The folks running the register work in tandem and use shopping carts to clear the area quickly. Do your part and use a cart for even small shopping trips. 

2. Don’t enter the wrong side of the checkout lane.

Costco staffs two employees at every register — one to aid in unloading and reloading the carts and another to scan items. After unloading all but the largest and heaviest items, the employee will take your cart on their side of the checkout lane, while you stay on the opposite side to pay. If you’re in doubt, there are signs at the end of each register belt directing members and carts to their respective sides.

3. Do organize large items with barcodes up. 

Large or heavy items are usually left in the cart for checkout. Make sure they are organized with the barcode facing up, as this helps the cashier quickly scan items without searching every side of the package. 

4. Don’t share membership cards.

Costco made national news recently when it started cracking down on membership sharing. Just know (before you approach the checkout line) that you may slow down the line or even be turned away if you attempt to pass off a membership card that isn’t your own.

5. Do have your membership card ready at checkout.

Costco cashiers work at a quickfire pace. One way you can keep things moving is to turn the checkout divider upside down so that it can hold your membership card. The cashier must scan that card before starting any new order, so have it ready to go before unloading your cart. Don’t forget that you have to scan your membership card at self-checkout stations too. 

6. Don’t leave trash in your cart.

One of the perks of shopping at Costco is the free sample stations scattered throughout the store. Those tasty bites are always served in a paper cup, with a napkin or disposable silverware. Be courteous of your fellow shoppers and empty your cart of any trash into one of the many bins located throughout the store to keep the cart and checkout area clean.

7. Do know what payment methods are accepted.

Before ringing up your cart of goodies, remember that not all major credit cards are accepted at Costco. The warehouse only accepts one major credit card: Visa. You can use mobile payments (Apple Pay, Google Pay, Samsung Pay), cash, Costco Shop Cards, EBT, many debit cards with a PIN, and personal, business, or traveler’s checks. 

8. Don’t block traffic after checking out. 

After checking out, you’ll enter the most congested area of the warehouse. Members leaving the checkout lanes with full carts, the food court, membership desk, and exit are all located in the same narrow space. Avoid stopping your cart right outside the registers to double check your receipt or reorganize your wallet. Pull over in a spot away from the heavily trafficked area before pausing.

9. Do parallel park your cart if you stop at the food court. 

The food court’s tables are often placed in the most congested area of the store — between the checkout lines and the exit doors. If you’re stopping to eat with a cartload of paid-for goods, parallel park your cart against your table so that other members can exit the warehouse efficiently.

10. Don’t throw out your receipt before leaving.

Costco employees are stationed at the entrance and exits to check your membership card on the way in and your receipt on the way out. Employees look over the receipts of every member exiting the warehouse to check for cashier errors (specifically double scans) and confirm receipt of big-ticket items. Have your receipt out and ready before approaching the doors to avoid unnecessary delays.

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