Sneaky Costco Tactics: 7 Ways the Warehouse Club Gets You to Spend More

Have you noticed any of these sneaky Costco tactics?

Today, The Money Place is exploring the shopping world, where we uncover the secrets behind the scenes of everyone’s favorite warehouse club: Costco.

We’ll delve into consumer psychology and reveal the sneaky Costco tactics that often fly under the radar but can significantly impact your wallet.

With its irresistible deals and sprawling aisles, Costco has mastered the art of convincing shoppers to spend more than they originally intended.

From tempting samples strategically placed throughout the store to strategic product placement, Costco uses various methods to influence your purchasing decisions.

So, whether you’re a seasoned Costco shopper or a curious newcomer, prepare to learn about the 7 sneaky Costco tactics that continually keep you reaching for your wallet.

Sneaky Costco Tactic
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Sneaky Costco tactic: The layout

Even though all you came in for was some toilet paper and a few drinks, you’ll have to walk past fresh produce, kitchen gadgets, sweatpants, wine, books, and those incredible-smelling rotisserie chickens to get there. Well, that’s not by accident.

Costco’s landscape can be a daunting thing to navigate, and there are tiny traps to catch your cash all over the place. One particular sneaky Costco tactic to get more of your money is strategically laying out items that stimulate impulse buying.

It’s similar to grocery stores with magazines and candy bars in the check-out line, but Costco takes it a step further. Getting around the store without encountering a few pitfalls is nearly impossible.

According to a survey by, the average shopper in the US spends about $5,400 yearly on impulse buys. The warehouse club knows that its layout is designed to capitalize on its shoppers’ habits.

They might place items that don’t seemingly belong together, like socks and batteries, to encourage impulse buys. Retail Designer Stan Laegreid dubs it a “racetrack” structure that works to lead customers past as many products as possible.

So, if you feel guilty that Costco occasionally lures you in with an unplanned purchase, you can take a little comfort in knowing that your brain is hardwired into doing so.

Sneaky Costco tactic: Free samples get you spending

If you stop to think about it, you could make an entire meal just by walking around Costco and grabbing the free food samples. But if you do that on an empty stomach, and you’ll wind up buying a ton of stuff you weren’t planning on.

Everyone loves free food, and giving away a taste can increase sales. Free beer samples at national retailers have been proven to increase sales by as much as 70%, according to The Atlantic.

And those delicious free pizza samples, well, it’s hard to argue against a sneaky Costco tactic that increases pizza sales by a whopping 600%. According to a Duke University behavioral economist, Costco guilt trips many of us into purchasing the item after trying the free sample.

If somebody does something for you, you feel a surprisingly strong obligation to do something back for them, right? Like, give them your money.

Not only does a free sample equal increased sales of the sample product being offered, but it also makes for more loyal customers who, in turn, buy other goods.

Sneaky Costco tactic: Items are constantly moved

Suppose you’re a regular shopper at Costco. In that case, you’ve probably experienced the frustration of getting laundry detergent one week and returning to the same aisle a couple of weeks later, only to realize it’s not there anymore. Don’t worry. You’re not going crazy.

This is Costco’s “treasure hunt.” It’s all part of their psychological game to isolate you from your hard-earned cash.

They intentionally move products around to different locations and constantly rotate a certain percentage of their inventory to new products, according to a veteran Costco employee.

This sneaky Costco tactic creates that “treasure hunt” experience as you shop and helps you find new products you may not usually see on your shopping visits. Many of the aisles also lack signs.  It makes you look even harder for that huge shampoo bottle that keeps moving around from week to week.

When you think about the sheer size of a Costco location, looking for a single item that’s always moving around can turn into quite the treasure hunt, not to mention a much fuller cart than you originally planned.

Sneaky Costco Tactic
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Sneaky Costco tactic: Limited time purchases

Regular Costco customers know that it’s common to see products offered during one trip that may not be available a week later. The store regularly rotates its products.

Even though this can be nice because you never know what great find awaits you on each trip, it creates a sense of urgency that many consumers can’t resist.

“For A Limited Time Only!” is one of the oldest marketing gimmicks in the book, and it still works in creating the fear of missing out on response in shoppers. Anything that plays to that fear can stoke a sense of urgency and that impulse to buy.

According to Fast Company, Costco is a specialist in using this sneaky Costco tactic against us. They say that of the 3,600 articles on Costco’s shelves at any given time, as many as 1,000 may be limited-time offerings.

Sure, customers can score some great deals, but the “while supplies last” warning also guarantees they most likely won’t risk passing up a bargain. After all, who knows when you’ll find another trampoline or 40-gallon fish tank at such a low price, right?

Sneaky Costco tactic: Dressed down decor

Costco isn’t exactly known for its eye-catching interior decor, and there’s a good reason for that. They don’t use fancy lighting or decor.

They make sure that their store resembles a warehouse with pallets, exposed beams, and simple metal shelving, says a marketing industry professional.

This sneaky Costco tactic is clever because it tricks consumers into believing they’re buying products at low prices. Logically, it makes sense that less money spent on decoration equals less overhead cost, which is the perfect opportunity to lower your prices.

Sneaky Costco tactic: The generous return policy is a mind game

Costco has a pretty great return policy and will take back almost anything, even months, from when you bought it. Rather nice of them, right?  This “risk-free 100% satisfaction guarantee” return policy isn’t just their way of showing consumers special attention.

Billion-dollar companies aren’t generally in the habit of doing this, and it’s a brilliant way of marketing that gets you to spend more money.

By taking away any self-doubt that you might get stuck with an object you don’t like, Costco is betting that you’ll be more likely to buy a certain item.

What’s especially strange is that psychologists and marketing experts have found that the more tolerant a store’s return policy is, the less likely the buyer is to return the item. After all, without that strict deadline in place on returns, there’s no hurry to get it back to the store.

And considering that 90% of customers say a store’s return policy factors into their buying decision, a generous return policy is a wise move.

It’s precisely the sneaky Costco tactic that might sway a customer to buy impulsively on a limited-time sale. And that’s why Costco is the king of superstores!

Sneaky Costco Tactic
Photo by William James Herath at Shutterstock

Sneaky Costco tactic: Feeding frenzy

It doesn’t matter when you go to Costco. It’s always jam-packed with people. This is obviously great for business. A typical Costco on a weekend is a slightly more serene version of a Black Friday charge. People tend to be pack animals.

We take our social cues from others. And since Costco has such a heated atmosphere with so many people buying so many things, we feel we should buy more.

The best way to save your hard earned cash when shopping at Costco is by writing down everything you need before you leave home and stick to the list when shopping. We highly recommend this Clever Fox Budget Planner to help you out!

Have you ever considered these sneaky Costco tactics? Be sure to share your thoughts with us in the comments section. Meanwhile, The Money Place has many more fantastic reads for you. Check out: 12 Important Secrets Your Bank Would NEVER Tell You


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