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Why Costco Makes It So Hard to Find Products in Stores, Employees Reveal

Do you notice this during your weekly or monthly Costco visit?

Costco warehouses can be pretty overwhelming. The buildings themselves average 146,000 square feet in size, according to the company's website, and carry about 4,000 different items. You might enjoy selecting items from the sky-high shelves, but when you're looking for something specific, you don't want to waste time wandering around. If you've noticed that your trail mix or toothpaste isn't in the same spot, your mind's not playing tricks on you. Costco employees say that the wholesaler intentionally makes it difficult to find certain items. Read on to find out what employees revealed about Costco's store layout and why it's called a "treasure hunt."

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Things are moved around on purpose.

San Leandro, CA/USA - March 17, 2020: Aisle full of spices at Costco Wholesale.

If you're a regular shopper at your local Costco, you might feel like you've got a pulse on where things are kept, but the wholesaler is quick to challenge you there.

As The Daily Meal reported, in the r/Costco subreddit, former employees revealed that the wholesaler intentionally moves products around the warehouse. When questions arose about why Costco shuffles inventory, an ex-employee confirmed it's "so that people have to search the store for what they want." As a result, they're likely to add more items to their cart and spend more.

Shoppers aren't alone in their frustration, as this also presents a challenge for employees. "I am an employee and I wish that there was a map that at least I could have to help others (and for go-backs!)," one employee wrote. A Costco shopping cart attendant added, "Whenever a member asks me where something is I am just as lost as they are lmao."

According to a 10-year Costco employee, seasonal items are the most commonly moved around, as opposed to staple items. Even so, it's still a headache for workers who aren't sure where things ended up. "If a member asks for such and such, the only way to know IF WE STILL HAVE IT is to look it up on the computer. Which happens countless times a day," an employee wrote on the subreddit.

This is the company's "treasure hunt" model.

inside costco warehouse
a katz / Shutterstock

You might now be thinking about your local Costco's setup—have you noticed that there's no store map or information marking the aisles? It's all by design. As employees point out, Costco wants you to browse and walk past other merchandise and bulk goods.

TikToker @humphreytalks outlines this as part of Costco's business model. "When it comes to finding things in the Costco store, you naturally just have to take your time and walk around most of the store," he explains in a March 2022 TikTok video. "Taking time to go through the store is what Costco wants you to do. You see, the layout of the store and the way that it's been set up has actually been called a treasure hunt atmosphere."

Surprisingly, Costco somewhat owns up to this. While it doesn't explicitly state that items are intentionally moved around, the wholesaler does confirm that you're likely to see different inventory every time you shop.

"One of the most exciting things about shopping in our warehouses is you never know the kind of incredible deals you'll find from one visit to the next!" a webpage explaining its "treasure hunt atmosphere" reads. "Costco members know the trick to getting the best value on exclusive or one-time-buy merchandise: Visit often!" The wholesaler adds that it will "rotate out and introduce new merchandise all the time," and encourages you to buy an item when you see it so you don't miss out.

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Members are split on the store policy.

Costco checkout lines
Tada Images /

The policy has some Costco members frustrated, as they don't particularly enjoy "hunting" for everything on their list.

"Ugh I went yesterday and it was so annoying! It's such a crowded store and my cart is hard to maneuver so it was just a pain to find things again and I felt I had to keep asking employees," one shopper wrote on the r/Costco subreddit. "I usually plan my route based on where things are…[it] did not motivate me to buy more since I didn't know where anything was!"

Another member added that they get frustrated when they can't find things, which then discourages them from impulse buying. "I hate when this happens…I usually just head to checkout after a few extra minutes looking for whatever it was," they wrote.

But other customers said they don't really mind—unless they're in a rush. "I know this [policy] and usually don't mind," a Redditor wrote. "It is annoying when I have to do an after work run and am trying to get in and out before closing. Or when they are demolishing freezers and moving those to a different part of the store."

Costco isn't the only store that does this, shoppers say.

Trader Joe's discount retailer storefront, shopping carts - Saugus, Massachusetts USA

On another thread of the r/Costco subreddit, some were quick to mention that this is a pretty common business model for other stores.

"This isn't just Costco it's literally almost every store that exists. It's merchandising 101," one comment reads. "Move things around so people have to spend more time looking in your store. The more time someone spends in your store, the more money they spend in your store."

Many pointed to Trader Joe's as another retailer that moves things around on purpose. "They do their best to place top selling items throughout the store, to encourage you to explore," one comment reads, while another says, "My TJs moved their spices for the third time in a year recently."

Abby Reinhard
Abby Reinhard is a Senior Editor at Best Life, covering daily news and keeping readers up to date on the latest style advice, travel destinations, and Hollywood happenings. Read more
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