7 Insider Tricks and Tips for Shopping Costco Online

updated May 1, 2019
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(Image credit: The Kitchn)

Costco’s main goal is to get us in the stores. With loss leaders like the $1.50 hot dog and the $5 rotisserie chicken, Costco’s corner office big-wigs know that once members enter, impulse buys are inevitable. However, that sales strategy changes once you move the shopping cart online. Seen as an extension of the inventory, not a replica, Costco.com is a different kind of shopping experience, offering much that is unexpected.

Here’s what you need to know about shopping Costco online.

1. You can shop online without a membership … sort of.

While lots of items on Costco.com are for members only (see the next point), you can shop for some things without a Costco membership. There is a five percent surcharge for non-members, though, so depending on what you’re buying (and how often you’re buying it), it might be worth forking over the membership fee instead.

Instacart delivers Costco’s same-day grocery delivery items regardless of warehouse membership status. Just note: Non-members ordering through Instacart’s website pay a higher price than members choosing same-day delivery directly from Costco. There is a $35 minimum order and you won’t get full access to the warehouse deals. And Instacart’s offerings are limited to the departments you’d find in a standard grocery store.

A Dyson deal! Only for members! (Image credit: Costco)

2. Some deals are for members only.

If you are a member, make sure you’ve got your membership number handy before you sit down to browse Costco.com. For many items (think: electronics and kitchen appliances) you have to log in just to even view the price.

3. The return policy can not be beat.

It’s hard not to fill your cart whether you’re walking the warehouse aisles or clicking through the website. If buyer’s remorse hits, know that Costco.com’s return policy is just as generous as the brick-and-mortar locations. Returns from Costco.com will be completely refunded — including shipping and handling fees. Return items by mail free of charge or stop by the customer service desk in warehouse.

4. Costco.com price matches with Costco.com.

Purchases made on Costco.com are eligible for a credit if there is a promotion for the item within 30 days of purchase. Simply request a price match online and, if eligible, your account will be credited. It’s important to note that Costco will not price match with other stores or websites.

(Image credit: Costco)

5. You can shop Costco.com for specialty groceries.

The warehouse options for gluten-free flours and mixes, imported olive oils, and quality spices seems to multiply with each visit. And Costco.com offers even more specialty items — ranging from coffee, tea, flours, and cakes to fine meats and cheeses. Also available are super-splurge items like 6.6-pounds of Nutella and a 72-pound wheel of Parmigiano-Reggiano.

6. Shipping costs can vary.

Let’s face it: Free two-day Amazon Prime shipping has us all spoiled. Costco.com does offer members free two-day delivery on select non-perishable groceries and household items — when you spend $75 or more. Although, sometimes the prices are lower in-store. (In most metropolitan areas there’s also same-day delivery, through Instacart, which, again, can be more expensive.)

For other items on Costco.com there’s no guarantee how much or how little you’ll pay for shipping, as the fees aren’t consistent across the board. A large number of items ship for free, while others carry their own individual shipping rates.

7. Costco.com is the place to book a vacation.

Looking to book a trip for the family? Costco.com offers various vacation packages that are exclusive to members. We’re talking Walt Disney World (and Disneyland) packages, safaris in South Africa, and cruises through the Caribbean.

Got any other tips and tricks for shopping on Costco.com? Share them in the comments below!