12 Things No One Tells You About Going to Costco for the First Time

updated May 1, 2019
We independently select these products—if you buy from one of our links, we may earn a commission. All prices were accurate at the time of publishing.
Post Image
(Image credit: Trong Nguyen)

Are you surprised there’s someone left in the world who hasn’t been to Costco? Well, my husband and I may have been the last two. (Turns out even our children have gone with other people.) To be honest, we aren’t big bulk shoppers. We don’t have a lot of storage space, and I’m afraid of commitment, whether it’s to one brand of cereal or anything else. But I keep hearing good things about Costco and finally decided it was worth a try.

After I promised my husband he could act silly and I wouldn’t get mad, he agreed to go, and I braced myself. While we probably won’t be there once a week, there were some pretty great deals and a few happy surprises, so we’ll definitely be back.

Here’s what we learned while we were there.

(Image credit: Anne Wolfe Postic)

1. You’re gonna want to have your phone fully charged.

A Cuisinart Elemental 13-Cup Food Processor is $149.99 at Costco, compared to $144.99 at Amazon, but look a little closer and see the Costco deal includes the spiralizer kit, which costs an extra $48.46 on Amazon. If you need that spiralizer, you win!

The smaller Cuisinart was about $10 less than anywhere else, so that was a score, and we found Spindrift seltzer for half the price. We drink a ton of that, so it might be worth the drive. For larger purchases, be prepared to whip out your phone and do a little on-the-spot research to make sure you know what you’re getting.

(Image credit: Anne Wolfe Postic)

2. You should bring a coat if you want fresh produce or dairy products in bulk.

The areas reserved for fresh produce and dairy products are really walk-in refrigerators. Although the temperature outside was in the 70s that day, we saw at least one woman wearing a down parka. Smart move. We skipped those sections. (It was really that cold.)

(Image credit: Anne Wolfe Postic)

3. You need to be ready to ask yourself the hard question: if it’s actually a good idea to have this much of anything. 

A lot of what’s available in bulk food stores is food we try to limit at home. Given my history with salty snacks, an extra-large bag of potato chips won’t save me money. It will simply make me eat an enormous bag of chips. Paper towels are one thing, because having more won’t make me start using them for everything. But candy? Frozen pizza? The aforementioned chips? Gonna eat ’em all and then have to live with the regret.

(Image credit: Anne Wolfe Postic)

But what about Duke’s mayonnaise? And Lawry’s seasoning salt? They are both very good things and I use them often, but will I ever use a gallon of Duke’s or 40 ounces of Lawry’s? (Okay, probably yes. But do I want to know?)

As for those paper towels, I did buy them and we are now storing them in the car, as we don’t have room inside the house.

(Image credit: Anne Wolfe Postic)

4. The fresh bread selection is fairly astounding.

My husband is half French and a fairly educated and prolific consumer of the baguette, which was the one bread we bought. It was really good! Like, maybe the best baguette I’ve had here in South Carolina. (Yeah, I know, not France, but we do have some good bakers here.) I also saw seeded sourdough, ciabatta, and lots of other interesting choices, and they all looked fresh-baked.

(Image credit: Anne Wolfe Postic)

5. The meat and seafood selection is huge, both in quantity and size. 

There is a lot of meat at Costco — multiple large cases worth. Also, a ton of seafood. I asked my husband to hold up his hand to the pork loin for comparison. Where do you even find a pig that large?

(Image credit: Anne Wolfe Postic)

And did this lobster lose a fight with a battleship? I’d love to know if he managed to take the ship down with him.

 I was glad to see a pretty decent selection of organic chicken and beef, at reasonable prices. We picked up some shrink-wrapped organic wings for the freezer.

(Image credit: Anne Wolfe Postic)

6. There are a lot of choices for organic frozen foods, as well as some cool specialty products.

I was pleasantly surprised by the quantity and selection when it came to the organic frozen foods. If you’re a smoothie fan, you could really stock up.

There were also some good deals on specialty products like Kerrygold Butter, De Cecco brand gnocchi, and Boursin stuffed crispy crepes. I’ve never seen those crepe anywhere else, but can totally dig the concept. (We didn’t buy them, due to the aforementioned fear I’d end up lying in bed after binge-watching reality television, surrounded by empty wrappers and regret.)

(Image credit: Anne Wolfe Postic)

7. You will leave confused about how a whole sandwich can be frozen and reheated with a satisfactory result.

I just … what? I’ve never understood how this works. Does it come with the lettuce and tomato? No, right?

(Image credit: Anne Wolfe Postic)

8. The garden section is pretty neat!

There was a nice selection of healthy-looking plants, outdoor furniture, and a few neat extras, like a bee hive kit.

(Image credit: Anne Wolfe Postic)

9. Products are white-labeled in a totally transparent way.

“White-labeling,” the practice of buying from a known brand at a discount, then labeling it as a store brand in return for agreeing not to tell where you got it, is common in places like Trader Joe’s and Costco. The difference at Costco is that a fair number of products with Costco’s store brand (Kirkland) were still branded. It’s nice to know what you’re getting.

(Image credit: Anne Wolfe Postic)

10. You should check expiration dates before you commit. 

I like anchovies a lot, but I’m not sure I like them enough to finish them by December of this year, which is when these expired. On the recommendation of another Costco shopper, we bought some wild-caught sardines packed in olive oil that are good until December, 2021. This is manageable, and the guy was really enthusiastic about them and told us we wouldn’t regret our purchase. He seemed nice.

(Image credit: Anne Wolfe Postic)

11. There’s a whole aisle where you can pretend like you own a restaurant.

There was one aisle at our Costco (see how quickly that happened? Already it’s affectionately “our Costco”) dedicated to restaurant service products, like enormous rolls of Stretch-Tite, huge aluminum pans, and this pretty nifty citrus press. If I had a bigger kitchen, the citrus press would be in it right now.

(Image credit: Anne Wolfe Postic)

12. You will experience great customer service.

The employees seem to have a lot of knowledge about the products and a lot of enthusiasm, especially at the sample and demo stations. If they’re faking, they’re really good at it.

Having heard that Costco was a decent employer, especially as compared to some other big-box stores, I couldn’t help but ask. One employee, who of course will remain nameless, said she’d been with Costco for about 20 years. She was recently talking with a friend who’s been at another bulk product store for about the same amount of time.

“Let’s just say,” she told me, “I make a lot more, from actual pay to insurance and benefits. A lot more.” I do love to shop in places where the employees are treated fairly. It makes for a better experience for everyone.

(Image credit: Anne Wolfe Postic)

My husband, who had been allowed by me to make goofy jokes and faces, didn’t seem to be bothering the employees at all. They even laughed at his jokes, including his fake incredulity when they didn’t have a recycling bin for the Diet Coke can I brought in. Once again, if they were faking, it was an impressively authentic act. Or maybe it’s just legit!

(Image credit: Anne Wolfe Postic)

I do have one unanswered question: What does the big sign that says “Liquor Sales” refer to? We looked for liquor inside the store and didn’t find it. We called the store when we left and asked about it and no one inside could tell us what it meant. They were sure they didn’t sell liquor. So … is there a secret passcode for magical discounts on liquor? I don’t really need it, but I hate to miss out!

(Image credit: Anne Wolfe Postic)

All in all, we had a great experience and came home with some things we’ll actually use, including a robust lavender plant. And any place with happy employees is a good place to be.

Have you been to Costco? Are you a member or do you tag along with a friend every so often?