Costco famously offers unique deals on many products, from food to gasoline. But to shop in its stores, you generally need to be a member, which means paying an annual fee. To apply for membership, you can stop by a Costco store or simply apply online for the level of membership that's right for you. There are also a few other stores that offer similar discounts, and there are limited ways to get Costco products without a membership.
Costco Membership Levels
In order to shop at Costco stores, you generally need to be a member. The chain actually makes the majority of its profits from annual membership fees, not from actual item sales.
Costco offers a few types of membership, including a "Gold Star" level that gives you the right to shop at the store, a "Business" level that grants access to a limited number of workers at a company and a higher-priced "Executive" level that also includes cash-back offers on Costco purchases.
After you choose the level of membership that's right for you, you can either join online or stop by a Costco store to purchase a membership.
If you don't want to become a Costco member, there are other stores that might offer a reasonable alternative.
Sam's Club, which is owned by Walmart, offers a similar membership model at slightly different price points. If the membership prices make more sense for your needs, or the stores are closer to you than the nearest Costco locations or you prefer Sam's Club merchandise, it might make sense to join Sam's Club instead of Costco.
An online vendor called Boxed also claims to offer some of the price advantages of warehouse club stores like Costco without the membership requirement. If you're on the fence about joining Costco, it can be worth checking Boxed's website or smartphone apps to see if it has the deals you want without the fee.
Shopping Costco Without a Membership
There are also a few ways to get Costco's deals without actually getting a membership. One is to use the delivery service Instacart, which will deliver goods from Costco even to non-members.
Another method is to use a Costco Cash Card, which is similar to a gift card. Only members are allowed to buy the cards, but even non-members can use them to shop in the store.
You can also get access to certain goods and services without being a Costco member. For instance, you can generally fill prescriptions at Costco's pharmacy and get hearing and eye exams in stores that offer them. You may, however, have to be a member to purchase related items at the store like hearing aids, glasses or contact lenses.
In some states, stores like Costco aren't allowed to restrict alcohol sales to members, so depending on where you live, you may also be able to enjoy Costco's low-priced alcoholic beverages without having to get a membership.
- You can also apply for a membership card online by going to Costco.com and clicking the membership link. Once your application is complete, your membership card will be sent to you by mail within 10 days.
- You can apply for a membership card by mail by calling Costco at 1-800-774-2678 and asking them to fax you a membership form. You can then mail the form with your membership payment to their Seattle office.
Steven Melendez is an independent journalist with a background in technology and business. He has written for a variety of business publications including Fast Company, the Wall Street Journal, Innovation Leader and Ad Age. He was awarded the Knight Foundation scholarship to Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism.