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Secret Price Codes That Will Save You Money at Costco

Len is the publisher of online magazines and an internationally published author, photographer, and videographer. He is a Costco expert.

The Trick to Finding Low-Price Costco Items

Everyone loves Costco, and we all know they have terrific deals, great prices, quality merchandise, a wonderful return policy, and the best hot dogs with a soda for only $1.50.

Costco, like many other stores, runs some of its merchandise at close-out prices. Unfortunately, they don't make it easy for the shopper to know which items are marked down. Many of us have no idea which items are being sold at these lower prices. You can't tell by simply looking at the price sign on a product that it is a mark-down, special priced item, rebate item, or discontinued item, or which items will not be replenished when the current stock is sold.

In this article, you will discover how to find which items are at the lowest costs, as well as other facts that I have learned over my many years as an expert Costco shopper.

I was an eBay Power Seller.

I was an eBay Power Seller.

How I Started

I was an eBay Power Seller for many years and made extra money each year by buying close-outs and special items at Costco. I purchased their sale or close-out items and resold them at higher prices on eBay. I did over $60,000 in gross sales in one year alone.

You don't have to buy to resell their goods, but you can save yourself thousands of dollars if you know their pricing codes. Read this article and follow my directions to save a bundle.

Understand the Costco System and Take Advantage of the Bargains

This article will illustrate how Costco prices these special sale items and how you can take advantage of the bargains once you understand their system.

Now, some say that I shouldn't give up my professional secrets and—like a magic trick—should never publish them and share them with the world. But I disagree. In these very difficult times, I think it is in everyone's best interest if we all share our tips and tricks on how to be a smarter shopper.

So, if you like this article and find it helps you save money at Costco, then a recommendation, positive comment, and your promise to pass the link to my article to every Costco member you know would be my payment in full.

This article has disclosed the concept of secret pricing policies at Costco as well as other stores. I decided to share these secrets with ToughNickel readers years ago, and over the years, my tips and secrets have appeared in the media, became the basis for many other "Secret Codes" articles, and spawned hundreds of new frugal living websites. It's nice to be a pioneer.


Steps to Saving Money at Costco

When you visit your local Costco, pay special attention to the price tags for each item. You will notice that most items end with a 99¢ ending. That’s the regularly priced merchandise. Other items may be priced or end with other numbers like .49¢ .79¢, .89¢, or 97¢.

Now, most of these are not significant, with one exception: .97¢. Items ending with a .97¢ ending are items that have been marked down. As you go through the store, look for the .97¢ endings; you will find quite a few throughout the store, even on food items.

The Basics

Here are the fundamentals you should remember:

1. Look for the 97¢

You are going to look for items that now have a 97¢ ending. Regular priced items usually end with a 99¢ ending but not always. However, the ones with the 97¢ endings are those items that did not sell and must be cleared out. They are marked-down, but unlike all other retailers, Costco doesn't like you to know this, so they don't put the original prices with a slash and then the new price as many stores do. So to take advantage of these special deals, you have to know the code to know it is a close-out.

On a side note, just because it is a close-out or marked down, in some cases, it might only be a very small markdown, so it is good to know what the original price was. You can ask their manager to tell you the original prices on these items if you copy and give them the item numbers before you make your purchase.

Remember, not all markdowns are deals. I have seen some items only marked down $1 at times when there is a large inventory. Don't rush to purchase if there is a large inventory of that item; wait until the inventory and the price are lower.

2. Look for the Asterisk

Always look to see if there is an asterisk * on the upper right corner of the sign. If you see one, it means this item is not being restocked. Whatever remaining stock you see is all that they have. This is a tip that it might be a marked-down item, but not always. It does let you know that once these are gone, there will be no more. I use this guide to determine if I should stock up on a discounted item, knowing that the store inventory is all there is.

3. Know Which Price Codes Are Regular Prices

Odd pricing like those that end in a 79¢, 49¢, 89¢ and others are usually regular-priced merchandise. At times Costco also gets special deals from their vendors and will pass them on to their customers; however, those items with a 97¢ ending are your close-outs. Easy to remember when you are shopping at Costco.

4. Distinguish Between Markdowns and Manager Specials

You may also see some odd and end merchandise on a flat truck or in an area of the store that has an 88¢ or .00 endings. These usually are Manager Markdowns taken at the store on returned but sellable merchandise (may have a damaged box of package).

They can be display goods or a few end-of-inventory items that they no longer want on the regular display. They will generally put these in a special area of the store so they don't take up valuable real estate. They will usually have the original price or close-out price printed sign and, using a magic marker, will cross out that price and write in a new price that might say "Last One."

I don't pay much attention to these unless I can use the item for personal use. Some are floor samples and are not first-quality merchandise anymore. If you need it, buy it if the deal is right, but remember, it really has to be at a great discount, you may be buying used or damaged merchandise. Of course, you can always return it too.

Other ways to save

Other ways to save

Other Money-Saving Tips

Now, as you go through the store, you will begin to notice another special deal, the Instant Rebates on some items. Generally, these will come from the manufacturers, and Costco will give you the rebate on the items at the cash register. I like these a lot, and you can watch for them at certain times of the year. I buy my Sonicare Toothbrush system and refills during these rebates because I can save $20 or more on a $100 item. The same holds true for many other items, including food.

You will find a number of these in their monthly coupon books. No need to clip coupons anymore; the discount will be deducted from your order. Check your receipts to be sure it was.

Other instant rebates are also available, especially the ones that qualify for your States Energy Rebate program. Now that they have found the fluorescent bulbs contain Mercury and are actually harmful to the environment, you will see loads of the newer LED lights also available now with state-funded energy instant rebate programs.

In New Jersey and other states, you can get a substantial rebate at the cash register to entice you to switch over from your old energy-consuming bulbs to these new high-output bulbs and no-polluting varieties. They still offer rebates on the fluorescent bulbs, but I, for one, have donated all that I had and converted every light in my home to the newer LEDs. The time to stock up is when you see these state rebates. This usually happens once or twice a year.

Watch for Holiday or Seasonal Close-Outs

As the holiday seasons, like Christmas, start to wind down, you need to get into the store and look for marked-down items. Generally, depending on when the inventory hit the store for that holiday is an indication of the first items to be marked down.

Quite often, they will get seasonal merchandise or holiday goods in very early. I know by the amount of inventory they bring in and the type of merchandise if it will be a potential mark down. So I wait and watch the items I want to buy.

Certain items are always marked down. Wrapping paper, Christmas cards and other items are going to be marked down. Buy them and hold them for the next year. In the summer, they always have lawn furniture, large flower pots, lawn chemicals and other items need to be sold at any price. Watch for the deal.

When the inventories start to get really low it is wise to scoop them up before they are gone. Dealers and others will clean them out fast if there is limited stock and resell them the following year as I might.

Tip: If you know certain items may be gone by the time you get back to the store to purchase them, buy them a few days before, even if they are at full price. When they get marked down, go to the customer service area and get a refund on the difference. Costco has a 30-day price protection policy and will do this for you.

The only caveat on this move is you have to be pretty sure they have enough inventory and WILL BE MARKING THIS DOWN. in order to get a price adjustment. If they never marked it down, the only option you have is to return it with your receipt for a full refund.

For a more extensive look at holiday deals, click the link below and see my article that will give you tips on saving even more on Holiday purchases.

Instant and manufacturer rebates.

Instant and manufacturer rebates.

Even More Markdowns

Vendor Markdowns: Items that are not selling as well as they should be are a prime target for a manufacturer markdown. If it wasn't a direct import by Costco corporate (Kirkland Brand), Costco will go back to the vendor (manufacturer) and request an allowance from them to enable them to reduce the price of that merchandise. These will be the items to look for and will either have a Manufacturers Instant Rebate tag or a markdown price ending in .97¢.

I usually take note of an item that doesn't seem to be moving and wait patiently for the price reduction. If it is on the shelves for months and each time you visit, you still see the same inventory there, and it is not a staple item (food, etc.), you can be sure it will be reduced, so be patient if there is something you want to purchase, but think it is still a bit higher then you would like to pay. I have scored on tools and other items this way.

Yes, you can also score big on some food items too. Anything with an expiration date on it can and will be marked down as the date gets short. I have purchased many food items at 80% off the original price. As you know many of these will not spoil for years after the best-used date on the package.

Note: Consumer Reports recently wrote that the expiration or best used date has little to do with spoilage. Each manufacturer determines the dates that their products will taste the best but does not mean they should not be consumed.

  • Take a Camera, Smart Phone or iPad: Today I check prices on mark-downs immediately in the store. If you don't have that capability to do so, than by all means, record the prices on items so you can go home and check them on the internet to see just how good the deals really are.
  • Resellers and Gift Givers: If you need them for gifts or for resale and they have that asterisk * on the upper right side, then buy what you need, and don't wait; if you see their inventory is low, they won't be getting any more.
  • Coupon Specials: Take advantage of their coupon book specials and instant rebates as well. If you decide later you don't need them or have a change of heart, just bring them back.

Remember to keep your receipt in case the prices have been reduced. Members receive a promotional booklet each month with loads of coupons and special offers to stock up on some of the basic items like paper towels, toilet paper, they usually alternate every other month on these items. Costco does not accept manufacturer coupons.

Always save receipts, especially on large purchases

Always save receipts, especially on large purchases

Price Protection and Returns

  • Price Protection Guarantee: If the prices do go lower on the close-outs or items you purchased at full price, you can always bring the items back and repurchase them at the lower price. Remember, they do have a price adjustment policy on an item for 30 days too.
  • Beyond the 30-Day Guarantee: If you see the item you bought at full price go on sale and it is beyond the 30 days, the only other method it to purchase another one at the lower price. Then take your original receipt for the same item you purchased at the higher price and return the one you just bought at the sale price with that first receipt. I know Costco won't like me telling you this, but it is the only way I know to get around that 30-day price adjustment policy.
  • Keep All Your Receipts: The single most important tip in this article is to hold onto every receipt from your Costco purchases. I keep mine in a little folder in date order. I also keep those for electronic items, larger purchases, etc. in a separate stack. Here is the reason. Costco has a satisfaction guarantee on all the products they sell. If for any reason you are not satisfied with the item in that time you can return it within two years, yup, two years. Now, if you kept your receipts, it makes this process easier, and you will be credited for the original amount you paid. If not, and they can't locate your purchase on their computer, if they can't find it, they may only offer you the lowest price the item sold for. As you already know it could be the marked-down price. So this is why keeping your receipts will be the one of the most important tips in this article.
  • Return Policy: Costco has the best return policy of any retailer around. Try not to abuse it and try not to take unfair advantage of their liberal satisfaction guarantee. I have seen people bring back a bunch of dead cut flowers after they have had them in their homes for a week and get their money back. In this economy, we don't want Costco to either go out of business or change their wonderful customer service policies.

Exceptions: On most items, but not all, you can return it if not satisfied up to two years in some cases. However, on computers, certain electronic items and cameras the policy is now 90 days, but to still keep their customers happy, they now have their own support system to help you resolve any issues with the products. Those items are clearly marked, so you understand their policy on these special items.

Small sampling of their many member services

Small sampling of their many member services

Member Services and Perks

Member Services

Costco has formed relationships with many other companies to bring you even more services. Visit their website to see a full list of the many services to all members.

Other Executive Member Perks

Executive Members also receive special pricing on goods and services too.

This includes additional savings or perks on these Costco Programs:

  • Auto Purchase
  • Auto & Home Insurance
  • Mortgage & Refinancing
  • Boat and RV Loans
  • Go Daddy websites and online solutions
  • Water Delivery Services
  • Identity Protection
  • Mexico Travel Auto Insurance
  • Online Investing with ING Direct
  • Personal or Business Checks (an additional 20% off member pricing)
  • Business Phone Services
  • Merchant Credit Card Processing
  • Costco Travel

Now I will bet most of you never realized Costco has so many other programs set up to save you even more money. Check them out too.

Risk-Free 100% Membership Guarantee.

If for any reason you are not happy with your membership, Costco will refund your full membership fee if you are ever dissatisfied.

As you go through the store, you may notice another deal: instant rebates. Generally, these will come from the manufacturers, and Costco will give you the rebate on the items at the cash register. I like these a lot, and you can find them at certain times of the year. I buy my Sonicare Toothbrush system and refills during these rebates, because I can save $20 or more on a $100 item. The same holds true for many other items, including food.

You will also find a number of instant rebates in the monthly coupon books. No need to clip coupons anymore; the discount will be deducted from your order. Check your receipts to be sure it was.

The best produce anywhere

The best produce anywhere

Shopping Strategies: Vendor Markdowns

Poorly performing items are prime candidates for a manufacturer markdown. Unless it’s Costco’s own Kirkland brand, the store will often go back to the vendor (manufacturer) and request a price reduction. These items will have either a Manufacturers Instant Rebate tag or a markdown price ending in .97¢.

I usually take note of an item that doesn't seem to be moving and will wait patiently for the price reduction. If it is on the shelves for months and each time you visit you still see the same inventory there, you can be fairly confident the item will be marked down. So, be patient if there’s something you want to purchase but can’t or don’t want to pay the full price. I’ve gotten great deals on tools and similar items this way.