5 Things You Should *Never* Do at Costco — and 4 Things You Should Always Do

updated May 11, 2022
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Have you noticed getting dirty looks from other shoppers while fumbling for your card at Costco’s entrance? Are you unwittingly messing up the checkout system? Are you a monster around the free samples? While shopping etiquette is (or should be!) common sense, egregious errors still occur across the board. (So much so that even late night comics can’t help but comment!) And actually, the rules at Costco are a little different than, say, your typical grocery store. So, to help you navigate the club store, I’ve developed this list of dos and don’ts.

Consider each of them an unspoken rule and be sure to follow.

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1. Do always have your membership card ready.

Have your membership card out and ready for verification even before you approach the entrance. Costco recently unveiled a digital membership card accessible through their app, so if you’re more likely to have your phone in hand than a plastic ID card, then have that page open and visible. Either way, make sure you are ready and that you don’t slow down the flow of people entering the store.

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2. Don’t stop your cart in the middle of the aisle.

Most Costco warehouses are divided into three long sections, with two high-traffic thoroughfares running the length of the store. It is tempting to stop mid-step to survey the endcap deals or linger for a taste from the sample station. But to avoid a multi-cart pile-up, shift your cart to the next aisle or pull to the side before pausing for any length of time. Remember, Costco carts are oversized for bulk buys, so your fellow shoppers also need ample aisle space to maneuver.

3. Do enjoy the samples…

Part of the way Costco breaks the buying barrier and gets you to bulk-purchase new products is by strategically spacing sample stations throughout the store. In fact, I would have never tried one of my favorite pantry products had it not been for the sample stations. Go ahead and try samples as you shop, just remember to say please and thank you to those taking time to serve one-bite samples.

4. …but don’t hover or take more than one.

Don’t think of the sample stations as your own personal miniature buffet. Give the workers space to prepare the bite-sized selections — toaster ovens can only heat so fast! — without forming a line or ring around the sample cart. If you like your first bite so much that you’re tempted for round two, spring for the full-sized box and leave the rest of the little white cups for your fellow shoppers.

5. Don’t use the store as your personal trash can.

The problem of shoppers leaving discarded sample cups and unwanted items scattered throughout the store is not an issue unique to Costco. Toss your trash in one of the numerous red discard bins located along the aisles. And put things back where you found them if you’ve changed your mind.

6. Do pull your cart against food court tables.

The aisle that leads to the exit is bookended with cash registers on one side and the food court on the other, making it the busiest area of the entire store. If you stop at the food court to refuel with a $1.50 hot dog or chicken bake, pull your cart as close to the end of your table as you can.

7. Do use the checkout divider to hold your membership card.

Costco cashiers keep long lines moving by speedily scanning merchandise. To start each new order, they’ve got to scan your membership card first. Help them maintain the quick-fire pace by turning the checkout divider upside down, so that it holds your card before unloading your cart.

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8. Don’t toss your receipt before leaving.

Your receipt is your ticket out the door. Keep that piece of paper handy — even if you take a pit-stop at the food court before leaving. Costco employees are required to check receipts before members leave the warehouse, checking for cashier errors and confirming receipt of big ticket items.

Credit: Andriy Blokhin

9. Don’t hop gas station lines

Cheap gas is one of the biggest perks of Costco membership, and everyone knows it. The lines for filling up can stretch the length of the lot during peak hours, so keep things moving by picking a lane and sticking with it. Don’t hop lines if one lane starts to look shorter, because it upends the station’s rhythm. So, as you approach the gas station line, choose your lane carefully, remembering that the extra-long hoses mean that you can fill up no matter which side your tank opens.

Have any other dos and don’ts for Costco? Share your thoughts in the comments below.