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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
Member Services and Perks
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.
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.
Costco has formed relationships with many other companies to bring you even more services. Look at this list for some of the services offered to all members.
Executive Membership 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
- Mortgages & Refinancing
- Boat and RV Loans
- Go Daddy 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
Get Cash Back
Executive Members receive a 2% Reward (up to $750 per year) on most Costco purchases, as well as additional benefits and bigger discounts on many of their services. If you do the math, you will be paying an additional $55 per year over the cost of their Business or Gold Star membership. So, if you spend an average of $245 per month, your reward will cover the additional cost to become an Executive Member. Who doesn't spend that much each month at Costco? Seems like a no-brainer!
Risk-Free 100% Membership Guarantee
If, for any reason, you are not happy with your membership, Costco will refund your full membership fee.
The Biggest Bargain at Costco
Some people like to hit the food court after they shop. For me, it is better to go to the food court before I hit the racetrack. Many buy their 1/4 pound all beef hot dog and a soda with free refills for only $1.50.
Costco now produces their own hot dogs and has sold over 100 million . . . that is a lot of beef. Of course, you can refill your free soda as many times as you like. Good idea to get your dog and soda before you shop and then use your soda refill to wash down all the tasty samples I’ll be enjoying as I move throughout the store.
Calorie Counters Look
Ask the counter person to pull out their calorie chart and see how many calories are in each item. The hot dogs, according to their calorie chart, have 500 calories; a slice of plain pizza is 700, and loaded is more.
So if you are watching your diet, you may want to try the lowest calorie item on their menu, the soft serve yogurt. Only 300 calories for a nice 15-ounce cup. I like their vanilla yogurt best; the chocolate tends to have a powdery taste. Add the strawberry topping, and you are adding a lot more calories.
Costco offers more sampling of products than any other retailer I know. The reason is simple . . . not only do they generate business on products you might never purchase, but by offering you all these samples as you stroll through their stores, it encourages you to stay longer or even look forward to your visit.
© 2009 Len Rapoport
Sara on May 20, 2020:
Great information now that we are shopping Costco a lot more. Especially during covid-19. Never knew this. Thank you!
Chito332 on December 29, 2019:
Thank you very much for the Info....I will try to save money with your system the next time I shop at Costco.....Mesa,AZ
Lorrie on October 07, 2019:
I loved this information. I've been doing a lot of research on Costco so to be prepared during an interview:-D Obviously, this is great information for my own purpose.
JK on August 30, 2019:
Thanks for the information, I plan to try it out next time I am at Costco in Adelaide, Australia.
MartineM4C on August 27, 2019:
An eye opener and code revealer. I sure will check out all the info received and start saving properly at Costco
gail on May 25, 2019:
Thanks for GREAT information Appreciate sooo much!
Len Rapoport (author) from New Jersey on February 20, 2019:
Thank you glad it helped you find the best deals at the lowest prices at Costco.
pdeb on February 16, 2019:
Great info.Thank You!
seth on January 31, 2019:
Are you still actively selling costco products until now?
LimaGuy on October 05, 2018:
Love Costco. This quarter I am receiving a 5% cash back with my bank credit card for warehouse purchases, like Costco. Even more incentive during the next 3 months to stock up. Kirkland brands are very good quality...I buy wines, olive oil, various nuts, all of the time.
Sheree Huppunen on September 24, 2018:
Phil on September 06, 2018:
Excellent information!! Thank you so much! I will most definitely use your tips!
firstname.lastname@example.org on May 31, 2018:
I wished we had a closer and i would use it more. the Costco we use is in Spartanburg SC and we reside in Candler NC.(outside ofAsheville ), it is well worth the drive; however,one located closer would be a dream come true...Maybe in the future, I keep hearing rumors, but no luck.i did live in Miami and that was great.
Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on May 27, 2018:
Costco is not close to me, so I haven't been there too often. I ave family members that are there weekly, and your helpful information will be passed along. Excellent article.
Patrick on May 11, 2018:
Very informative article. I am a wholesaler and i just learned something. As i buy Costco in wholesale bulk for resale at my store.
To all he is telling the truth.
MrBratCat on April 29, 2018:
Thank you for all the informative information! Would love to score a deal on the seasonal patio furniture, do you have any idea on the timing when they would be trying to clear out the floor samples?
Anna on April 13, 2018:
This article was very informative. I will be keeping my eyes open when shopping for deals. Thank you
Becca on February 03, 2018:
Steve on January 17, 2018:
thank you for the advice
Lystra on January 08, 2018:
Robert on January 04, 2018:
Thank you for all the useful info.I intend to use it everytime that I visit Costco from this point forward.I am sure that these tips will save me money on a regular basis. Thank you again !
Wornout on January 01, 2018:
Thanks for the tips...
adolf klimek on December 17, 2017:
I hope in Canada we have the same product like American we are far away from them with the prices
NP on December 17, 2017:
Valuable info, thanks!!!
Lise on December 17, 2017:
Wow. Learnt a lot in this article. Thanks a lot!
Dmessersmith@rogers.com on December 16, 2017:
Thank you for all of the helpful info
Ray on December 15, 2017:
If you go to Sam's Club anything with a 1 ONE at the end of the price is a reduced price closeout.
Ginger Coon on December 15, 2017:
Is there any time of year that I can get a discounted membership?
Linda Fultz on December 15, 2017:
LOVE this place!!! I returned a washer and dryer after almost 2 years at the managers suggestion. It had the same problem three times and was going to cost a lot to repair. Where do you think I bought another washer and dryer?? COSTCO and got a wonderful warranty. Can’t beat Costco!!!
Bob on December 15, 2017:
Thanks Len - Lots of great tips to make our Costco shopping experiences even better. Happy holidays to you!
Rich on December 15, 2017:
I've even got my car ins. through costco
email@example.com on December 15, 2017:
thanks so much... can you do an article about reselling Costco on Amazon... we went to a seminar...and they were talking about buying their bulbs and reselling them... is that fair or right?
William H Eley on December 15, 2017:
Are you planning building south in the Manteno ,Bourbonnais area?
Jeanie on December 15, 2017:
A "great and informative" article. I'm sending link to all family members with Costco membership.
Thank you for sharing.
Paul on December 15, 2017:
Love the shopping idea, so convenient and thrifty
Charlie on December 15, 2017:
Got a refund on a set of roadshow kitchen knives after 7 years with a receipt. $550 back after seven years of use. I believe I own the world record for a return at Costco.
Carl C Pulsifer on December 15, 2017:
I appreciate this good info but I am absolutely disgusted with the new hearing aid batteries. I get about half the service time out of them as compared to the discontinued brand. I actually had one last only two and one half hours. Please get a better model. Thanks
Stan Fetherman on December 15, 2017:
Great article, learned a lot!
Patricia on December 15, 2017:
I believe I read your article before. I am interested in the 2018 version for returns. Is there still a 2 year return policy on most items. Also, I have found that washer / dryer's are also 90 days return policy.
Stan on December 14, 2017:
You say to hold on to your Costco receipts, but it's not really necessary.
They can look up your purchase and do so willingly. We've often returned stuff without it. Even if you do have it, they will look it up.
One thing you should always buy at Costco is car batteries. I recently had a battery go bad in our van, and brought it back to Costco. It was a battery with a 42 month replacement warranty. I actually called the local Costco and they told me the date it was bought (I couldn't find the receipt).
I jumpstarted the van and drove to Costco. Went into the tire dept to make sure they had the same battery, and asked about the warranty just to make sure. He said I can bring in the old battery and they look at it as a return (I got exactly what I paid for it credited to may card) and then they look up the original purchase and sell me the new battery at the price I paid for it 40 months ago.
It used to be they gave a free replacement for 2 years and pro-rated for 3(?) more, but now it's justA 42 month replacement warranty.
Peggy on November 29, 2017:
Thanks for all your tips
It would be great if the same article could be written
With Canada in mind as several of your observations do not
Pertain to Canada
Gudem on October 30, 2017:
I have been going to Costco for so many years and had no idea about any of this. Thanks.
Nychuck on September 15, 2017:
Thanks for the cool tips.
Ann on August 31, 2017:
Sadie on August 23, 2017:
Helpful,I'll be going more to Costco and noting more. I get lots of ribbing for my offers of lunch at Costco, can't beat the quality or price!
Jo on July 06, 2017:
Even though there are only 2 in my household, I buy meats, take them home and divide up for 2 and put in freezer seal bags. I stock canned goods in pantry, large box items go in containers ( usually glass) and cleaning items last me several months. My soy milk, I can open a qt. at a time and stock the rest on a shelf. I buy large bags of flour and sugar and store them in large crocks, which keeps them cool and I cover them to keep out any vermin. I've been a card holder for many years and although it's a 25 minute drive from where I live, I feel I save money in the long run by buying what I can actually use and making meals from what I have on hand. Costco has been a true friend to my household.
vee on May 17, 2017:
thanks for the tips
Normi on April 24, 2017:
Thank you for schooling me. Now to go shopping! I'm ready for ya...Costco.
Robert on April 19, 2017:
All good info. I, too, sold lots of close out merch on eBay. Gun safes, golf bags, flatware, tools, whatever they had that I could flip.
My best flip was selling close out leatherman tools to the U.K. back when a £1 cost $2. I made something like $75 each for the Wave and sold probably 500 in one year. Crazy.
Another tactic is to ask the FE MOD (front end manager on duty) if he can work out a special price in turn for buying out the remainder of some close out item. The key is wether the vendor will offer buy back credit or not. If not, the FE MOD will sometimes bargain. I've succeeded in getting better prices than even their .88 closeouts.
To make all this work, you really have to be familiar with the merch and what your store carries. I walked the isles 3-4 times a week making notes of everything that looked like a deal then checked eBay. It's tougher these days because there are far more Costcos around and more people are on to the game. The real killing was back in the early aughts when I maxed out my annual rebate several years in a row.