Ever since the first Costco opened its doors in Seattle back in 1983, the retail chain has expanded throughout the planet, becoming the shopping destination for consumers looking to save big bucks by buying in bulk. The business model has been a wildly successful one, but it hasn't always been perfect. That's the opinion of Costco members who've expressed their frustration with various annoying aspects of shopping there, as have various retail-themed websites.
Of course, that hasn't seemed to have had much impact on the success of Costco. In fact, the warehouse store has been a hit with consumers right from the start, making history as the first-ever company to see its profits rise from zero to $3 billion in just six years. Since then, the company's growth spurt has been as big as a pack of Costco-sized toilet paper; as of early 2024, Costco had nearly 130 million members worldwide, shopping at 872 monster-size warehouses that ranged in size from 80,000 square feet to 230,000. According to recent company fiscals, net sales during the final quarter of 2023 were a staggering $77.43 billion. Clearly, Costco must be doing something right.
That said, the Costco shopping experience is far from perfect, with plenty of room for improvement. In fact, some Costco shoppers have pointed to aspects of shopping at the big-box retailer that they've found to be downright irritating. To find out more, read on for a rundown of the most annoying things about shopping at Costco.
Read more: All The Benefits Of A Costco Membership
The Parking Lot
The first thing a shopper encounters when heading to Costco is the mammoth parking lot. Finding a parking spot anywhere near the entrance can be an arduous process. Drivers circle like vultures waiting for someone to leave so they can swoop in and grab one of those precious spots, inevitably creating traffic jams. "People who block the way while waiting for parking are also part of the problem, just move and find another spot," one shopper complained on Reddit.
When two drivers race toward the same spot, annoyance can escalate to heated confrontations. That was the case in the Canadian city of Langford, British Columbia in 2019, when a woman was about to pull into a spot and another woman abruptly cut her off and zoomed in. An argument ensued; as the two women squabbled, the altercation took a potentially deadly turn when one of the women reached into her car and emerged with a machete, brandishing it as a weapon. The unarmed woman wisely backed off and promptly called police, but the blade-wielding shopper was never apprehended.
Sometimes these incidents surge into full-on brawls, like one that occurred in 2016 at a different Canadian Costco. A screaming match over a parking spot turned into a fistfight in which a woman was shoved while several others punched it out. As Costco veterans know, it's easier to park on the outskirts and avoid the aggravation — while getting a little exercise during the long walk to the warehouse.
Not Everyone Loves Costco's New Shopping Carts
In late 2023, some Costco outlets introduced new shopping carts, but not everyone saw them as an improvement over the previous ones. Costco members had some thoughts about the carts — which were described as being deeper and easier to steer — and expressed them in a Reddit thread featuring a photo of one of them. "New carts! They ride like a dream," read the caption. In one response to that post, a Costco shopper praised the deeper basket, which can accommodate more purchases, but admitted it would likely be challenging for some people to reach down all the way to the bottom. Another shopper agreed, pointing out that the larger carts were challenging for shorter customers. "I'm short — 5'2" — and I have to lift my arms to practically shoulder level to push them," read the comment. "This becomes fatiguing after not very long."
Another Reddit user complained that there should have been cupholders added to facilitate the enjoyment of a beverage while shopping. "Why don't carts come with built in cupholders? We have the technology!" read the comment.
One feature in particular irked those who bring young kids with them while loading up on supplies: a shallower child seat that some parents found less than kid-friendly. "Even buckling my [three-year-old] in, if he leans over all the way I feel like he'll fall out," read that comment.
Favorite Items Keep Disappearing — or Moving Around The Store
For many shoppers, one of the most enjoyable aspects of shopping at Costco comes with the discovery of a cool new product that winds up becoming a favorite. However, thanks to the retailer's tendency to bring in new products while discontinuing others, this can result in a new fave being unavailable for a repeat purchase. This can be an especially frustrating problem if your kid's a picky eater and their fave is no longer available.
A similar problem has emerged for shoppers who become accustomed to finding a beloved product in a specific location in the warehouse, only to find a different product in that spot the next time. "It seems like my Costco re-arranges stuff on a pretty regular basis," wrote a Reddit user who picked up on this phenomenon. As it turns out, this is not random, but an intentional tactic to entice consumers to buy even more than they were planning on. Described as Costco's "treasure hunt," the underlying assumption is that the more time a customer spends searching for something, the more likely they'll be to discover fresh new finds to plunk into their carts — and because they might vanish, customers may be further inclined to buy multiples of that item.
The Self-Checkout Won't Shut Up
One of the more recent innovations introduced by Costco is the self-checkout, allowing customers to scan their own items. As those who have used the self-scanning checkouts will be aware, the device issues voice commands to inform shoppers of the price of the item they just scanned, and then instructing, "Place your item in the tray area."
Understandably, having a machine yapping at you while scanning purchases — particularly when there are a lot of them — has raised the ire of some customers. "Everyone likes a rotisserie chicken from Costco whether they drive a Corolla or a Bentley, but they all hate that constant talking self checkout register," wrote one Costco member on X, formerly Twitter. Another irked shopper issued a tweet expressing a similar gripe. "Costco self-checkout is the most annoying thing on this earth," the X user wrote. "Give me a second before screaming at me to put the item on the table ..."
Furthermore, a Reddit user complained about the difficulty of placing larger items in the tray area, since some Costco products are so gargantuan they don't even come close to fitting there. "Seriously scanned items must remain on the weight table... you sell bulk items," the disgruntled shopper wrote. "You can't even put a box on the weight table to load without the checkout freaking out. No handheld scanner? Lame."
Trying A New Product Is A Major Commitment When Buying In Bulk
As previously mentioned, discovering a theretofore unknown product on a Costco shelf can be one of the joys of shopping there. However, unless it's something that's being sampled in-store, shoppers won't know if they like it until they've bought and tried it. And because said items are typically sold in bulk, that opens the door to some awkward scenarios. For example, say someone wants to try an intriguing new barbecue sauce; if they end up not liking it, they could be stuck with multiple bottles of the stuff if (as many items are) it's sold in packs of four, six, or more.
That can be even more pronounced if the items purchased are perishable. Buying stuff in bulk that will quickly go bad requires a commitment to eat it all before it spoils. "I had to throw out tubs of different dips, we're only a family of three (two adults and a toddler) but damn the samples get me almost every time!!" an annoyed Costco shopper mused in a Reddit thread on the subject.
The same holds true for frozen items that are purchased on impulse and then sit too long in the freezer, with another commenter highlighting frozen fruit in that same Reddit thread. "We go through smoothie phases but usually by the time we can get through the whole bag there's a lot of freezer burn on it," the customer wrote.
Costco Only Takes Visa
Anyone who's ever tried to pay for a purchase at Costco with a Mastercard has certainly received a wakeup call when that card was refused. There's a reason for that: Costco has an exclusive deal with Visa, and will only accept Visa cards. The stores will, however, accept most ATM and debit cards, so those paying for purchases without the use of a credit card are spared.
As it happens Costco initially accepted only American Express cards. Then, in 2016, the company switched its allegiance from Amex to Visa, shutting out Mastercard entirely.
There's a key financial reason underlying Costco's exclusivity deal with Visa. Under its agreement with Visa, the retailer only pays a transaction fee of nearly zero per transaction whenever someone purchases stuff using a Visa card. Given that these credit card processing fees usually range from 1.4% to in excess of three percent, this represents substantial savings for Costco — which it passes along to customers by pricing its items so inexpensively.
Those Ridiculously Long Checkout Lines
Near the top of the list of things that most annoy Costco's customers has to be the time spent waiting in long lines at the checkout stands. This is particularly egregious for those who aren't purchasing that many items, and are forced to cool their heels while other shoppers, sometimes with multiple carts bursting with stuff, are rung through first.
This is made worse when a Costco outlet is understaffed, with customers met with just a few of a store's multiple checkouts actually in use — each boasting a ridiculously lengthy lineup. "I don't like when they don't have enough checkout staff on hand," a Reddit user complained. "I know this is a rush/wait system, but when they have 15 checkout tills and only seven are open and the lines are seven people deep I get irritated. I did buy a membership after all."
Ironically, the self-scanning checkouts that should theoretically make the lineups shorter can often have the opposite effect if someone with a fully loaded cart (or carts) uses the self-checkout. "But when the lines get longer you have people with an entire cart trying to self-checkout. It doesn't work because there literally isn't enough room to unload the whole cart while scanning," a Reddit user pointed out. "So someone has to come over and help anyway and use the portable scanner." When this happens, lineups can then move even slower.
It's Always Crowded
The biggest and most obvious reason why Costco checkout lines tend to be long and slow-moving is that the stores themselves are almost always jam-packed with shoppers. What shopper hasn't turned a corner and bumped into a few cart-pushing customers stalled in a particular spot, forcing them to wait because it's impossible to get past?
That said, crowds tend to be smaller on weekdays, or in the evenings, shortly before closing time, which should shorten the length of a visit. Then again, another recommendation holds that anyone looking to shave some time from a Costco shopping excursion should drop by on Tuesdays or Thursdays, within the timeframe of between 3 and 4 p.m.
However, the subreddit r/Costco pinpointed a different — and even more specific — time: Tuesday at 10 a.m. "New items arrive and have been stocked, the chaos of the weekend has been cleared, children are in school, so there is less of a risk of running over one with your cart, first samples of the day are being handed out," one commenter explained. "It's the best time to shop in the warehouse." Another great time to shop at Costco, particularly for those who aren't sports fans, is to hit the aisles while a big sporting event is taking place.
The Membership Fee
It's no secret that a membership is required to shop at Costco, and that membership fee is paid annually. It's also no secret that those fees have risen periodically. As Costco's chief financial officer Richard Galanti said during a 2022 earnings call (via USA Today), past increases have tended to occur at intervals of about five-and-a-half years. Given that the previous price increase took place in 2017, he warned that another one was likely on the horizon.
Meanwhile, there are two types of Costco memberships: the Gold Star membership, which offers access to all Costcos throughout the world; and the Executive membership, which adds the perks of receiving a 2% cash-back rebate on certain purchases after spending $1,000 annually, as well as reduced rates when booking travel through Costco. As of early 2024, a Gold Star membership cost $60, while the Executive was $120.
To many customers, there's something inherently annoying about being forced to pay an annual fee for the privilege of spending money in a retail outlet, a feeling that's arguably exacerbated when that fee increases. However, in late 2023, Galanti revealed that the company had experienced such a banner year in profits that it wouldn't be raising its membership fees — at least at that moment. He did, however warn customers it would happen eventually. During a December 2023 earnings call, reported Today, he cautioned, "it's a question of when, not if."
No Shopping Bags
Many people have joined the effort to use fewer plastic shopping bags by arriving at stores with their own reusable bags in hand. However, even the best-intentioned folks will occasionally forget to bring them — and that's a problem when shopping at Costco, which refuses to provide customers with bags. This is apparently a common-enough annoyance for customers that the company has addressed it on its website. "Not only do shopping bags contribute to waste, they would also result in higher operating costs — and, ultimately, higher product pricing," the site pointed out in explaining why the company didn't offer bags to its customers.
Interviewed by NPR's Planet Money, PriceCostco, Inc. chairman of the board Robert Price confirmed that when he offered his own justification for not offering customers any bags. "Never had bags for two reasons," he explained. "One is that it costs money to have bags and, secondly ... that if you have bags you look like a retail store."
Meanwhile, those who do bring reusable bags to Costco had better be prepared to bag their own purchases themselves, as employees won't do it for you. Instead of bags, however, one clever shopper devised a genius hack on Reddit, sharing a photo of plastic laundry baskets used to contain a pile of groceries.
It Can Take Forever To Find Something Because Aisles Aren't Labelled
One of the most annoying parts of a Costco shopping excursion can be finding a specific item. As veteran Costco customers are aware, unlike a typical supermarket, there are no signs in the aisles indicating what's located where. The only way to find that out is to walk around and have a look. "Costco is much more concerned with you shopping the way they want you to shop (wandering every aisle) instead of being able to find things quickly. It's weird," commented a shopper via Reddit.
That lack of signage is deliberate. Robert Price — the retail genius who, alongside his father, founded Price Club (which eventually merged with Costco) — told NPR's Planet Money that forcing customers to amble aimlessly throughout the store in search of a particular product is actually the whole point. "I was adamant that we would not have signs telling people where things were because that would make it likely that they would wander through all the aisles and find other things to buy," Price explained. "I think it was — I think — I don't want to use the word devious, but it was manipulative."
The assumption is, the more time a customer spends rolling through the store in search of something, the more items they'll come across, tempting them to make impulse purchases of stuff they weren't even thinking about getting when they walked in. Annoying for customers? You bet — but wildly lucrative for Costco.
Costco's Inventory Is Surprisingly Limited
One thing that most Costco shoppers have experienced is plunking down several hundred dollars in bulk-buying, only to realize they need to make a subsequent trip to the supermarket to pick up certain items that the store doesn't stock. In addition, unlike a supermarket, which will usually offer varieties of a particular product, Costco will typically just offer one.
As it happens, Costco stocks about 4,000 items. While that may seem like a lot, it's actually next to nothing in retail terms. For example, a typical Walmart Supercenter carries a whopping 120,000 items — 30 times more than Costco!
As PriceCostco's Roger Price explained, that too is a deliberate strategy designed to cut costs, which are then reflected in the products' low prices. "When you have more selection, there's more labor," Price told NPR's Planet Money. "You [go] into a grocery store and you see everything is hand-stacked, everything is being touched." Costco merchandise, on the other hand, is brought to the shelves via forklift, remaining on the wooden shipping pallet, which cuts out a significant chunk of labor that a supermarket would utilize in keeping its shelves stocked. "It's just quantum difference the labor factors," he added.
There Isn't An Express Checkout Line
Anyone who's ever popped into Costco to pick up a few things can attest that even the briefest excursion to the big-box retailer will rarely turn out to be a quick one. With just a few items to buy, those shoppers inevitably find themselves facing long lines that move at a snail's pace as customers ahead of them unload dozens upon dozens of items to be scanned. The obvious question arises: why doesn't Costco have express checkout lines the way that supermarkets do?
This is a complaint that the company apparently receives often enough that it's actually addressed the matter. According to the site, it's been calculated statistically that, on average, a Costco shopper purchases 16 items each time they visit the store. As a result, the company determined that an express checkout would be used so infrequently that it made more sense to keep all its checkouts standard.
In fact, there's also an element of basic math involved. Each store has an employee who does a headcount of shoppers entering that store. That number is relayed to a supervisor, who then ensures there will be enough registers in use to handle the influx of shoppers to the store. In theory, this provides the optimum number of checkouts functioning to serve the number of shoppers at any given time, thereby eliminating the necessity for an express checkout line.
The Time-Wasting Receipt Check At The Exit
Costco customers who make it through the long checkout line will inevitably discover one final annoyance when they arrive at the exit — another lineup. This one is caused by Costco staffers, armed with brightly colored highlighters, who scan each customer's receipt to confirm that what they've paid for matches up with what's in their carts.
An assumption for the reasoning behind this is that Costco doesn't trust its customers — which is kind of correct. "We're looking for items on the bottom of the cart, big items like TVs, or alcohol," a Costco employee told Mental Floss of how that receipt check serves to weed out shoplifters.
There are also some other things that are being checked at the same time, one of which is a code that resides on the receipt's top and bottom that will confirm the receipt was printed on that day. There's also a count of the number of items on the bottom of the receipt, which the employee doing the check will use to estimate whether it matches the number of items in a shopper's cart. "It's our most effective method of maintaining accuracy in inventory control, and it's also a good way to ensure that our members have been charged properly for their purchases," the company website notes.
Read the original article on Daily Meal.