9 Downsides of a Costco Membership in 2023 — Are You Being Taken Advantage of?

People with shopping carts filled with groceries goods, products walking out of Costco store in Virginia in parking car lot stock photo
855684128 / iStock.com

In spite of cult favorite foods like legendary rotisserie chicken and $1.50 hot dogs, a Costco membership isn’t cheap. In the absence of deals or discounts, a Gold Star membership costs $60 a year, while the Executive membership — which offers a 2% annual reward — will set you back twice that amount.

Lately, Costco has adopted some practices that have raised the ire of fans on Reddit and other shoppers. Be aware, there are some downsides to a Costco membership. And, while most have easy solutions, some can be costly.

Are they surmountable? Read to the end to see what regular shoppers think and make your own decision.

Long Lines

So many people have heard of Costco’s amazing deals that, sometimes, the store has long lines. “The amount of time to checkout is INSANE. Inconvenient and not designed for busy people with places to go and littles in tow,” said Christine Doughty Callen, a busy mom in Washington, D.C.

These are, obviously, first-world problems with first-world solutions. Avoid the crowds by shopping at off-peak times. It’s highly recommended to avoid Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. Shop on weekday mornings to get the best selection of produce. Check your Google Maps app to see when your local store is the least crowded.

I’d personally recommend using self-checkout, but that comes with another set of headaches, according to the Reddit community.

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Self-Checkout Can Be Stressful

As Costco implemented more self-checkout counters, it left employees and customers equally confused about policies.

Reddit user Stranger_Dangus recently posted her tale: “For weeks I was told by employees to use the hand scanner to expedite self-checkout. Today I went in and had about 7 items, several being larger items. I used the hand scanner and got down to my last 2 items (steaks) and a lady approached me saying I need to use the actual table scanner for my steaks. I told her I only have 2 items left and I scanned one of the packages and she yanked the hand scanner out of my hand and told me I had to use the table scanner.”

Several customers on Reddit also complained about the amount of employee involvement at self-checkout, which makes the transaction awkward. “[T] employee came over and hand-scanned every item in my cart and just left me to do the payment part. Not sure how that was different than if I had gone to a non-self checkout line, except I didn’t put the items on a belt,” TheOtherPete posted on Reddit.

CoffeeJunkieJeannie added, “My Costco self-check also has people check your receipt before you walk off….I guess theft has been a major problem.”

No Scan and Go

Sam’s Club makes checkout easy by allowing you to scan items as you shop, pay in the app, and leave. No self-checkout, no long lines.

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However, you can shop Costco.com and get free two-day delivery on groceries with any order of $75 or more.  

Only Visa or Cash

To keep costs down, Costco accepts cash and most debit cards, but only Visa credit cards. The wholesale club has a partnership with Visa that offers transactions fees of only 0.4%, which is another way Costco helps keep costs down.

The solution is simple: Make sure you have cash, a Visa credit card or a debit card in your name when you shop.

Cracking Down on Memberships

If you’re paying by debit or credit, you’ll want to make sure the name on your membership matches the debit or credit card you’re using to pay. Costco has been cracking down on people sharing their membership card with others, thanks to several TikTokers who suggested you can use anyone’s Costco card as long as you use self-checkout.

Redditor “daddysxenogirl” told her story of getting caught using her husband’s card – even though he was in the store with her. “I was checking out yesterday. The cashier saw my husband hand his card to me and walk to get food with my son. Since my face did not match the face on the card, he had to go get my husband out of the food line to check out, because I had left my card, with my face, at home,” she wrote. “They also made us use a debit card with his name only, mine with my name was not allowed.”

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Bottom line here: Make sure the person checking out has their own card. Costco checks memberships to keep costs down by ensuring that shoppers pay the membership fee. As Redditor ElDub73 said, “I’m consistently amazed that people get offended or insulted that a club membership company would check their club membership IDs.”

Can’t Purchase Additional Adult Family Member Cards

Sometimes, people in the same family like to shop together, and not everyone is present at checkout as the above story exemplifies. But what about when parents want to send their adult children to shop for them?

The Gold Star Membership and Executive Membership only allow for two additional cards on the account, to be designated for anyone over 16 in the same household. “There are multiple families that could benefit from having an extra card fee added for each additional household member,” said a Costco employee who asked to remain anonymous. “Like for instance, my kids are grown and could do shopping for me, if I were a paying member. I would like the option to have my spouse and two adult children on one account.”

Employees get a free membership with an additional three cards for adults in their household. That sounds like a generous perk of working at Costco

Limited Locations

Let’s call this drawback “Costco Envy.”

Several shoppers I spoke with said they don’t have a Costco nearby, so they settle for shopping at Sam’s Club or BJ’s. With 587 Costco warehouses in the U.S. and 107 in Canada, with the lion’s share (133) in California, Costco outnumbers BJ’s locations by more than double. But it just isn’t enough.

There are roughly 700 Sam’s Club across the U.S., so it’s likely Sam’s Club may be your second choice. If you visit friends in a different city, you can always spend quality time at Costco to see what’s in stock. Members are entitled to bring up to two guests each visit, but only members can make purchases.

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They Keep Changing Up Merchandise

While some Costco shoppers consider it a benefit to experience new and different merchandise every trip, some shoppers are frustrated that Costco doesn’t always carry the same brands every month. Just when you start loving an item, it vanishes from store shelves.

“I stopped going to Costco because I tend to be brand-faithful due to managing my diabetes. They never had the same brands from one trip to the next,” said Darice Lang of Plano, Texas.

You have to know the codes to grab bestsellers when they are on clearance. If you see an asterisk on the price tag, stock up because Costco won’t re-stock that product.

Of course, you’ll always be able to find some of the Kirkland Signature staples and Costco’s famous merchandise — but you can’t live on rotisserie chicken every night! Or can you?

Too Many Temptations

Much like venturing into Aldi’s “Aisle of Shame,” Costco can tempt buyers to make purchases they don’t really need. Besides wandering the aisles looking for your favorite product that Costco no longer carries, you may wander looking for familiar merchandise. This happened to me hunting down my son’s favorite seaweed snacks last summer. En route, I picked up coffee, a giant jar of pickles and some random spices.

“If you want a specific thing, sometimes you have to wander the whole store,” said Deb Hawkins, a teacher in Huntington, NY. They do that on purpose because you spend more money if you wander around. I spend too much when I go and buy things I don’t really need.”That’s not enough to keep Hawkins away, though. “I love Costco and the quality of the food. The steaks are the BEST!!! The seafood is awesome. The produce is fresh!”

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These all sound like good problems to have if you can resist the lure of all those deals.

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