If you talked to 100 Costco super fans, I think 99 of them would likely agree that as awesome as Costco may be, it does have some flaws. For one thing, the credit card restrictions (Costco only accepts Visa) are annoying. But this isn’t half as annoying as the Costco digital experience.
What do we mean? Costco.com is basically useless for many shoppers. Very little of the warehouse club’s inventory is actually displayed online. This means you can’t see in-store inventory or store prices online or in the mobile app.
While diehard Costco fans are happy to spend their free time in the stores, inventory be darned, us regular folks prefer to know that Costco will have what we’re after before we make the trip. We’d also like some idea of the prices we’re going to pay when we get there.
Well, savvy Costco shoppers have figured out a (moderately successful) workaround for at least part of the problem. All you need is a free Instacart account.
Using Instacart to estimate Costco’s inventory
For those who are unfamiliar, Instacart is a grocery delivery service. You use the app (or website) to digitally shop local stores, then an Instacart shopper will personally shop for and deliver your items.
In addition to a variety of grocery stores and drugstores, Instacart will also let you shop Costco. To do this, Instacart has to provide an inventory of Costco items from the store. This includes the huge range of grocery and frozen items you can’t see on Costco.com.
You don’t need to pay for Instacart to browse items, though you do need to create an Instacart account. On the plus side, that’s free.
So, what’s the catch? According to shoppers, the inventory isn’t 100% accurate. It seems to update about once a day, so you could still wind up seeing something on Instacart that isn’t actually still on the shelf at your local Costco warehouse. Seeing as how Costco.com has zero in-store inventory updating, however, what’s a bit of lag between friends?
Prices vary by an average of around 15%
While Instacart is mostly functional for estimating stock, those who are personal finance-inclined may find it to be less helpful for gauging prices. The price you see on Instacart will rarely be the same as the in-store price — but the difference isn’t consistent.
For one thing, the price you get on Instacart will vary based on whether you’ve given Instacart your Costco membership number or not. If you haven’t, then be prepared to see the typical outrageous Instacart prices with markups averaging around 15% (and peaking around 20%):
|Item||Costco In Store||Instacart||Instacart Markup|
|Kirkland Signature Organic Lemonade, 96 fl oz, 2 ct||$6.99||$7.45||6.17%|
|Kirkland Signature Sharp Cheddar, 2 lb||$6.49||$7.08||8.33%|
|Kirkland Signature Frozen Whole Strawberries, 6 lb||$13.99||$16.16||13.43%|
|Kirkland Signature Flex-Tech Kitchen Bags, 200 X 13 gal||$17.99||$21.14||14.90%|
|Kirkland Signature Organic Free Range Egg USDA Grade A Lg, 24 ct||$7.99||$9.44||15.36%|
|Kirkland Signature Organic Breakfast Blend Coffee, Light, Keurig K-Cup Pods, 120 ct||$36.99||$44.77||17.38%|
|Kirkland Signature Grass-Fed Butter, Salted, 8 oz, 4 ct||$10.99||$13.67||19.6%|
|Kirkland Signature Organic Maple Syrup, 1 L||$12.99||$16.16||19.62%|
Data source: Costco and Instacart.
If you do provide Instacart with your Costco membership number, you could see prices that are much closer to the in-store price (though you may need to add an item to your cart to see the lower price). In fact, the average markup drops to just 3%, though you could still see hikes approaching 10%:
|Item||Costco In Store||Instacart (w/ Costco #)||Instacart Markup (w/ Costco #)|
|Kirkland Signature Organic Maple Syrup, 1 L||$12.99||$14.20||8.52%|
|Kirkland Signature Grass-Fed Butter, Salted, 8 oz, 4 ct||$10.99||$12.01||8.49%|
|Kirkland Signature Organic Breakfast Blend Coffee, Light, Keurig K-Cup Pods, 120 ct||$36.99||$39.35||6.00%|
|Kirkland Signature Organic Free Range Egg USDA Grade A Lg, 24 ct||$7.99||$8.30||3.73%|
|Kirkland Signature Flex-Tech Kitchen Bags, 200 X 13 gal||$17.99||$18.57||3.12%|
|Kirkland Signature Frozen Whole Strawberries, 6 lb||$13.99||$14.20||1.48%|
|Kirkland Signature Sharp Cheddar, 2 lb||$6.49||$6.22||-4.34%|
|Kirkland Signature Organic Lemonade, 96 fl oz, 2 ct||$6.99||$6.55||-6.72%|
Data source: Costco and Instacart.
As you can see, a couple items are actually cheaper on Instacart than at Costco. This will likely vary a lot based on your specific location and the current Instacart sales.
If you see good deals and/or are already an Instacart member, it could be beneficial to place the occasional order. Instacart orders typically code as a grocery store for rewards cards, which could help you earn better rewards than if you shopped directly at Costco.
If all else fails, call your Costco store
We live in a digital world, so many of us default to looking for digital solutions. But, as the Instacart workaround shows, sometimes there simply aren’t high-quality digital solutions to our problems.
That’s when you need to go old school. Yep, I’m talking about the telephone. You see, your smartphone isn’t just for apps — it also makes phone calls!
If you really need to know about the in-stock status or price of a given item, you can always call your local warehouse to ask. In most cases, the folks answering the phone are more than happy to check on an item or price, especially if you’re polite and friendly.
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