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They wrote the book on Costco… literally. David and Susan Schwartz have visited over 200 of Costco’s warehouses in 46 U.S. states and 13 countries. Now, the couple is taking their Kirkland brand expertise all the way to bookshelves with The Joy of Costco: A Treasure Hunt from A to Z, which hit shelves on September 12.
In the book, the Schwartzes blow open the warehouse doors on the retail behemoth, sharing all the secrets you’ve always wondered about, from the wild stats on nut sales (more than half of the world’s cashews) to the amount of hot dogs handed over at the food court (seven times more than all MLB stadiums combined).
Apartment Therapy asked the dynamic duo for a few tips and tricks that will help shoppers new and old get the biggest bang for their buck. By the way, if you were wondering if the Schwartzes were compensated by Costco for the project, the answer is no. They’re just Kirkland Signature super-fans.
Since items at Costco are marked up no more than 14-15% over cost, that means basically everything in the warehouse qualifies as a bargain, says the Schwartzes.
But pay special attention to the number that the price ends with. “If you see a price that ends in something other than ‘.99’ it means either the vendor or Costco is offering additional savings,” they shared. “Items on end-aisles are often reduced in price.”
Of course, be sure to keep your eyes out for the “death star,” which is an asterisk in the top right corner of the price sign. It indicates an item may soon be discontinued, either temporarily or permanently.
2. Costco sells more than what’s in the warehouse.
When it comes to the items people aren’t aware that Costco sells, the Schwartzes rank automobiles and car insurance at the top.
“In 2021, Costco’s Auto Program sold more than 800,000 vehicles — triple the number sold in 2011 — without any haggling,” they said. “Costco also offers discounted rentals through many of the major rental companies.”
Prescriptions for members and their pets are also available at Costco, through mail-order and in-warehouse. You don’t need a membership to get a hearing test, but you will need an appointment. “They even sell caskets and coffins, but online only,” they added.
If you’re looking to score food samples, hit the sales floor from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. However, that may vary from region to region, and from warehouse to warehouse. Also, weekends tend to have more items to be sampled.
As far as your options, the $1.50 hot dog/soda combination is one of the most popular ones, but it’s available with different toppings around the world. “For example, in Iceland there are fried crispy onions and in Mexico, unlimited pickled jalapeño peppers. The Food Courts in Shin Misato, Japan and Iwilei, Hawaii are usually in the top ten for global hot dog/soda combos,” the Schwartzes shared. “Recent new items of note in the Food Court: roast beef sandwiches and strawberry soft-serve ice cream.”
4. Stock up on over-the-counter drugs.
One of the best-priced items at Costco is generic drugs. “National drugstore chains generally price generics at a discount on name-brand drugs, but Costco uses the same pricing model for drugs as for other products, with a minimal markup over cost,” the Schwartzes said. But you also have to keep an eye on the calendar. Since Costco adheres to an “early in, early out” merchandising strategy, seasonal items will hit the sales floor several months in advance.
5. Embrace the thrill of the hunt.
Part of the appeal of Costco to so many people is the fact that it functions like a treasure hunt. “The product line is highly-curated — only 3,800 items versus 40,000 items in a typical supermarket — about 40% of which change regionally around the world,” the Schwartzes note. “Never knowing what ‘wow’ items you might find adds to the fun, and knowing you can trust the quality and pricing is reassuring.”