I love a good Costco haul, but sometimes shopping at the retail giant can feel overwhelming. So in order to gain insights, tips and insider hacks for having the best Costco shopping experience, I reached out to the Costco corporate communications department, spoke to staff on location in one of the stores, reached out to social media influencers who focus on Costco and even attempted to join staff-only private Facebook groups and subreddits (with mixed results).I asked all these sources to share their suggestions for avoiding the big crowds, getting the best selection of products and even knowing when shipments come in. So before you head to the store, check out these hot tips.
If You’re Looking to Avoid the Costco Crowds
Costco is notoriously crowded—one of my insiders even went so far as to say that “when employees think it’s not busy, members still think [it is].” But there are some ways to dodge at least some of the other eager shoppers.
Shop When It’s Raining
Planning a shopping trip around the weather forecast may not be the easiest thing to schedule. But one Costco insider shared that rainy days seem to deter shoppers, saying “people don’t want to walk to the parking lot with their stuff.” If you’re a meal planner, or trying to get started with meal planning, and have set days you need to shop for your plan to work, this suggestion might seem too far-fetched. But if you are more inclined to go with the shopping flow and don’t mind carrying your groceries in the rain, this might be a great way to navigate the warehouse without a lot of other foot traffic.
Try Shopping Midweek
While answers about the busiest days of the week varied, and factors like location come into play, most Costco staff agreed that the weekdays, especially Tuesdays through Thursdays, were the least busy days. And that makes sense. For the large portion of the population working 9-to-5 (-ish) jobs, midweek shopping can be difficult, if not impossible. Even those who can shop on weekdays might prefer to stock up just before or after the weekend on Monday or Friday, leaving Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays less crowded.
Go First Thing in the Morning
Get in and get out. That’s what the morning shop is all about. You may see a lineup at the door in the morning, but don’t let that discourage you. Yes, there will be a line to get in, one staffer said, “but the people disperse quickly,” still making it a better time to shop.
Head in Right Before Closing Time
Most people shopping at this time are only there to get what they need. With responsibilities like getting home to make dinner and take care of kids and pets taking priority, shoppers don’t typically have time to dilly-dally at this time of day.
Go at Dinnertime … Maybe
“My store doesn’t have much of a dinner rush—it’s my favorite time to go,” said one of the insiders. Another shared that they preferred weeknights, in general, “because it’s empty.” But that might not be the case in every location.
If you want to test out if this time works for your Costco location, you can head to this page, search for your state, find your store, then call the customer service line to ask for any specific location tips. Or if you want to dive right in, try going midweek for one or two things that will make your life easier on that day, like picking up the ready-to-eat Kirkland Signature Chicken Street Tacos or a rotisserie chicken for dinner. That way, whether it’s busy or not, you can still scoot home and have dinner ready to go.
If You Want the Free Snacks
If there’s one thing I really love about Costco, it’s the free samples. It’s the perfect way to taste-test new products before making a commitment to a bigger purchase. A variety of samples are offered every day of the week. If you play your cards right, you can even get a mini meal by traveling around the warehouse.
If you like to be first in or last out of the store, however, you won’t be able to graze your way through that grocery haul. Early in the day or shortly before closing, sample stations are usually being set up or taken down. Aside from these small windows of time, you should be able to get those goods!
If You Want the Best Deals
Yes, Costco already has good prices, but they also have sales and offer additional markdowns on some of their products.
Markdowns can happen at any point in the day, but one of my insiders shared that most of them tend to happen in the morning. In that case, arriving early will give you the first pass at the deals for the day. Getting there early could be key: “Sometimes,” the insider said, “they’re such a good deal they won’t [even] last till noon.”
Time the Sale
Costco offers a coupon booklet every month and advertises “products of the week” in flyer apps and online. These coupons are not ones you need to clip. They’re called “Instant Savings” and the deductions happen automatically as you’re checking out. These savings can really cut the price of the product down significantly, which is why it’s worth keeping track of Costco deals.
But learning when to snap up those deals is a bit of an art form. The first day of the sale tends to be a moth-to-the-flame situation as shoppers saturate stores and “flock in like crazy,” as one insider put it. So if you don’t want to experience a frenzy, consider a cooling period of one to two days after the sale starts before doing your shopping.
On the other hand, you also don’t want to wait too long. Though none of the staff I spoke to mentioned this, I’ve personally had the experience of going in to buy protein powder, collagen and some really cute enameled-cast iron pans mid-month (all of which were on sale in the coupon booklet), only to find that they’d already sold out. The protein and collagen were going to be restocked, but the pans were gone entirely. A staff member at my local store explained that because the coupon booklets are planned out a year in advance, they can’t anticipate problems with supply-chain disruptions. And in this case, there was a product shortage. They were eventually restocked, but much to my chagrin, it was at the regular price. Bottom line: If there’s something that you really want, don’t sleep on it!
If you’re wavering on a product, several insiders advised that you should “just buy it.” One of the staff members even said that if you take the time to go home and think about it—even if it’s just for a couple of hours—it might be gone by the time you go back. If you purchase it and change your mind, on the other hand, Costco’s 100% satisfaction policy means that you can always return it. Costco also offers price adjustments to changes in pricing on purchases made within 30 days prior. So if you see a better post-purchase price in-store, take it to the membership services desk and they will refund you the difference.
If You Want the Freshest Foods
A couple of insiders stated that “everything [is] freshest” in the morning, while others insist that, because Costco sells such large volumes, food is being put out continually throughout the day, meaning everything is always fresh. For top-notch freshness, which probably doesn’t differ much from regular freshness, the early bird might catch the worm, especially in less busy stores or on less busy days. Not surprisingly, Costco’s corporate communications office emphasizes a commitment “to providing exceptional quality,” in general. So if the level of freshness isn’t up to snuff, speak to customer service.
Shannon Fong, who runs the Instagram account Costco So Obsessed (and a Trader Joe’s account of a similar name) offers another point of view. She finds the best time to pick up Costco’s pre-made foods is around 11 a.m. She’s convinced that the selection is better for some of her faves, including chicken fajitas, mac and cheese, quesadillas and salads. You might have to do some experimentation to see what the freshest foods are at your store!
If You’re NOT Buying Alcohol
It’s prohibited by law to use the self-checkout when purchasing alcohol. “People get mad at us for that,” a staff member lamented. But, “it’s [the] law.” So here’s the deal: If you’re picking up supplies to mix your favorite cocktail, you will be relegated to a cashier lane–no ifs, ands or buts. Depending on the time and day, these lanes could have much longer lineups. But if there’s no booze in your cart, you can opt for the self-checkout, which can often be faster and more efficient to get through.
More Frequently Asked Questions About Shopping at Costco
1. What is the least busy time at Costco?
When I asked staff if they could help decode what time of day Costco is the least busy and what time is best to shop at Costco to avoid crowds, the most common answer was first thing in the morning and right before closing in the evenings.
2. Does Costco let you in early?
Unfortunately not. Though, if you’re lucky, one insider said that some managers will open the doors 15 minutes early if the store is “showtime ready.” This only happens on occasion (and by chance), but if you’re one of the ones who like to get there bright and early, you may luck out on a day that this happens.
3. Why is Costco always so busy?
Costco is known for having good deals on a variety of higher-quality products. It can be a one-stop shop for anything from groceries to personal care items, to electronics and appliances. They have an excellent return policy and they offer samples almost every day. They tick a lot of the boxes—variety, quality and keeping your bank accounts in good shape. That’s what most consumers are looking for, so it’s not surprising that Costco is popular—which means busy!
4. What day of the week is Costco least crowded?
Tuesdays and Wednesdays are the least crowded days, according to several Costco staff I spoke to. Thursdays tend to be less busy, as well (though Thursday wasn’t mentioned as much as Tuesday and Wednesday). Fridays are busier because of those stock-up-for-the-weekend shoppers. Mondays can be hit or miss, depending on the location. But definitely avoid the weekends. As one insider said, “If you want to experience war, definitely recommend Sundays!”
5. What’s the best day and time to shop at Costco?
There is no universal answer to this, but overall, midweek, later in the morning, gets you samples, fresh food and earlier access to some of the day’s markdowns, while still not being too busy. Specifically, Fong of Costco So Obsessed says, “[If you] want to test out samples, but also don’t want it too busy, go around 11 a.m.”
With all that Costco has to offer, it’s a given that people love to shop there. So, if you’re prone to feeling overwhelmed in big and busy stores, it might be worth doing a quick meditation beforehand, calling a friend while shopping or even planning a five-minute self-care activity for when you get home. One insider said it perfectly, “Shoppers should come with patience. Costco is an experience.” But if you heed our advice and plan ahead with your shopping trip, there are times during the week that can make your experience more efficient, get you a better deal and possibly even get you the best-looking quesadillas!