Costco Price Tag Secrets Explained

woman shopping at Costco
woman shopping at Costco - Sergey Ryzhov/Shutterstock

Everyone loves Costco — whether it's for its low prices on brand-name merchandise, unlimited samples of delicious foods, exceptional deals on freshly cooked rotisserie chickens, or its great gas prices, there's always a reason to visit Costco. The nationally renowned superstore can trace its history back to 1976 when the first Costco (then known as Price Club) was opened in an airplane hangar in San Diego. Seven years later, Costco was opened in Seattle, and the two businesses soon joined together to create one of the world's favorite places to shop. Although it began by only selling to small businesses, the company quickly realized selling to every day, non-business customers was the way to go. From then on, Costco kept its business philosophy simple —"Keep costs down and pass the savings on to our members" (via Costco).

Today, there are over 850 Costco Warehouses spanning 14 countries, passing savings on to more than 120 million members worldwide. Although just about everyone knows about Costco, not everyone knows how to get the most for their money when visiting their local warehouse superstore. But the truth is Costco uses strategies that can signal where customers can find the most savings or even predict what might be marked down next. In this article, we've compiled several price tag secrets Costco uses so you can find the biggest savings the next time you go shopping. Keep reading to learn more.

Read more: Mistakes Everyone Makes When Shopping At Costco

If The Price Ends In .97, You're Getting A Solid Discount

price tag at Costco
price tag at Costco - YouTube

If you've shopped at Costco before, you've undoubtedly seen the iconic price tags that display the product's price in large numbers. What you probably didn't know is that a bit of secret "code" is woven into each of these numbers that can signify different things. Arguably, the most important one is when the price ends in 97 cents. You'll find these on various products and groceries throughout the store. These are limited-time, marked-down deals set by the managers of Costco, so if you're headed to the superstore to find some savings, make sure to keep a keen eye out for prices ending in .97.

These products might have been marked down for a number of reasons, like clearing out seasonal products or getting rid of merchandise that isn't selling well. It's important to note the lowered price might only be unique to that particular warehouse, so don't expect other Costco's to have the same deals. Also, not all .97-ending deals are created the same. Some of them might be extraordinary deals, while others might just be marked down a dollar. If you're curious, you can ask a manager in the store to see what the original price was so you know what kind of discount you're getting. Remember that even if the price ends in .97, that doesn't mean it has hit its lowest price. There's still a chance the price might get lowered again.

If The Price Ends In 9, You're Not Getting Any Extra Discounts

price tag at Costco
price tag at Costco - YouTube

When searching down the aisles for the best deals, note that any products ending with .99 are just regular deals. This means they haven't been marked down, and you're likely not garnering any extra savings. However, there are certain signs the product could get marked down in the near future, like if it's a food product that isn't selling too well or if it's a seasonal product whose season is ending. In those cases, you can probably wait until the price gets marked down.

Any other price ending in "9" besides .99, such as .49, .59, .69, .79, .89, etc., shows something a little bit different. These indicate that Costco received a special deal from the manufacturer and is passing the savings on to the customers. However, they haven't yet been marked down by Costco and are still considered "regular price." These may or may not be good deals — it really varies from product to product. You're likely still getting a good deal on the product compared to other retailers, as businesses often test new prices at Costco to see how they perform. Although products with prices that end in a "9" haven't been marked down yet, you can at least assume that they won't be running out of the product any time soon (unless it has an asterisk on the price card, more on that below).

If The Price Ends In .00 Or .88, It's A Special Manager Markdown

Costco price card
Costco price card - YouTube

If you find a price tag that ends in .00 or .88, know that these are rarer prices that indicate special cases for the product that are considered a "Manager's Special." It could be a defective product that a customer returned, a floor model that's been in the store for a while, or simply the last few units the manager is trying to move quickly. Most often, you won't find these products up in high-traffic areas throughout the store but rather in hidden corners of the store (or even on the back of a flatbed truck). These products might even have a designated "close-out" area of the store with a sign that indicates both the original and new price or even have a sign that says it's the "last one" of its kind in the store.

Although you could be getting a fantastic deal on these products, approach with caution. There's a reason why these products have been marked down so much. It could be damaged or even missing essential parts. On the other hand, it could be simply superficial damage to the product's packaging. With that in mind, know that another customer could snatch it quickly, so make a decision when you see one of these price tags ending in .88 or .00. If you purchase it and find that it's not up to your standards, you can always return it again.

Asterisks On Price Tags Mean You Probably Won't See Them Again

Costco price card with asterisk
Costco price card with asterisk - YouTube

Not only are the numbers in the prices a sort of "secret code," but there are symbols on the price tags you must also pay attention to. The most important one can be found in the upper right-hand corner of the price card in the form of an asterisk (*). If you see this symbol, it means the product you're looking for is the last of its kind and will not be restocked again in the future. Although it might mean the price has been marked down, it doesn't always, so pay attention to the numbers on the price tag as well. The asterisk is added to products of all kinds, no matter what the price ends in.

There can be many reasons why your Costco isn't bringing back the product like the product being replaced with a newer version. Of course, it might just not be selling well. No matter the reason, if you're considering buying it, now's the time. If you go home to think about it, it's highly likely it won't be around the next time you come to the warehouse superstore. If you do find that it's sold out from your Costco, you can have a manager check to see if any other Costcos still have the product remaining. Again, it might be a better choice to go ahead and pull the trigger, seeing as Costco has one of the best return policies around.

The Little Date On The Bottom Right Of The Price Card Tells You When The Price Was Last Updated

date on Costco price tag
date on Costco price tag - YouTube

The big numbers that show the price of the product aren't the only numbers you should pay attention to. As mentioned earlier, if you look at the bottom right corner of the price tag just under the price, you'll find a small date. This number shows when the price tag was last updated, which means you can actually make an educated guess on when the next price update might be.

There are a few signs you can pay attention to that may signal a price markdown. If the date is more than a few weeks old and you notice that there's plenty of product left on the shelves, the product might be ripe for another markdown. However, ensure that the price tag doesn't have an asterisk in the top right of the card — this means that the product won't be restocked again in the near future. Keep that in mind if you frequently shop at Costco. You might score extra savings if you wait until your next trip to pick up the product. Also, remember that prices that end in .97 (prices that have been marked down) can still have their prices reduced again.

With that said, some employees have commented online that price tags are reprinted all the time, changing the dates along with them. Either way, it's worth checking for patterns the next time you go shopping.

Some Products Offer Instant Rebates Highlighted In Yellow

instant rebate card from Costco
instant rebate card from Costco - YouTube

As you shop through Costco, you'll likely notice several products that offer instant rebates. You can also find these deals in the monthly coupon books (although you don't need to worry about bringing coupons, the discounts are automatically added). On the price tag, you'll typically see the original cost of the product with the highlighted rebate just under it, then the final price of the product. Depending on what country you're in, Costco also has a section of its website dedicated to displaying these rebates as "Offers" or "In-Warehouse Savings."

These instant rebates usually come straight from the product's manufacturers, but you'll get the discount at Costco's register. There are often rebates on refillable products like shaving razor blades, electric toothbrush refills, shampoo and conditioner, dishwashing detergent, and more. You can even find them on food products, clothes, expensive jewelry, and furniture. However, keep an eye out for these deals because they aren't always around. They only happen at certain times of the year, so make sure you stock up on your favorite products when you see them.

End Of Holiday Markdowns Are Some Of The Best

holiday products at Costco
holiday products at Costco - Facebook

When the holidays come around, there are plenty of holiday savings to be had at Costco. The company will typically send out a coupon booklet specifically for the holidays that start in November. You'll find discounts on holiday-related items like Christmas trees and decorations but also big markdowns on jewelry, furniture, clothes, TVs, food, and more. If you're looking to pick up specific holiday decorations from Costco, make sure to get them early, as many holiday items that sell out probably won't be restocked. If you're trying to decide whether that 7-foot inflatable snowman would look good on your lawn, you might need to decide quickly before they're all gone. Holiday food, on the other hand, will usually stick around for a while.

However, true savings enthusiasts know the best deals can be found after the holidays come to a close. Like most stores, Costco is eager to get rid of holiday-related inventory after Christmas, so you can find pretty big markdowns on things like Christmas cards, wrapping paper, and more. If you're serious about savings, you can always pick up items after the holidays come to a close and save them for next year. This isn't just for the winter holidays, either. At the end of summer, Costco is typically looking to move outdoor products like flower pots, lawn-related products, and outdoor furniture.

You Don't Ever Need To Bring Your Coupon Booklet To Costco

coupons from Costco
coupons from Costco - YouTube

Gone are the days of meticulously cutting out every single coupon you need out of grocery store discount booklets. Although new coupon booklets are mailed to Costco members' homes every month, you never need to bring any coupons into the store to get the discount. Any item that has a discount associated with it will automatically be added when it gets rung up at the register.

It's also important to note that even if the manufacturer sends out its own coupons for its products that might be on Costco's shelves, the warehouse superstore won't accept them. Just bring your membership card and your wallet, and you'll score all the savings you found in the coupon booklet and any instant rebates you see on the price cards in the store. If you seem to have misplaced your monthly coupon booklet and want to know what deals are happening at your local Costco, there are plenty of sources online that upload pictures of the booklet — so just give it a quick Google search.

Another expert tip: there are other smart ways to use technology to ensure you're always getting the best savings at Costco. There are plenty of third-party deal websites that now only allow you to find further savings on your favorite products, but you can also set deal alerts so that you know right when certain products are on sale.

If You Buy Something And It Goes On Sale Within 30 Days, You Can Get A Refund For The Difference

people buying wine at Costco
people buying wine at Costco - Bloomberg/Getty Images

It's not just the massive savings and bulk merchandise that people love about Costco — it's the company's incredible return policy as well. The warehouse superstore is very lenient about what you can return. It advertises its return policy as "risk-free" and a "100% satisfaction guarantee" on almost all items and even its membership. This means if you buy a huge pack of canned soup and don't like it after the first can, you can return the rest of the pack with no worries. The only exceptions to this rule include specific items such as electronics, diamonds and watches, bullion, and hearing aid products.

Not only is Costco's return policy great, but they also have a price adjustment policy on items that go on sale. If you purchase something that goes on sale later, you can return the original item and repurchase it at the marked-down price. Just remember the promotional sales price needs to have been introduced within 30 days of the time you purchased or ordered the product.

There are three different ways you can get a price adjustment for a product you purchased. You can simply visit the customer service desk at your local Costco and ask for a refund, fill out a form online (you'll need an online account for this), or call their online customer service to see if you can get a refund immediately.

All Costco Items Have A Two-Year Satisfaction Guarantee

woman pushing full cart
woman pushing full cart - Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images

The best part about Costco's 100% satisfaction guarantee? For most products, it virtually lasts forever. With the exception of items like electronics, diamonds, cigarettes, alcohol, and products like batteries, the satisfaction guarantee is up to two years (although some people say there isn't a limit), so make sure you hold on to all of your receipts if for any reason you run into an issue with an item that you bought. If you don't hold on to your original receipt, you might not be refunded for the full amount that you paid and might just be reimbursed with a marked-down price.

There have been plenty of crazy things returned to Costco after a long period of time, such as 10-year-old refrigerators, used toilets, smelly rugs, a bag of cat food (without the bag), dead Christmas trees, and 13-year-old frozen fish. Costco employees have reported that almost entire bags of food have been returned because they didn't taste good — even going as far as picking bones clean of meat and returning them because they weren't good quality. Others have said that customers have brought in dead plants like trees and flowers to the return desk. We definitely don't condone unethical returns — but it is nice to know Costco really takes its policy seriously. However, keep in mind memberships can be revoked if the return policy is abused.

Read the original article on Mashed.