Costco vs. Target: What To Buy at Each Store, According to Shopping Experts

Target and Costco are both popular retailers with plenty of wonderful products lining their aisles. However, Costco requires an annual membership to gain the full shopping experience at its warehouses, whereas anyone can shop at Target for free.

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That said, it can be tempting to try to get the most out of your membership during your Costco runs, even though there are some items that you would be better off buying at Target. On the other hand, when shopping at Target, it might make sense to get all your essentials while in the store. However, you might be able to get a much better deal some of those essentials at Costco — even if you have to buy them in larger quantities. 

To help you make the distinction between what you should buy at Costco versus Target and vice versa, here’s some timely advice from shopping experts.

Items You Should Buy at Costco Over Target

If you regularly purchase any of these items (or are planning to purchase them in the near future), consider adding them to your Costco shopping list instead of picking them up at Target. 

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Allergy Medication

“If you’re one of those allergy sufferers that have to take something every single day, head to Costco to stock up,” said said consumer analyst Julie Ramhold with DealNews.

“Seriously — the prices are so much better, especially if you opt for Costco’s store brand Kirkland Signature. You can get an entire year’s supply of Aller-Tec (Costco’s generic of Zyrtec) for around $14; if you want to buy Zyrtec from Costco, you’ll spend $40 on 120 pills. That’s a comparison of 3 cents per pill for Kirkland Signature versus 33 cents per pill for name-brand. And if you shop at Target, you’ll spend around $43 for 90 pills of Zyrtec; there’s a generic available at Target, but 300 pills will set you back around $37. It’s easy to see why Costco wins out here.”

Sodas 

“If you want to purchase sodas, there’s a good chance you’ll find a great deal at Costco,” Ramhold said. “For instance, a 35 pack of 12 oz Coca Cola cans works out to about 42 cents per can (on Instacart, no less, so the price is likely lower in-store), while a 24 pack of 12 oz Pepsi cans works out to about 39 cents per can. At Target, you’ll likely pay closer to 50 cents per can, and have to buy multiple packages to get the same amount you would with one package at Costco.”
She continued, “That being said, there are times when deals at Target will match the regular Costco price. For instance, right now select 12 packs of Pepsi products are eligible for a 3 for $15 promotion when you use same-day order services (which includes in-store pickup or drive-up pickup). That works out to $5 per 12 pack or about 42 cents per can. However, this isn’t a constant offer, so if you want the best price, Costco is typically a safer bet.”

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Alcoholic Beverages

Brigitte Hodge, retail expert at Fit Small Business, recommends buying alcoholic beverages at Costco. Wine lovers, in particular, will delight when shopping at Costco.

According to Delish, Costco is the biggest wine retailer in the U.S. and its wine markups are half that of most stores, which means you’ll find variety and savings. Plus, the store sells almost every type of spirit under the Kirkland label, which is Costco’s in-house brand. And while other retailers mark up their liquor prices 25%-50%, according to Mashed, Costco adheres to a much lower markup, which means you can stock your home bar at a great price.

Furniture

Ramhold said if you want quality furniture that’s likely to last for decades — not necessarily the cheapest furniture — Costco is your spot. She said, “These pieces will be investments, but if you have the budget for them and like the style, it’s one that can pay off in the long run. You can outfit practically every room in your home at Costco, so it’s worth checking out their selection if you’re looking to upgrade any pieces.”

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Items You Should Buy at Target Over Costco

These are the items that you should pass up on your next Costco shopping trip and wait to buy during a Target run.

Books

“Costco is great for a lot of things but book shopping isn’t one of them,” said Ramhold. “They often have very specific sets for sale, rather than a selection of single titles, and if there are single titles for sale, they’re likely going to be a select choice of the latest bestsellers. That means if you’re looking for something from a favorite author that may be a little more obscure, you likely won’t be able to find it at Costco. However, if you shop at Target, there’s a good chance you’ll find most books you’re looking for and if you have a RedCard, you’ll save 5% on the purchase, too.”

OTC Medications

“Specifically things like painkillers or cold and flu meds,” said Ramhold. “Costco may have better prices on these items overall, but you likely aren’t using them frequently enough to warrant purchasing the bigger amounts Costco carries. And if you don’t have a large household that’s in need, that may mean the meds expire before you can use them. No matter how good the deal was at Costco, if you have to throw out some of the product, then the deal loses its value.”

Hot Cocoa Mix

“I will tell anyone who asks (and often those who don’t) that the absolute best hot cocoa mix you can buy is the Good & Gather brand at Target,” said Ramhold.

“There are four flavors available — peppermint, double chocolate, sea salt caramel and cinnamon — and I can definitively say they are all delicious. Not only that, but a box of eight good-sized packets is around $5, which is roughly 62 cents per packet. That’s not bad for a premium cocoa mix that isn’t even branded as such. Can you get hot cocoa mix at Costco? Absolutely. Most of the time it’ll be Swiss Miss, although around the winter holidays you may find Starbucks hot cocoa. Even so, I stand by the Good & Gather recommendation. It’s better than Swiss Miss any day, and honestly, I think it’s better than Starbucks, too.”

Beauty Products

If you’re shopping for beauty products, it’s a no-brainer to head to Target. 

“Target has stepped up its game with its growing selection of boutique and clean beauty products at affordable prices,” said Ann McFerran, CEO of Glamnetic. “Costco offers large brand name personal care items that have become household names. Target has cornered the market in providing more specialty and inclusive brands to address any concern of beauty interest. Target has made the beauty industry more accessible to all by bringing boutique and smaller brands into their store.”

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About the Author

Cynthia Measom is a personal finance writer and editor with over 12 years of collective experience. Her articles have been featured in MSN, AOL, Yahoo Finance, INSIDER, Houston Chronicle, The Seattle Times and The Network Journal. She attended the University of Texas at Austin and earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in English.

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