The 20 Worst Things to Buy at Costco
Some of these Costco products are low quality and others just shouldn't be purchased in bulk.
As one of the retail giants specializing in bulk items, Costco has it all, from clothing and electronics to baked goods and meats. And, thanks to the can't-beat prices, it can be far too easy to fill up your shopping cart. However, the next time you impulsively grab something off the shelf, you may want to think twice, as retail experts say certain items aren't worth your money. Keep reading to find out the worst things to buy at Costco.
Name-brand items when Kirkland is available
Julie Ramhold, a consumer analyst with the shopping comparison site DealNews.com, shares that when given the choice, she always opts for the Kirkland Signature brand over the name brand.
"The Kirkland Signature items are just as good if not better than their name-brand counterparts," she says. "In fact, I'm still sad that our Costco stopped carrying Kirkland Signature chocolate hazelnut spread because it was leagues better than Nutella in my opinion."
Kristen Gall, a retail and shopping expert from the cash-back service Rakuten, adds that Kirkland Signature items are often sold at a fraction of the cost of their name-brand counterparts.
Grey Goose Vodka
"If you're looking for decent vodka, don't buy the Grey Goose label," says Vivian T., a former Costco employee, now lifestyle blogger. "Find the Kirkland brand vodka and pay half of what you would for the overpriced Grey Goose."
Though it's long been a rumor that Kirkland brand vodka is the same as Grey Goose, the latter has put out an official statement that they do not manufacture vodka for Costco. But shoppers still say the store brand is a great product.
We know this one hurts a lot of die-hard Costco fans. After all, the rotisserie chickens have dark, crispy skin and juicy meat and are only $5. But according to Consumer Reports, there's a reason they're so cheap.
In early 2021, animal rights group Mercy for Animals released a video of a Costco chicken farm in Nebraska, which "showed swollen, injured, and deformed chickens living in a crowded, darkened warehouse," per Consumer Reports.
After much public outcry, Mercy for Animals asked the company to sign the Better Chicken Commitment that sets standards for animal welfare, sustainability, and food quality. Though competitor BJ's, along with other companies like Burger King and Subway, have signed it, Costco refused.
And if it affects your decision, celebrity chef David Chang has called it "the worst rotisserie chicken," reported Eat This, Not That! "They're not good. They're not seasoned," he added on his podcast in Jan. 2023.
Those over-the-counter medications may not be as good of a deal as they appear.
"That blister pack of two huge bottles of fish oil or multivitamins is a great deal, but before purchasing, give some thought to how quickly you will use them," advises smart shopping expert Trae Bodge. "If several people in your home are taking the same supplement, do it! But if it's just you, those pills might reach their use-by date before you can use them all."
"Instead, buy smaller quantities from a local drug store or big box retailer, and stick with the generic brand to save up to 30 percent," suggests savings expert Andrea Woroch. Since generic meds are required by the FDA to be as effective and safe as the name-brand drug, it's a no-brainer way to save."
While Costco's prices on baby supplies may seem too good to pass up, it could be a larger mistake.
"Is your rapidly growing baby really going to fit that diaper size for the amount of time it'll take to reach the bottom of the box? Or how about formula?" notes Bodge. "You feel like you're going through it like water until you realize that it's time to introduce solid food or your baby decides that they no longer like the brand you bought a case of."
RELATED: The 10 Worst Things to Buy at Sam's Club.
Liquid cleaning products
You might be surprised that home cleaning products can also go bad before you get your full money's worth.
"Liquid detergents tend to degrade over time, so while that huge bottle of Tide is a great deal, you may be using an inferior product by the time you get to the bottom," Bodge says. "Of course, if you are doing laundry for multiple family members, you should be OK."
"Unless you have a big family or are a heavy user of said items, much of the perishable items you buy [at Costco] will only end up in the trash," advises Pam Danziger, market researcher and founder of Unity Marketing.
"It's not that it isn't quality produce—it can be really great—but unless you're going to be able to eat it all fairly soon, you run the risk of it going bad," agrees Ramhold.
As an alternative, Danziger personally shops for these items at Aldi, especially fruits and vegetables. "Aldi offers excellent quality at great prices but in useable-sized quantities."
Bulk frozen produce
Sure, frozen foods stay good much longer than fresh produce. But be thoughtful about just how long it will take you to go through that 10-pound bag of frozen broccoli because it will still lose quality and taste.
"Even oversized bags of frozen berries are not the best buy, because when you keep opening and closing the bag, the food can get freezer burn," Woroch says. "For this reason, I prefer to buy fresh produce as needed for the week and keep bulk purchases to pantry items that have a long shelf life."
Skincare and makeup
Even if the price is right, don't overdo it on those Costco beauty products that come in "massive bottles or multi-packs," says Bodge.
"Several beauty items typically have a lifespan ranging from six months to one year before reaching their expiration date," explains Samantha Landau, consumer expert at TopCashback.com. "Therefore, it's crucial to consider whether you'll be able to use the product within this specified timeframe when making a purchase."
Face creams and sunscreen, for example, can expire or lose their efficacy before you've been able to finish them.
Landau also notes that Costco is not guaranteed to have the same products twice, so if you find a makeup item you like, it might not be there the next time you need to restock.
Costco's free samples are typically among customers' favorite reasons for shopping there. But beware of impulsively dropping these items into your cart.
"You might like that tasty morsel in the tiny paper cup enough to toss a case in your cart, but don't do so before reading the box," explains Bodge. "Prepared foods can often be high in calories, fat, and sodium, so get better acquainted before buying."
Bodge recommends thinking twice before buying bulk amounts of salty snacks.
"When you're strolling the aisles of Costco, those giant tubs of cheese curls or pretzels can be tempting!" she says. "These snacks are typically a good deal from a price perspective, especially if you have several people eating them at home or if you're planning a party, but if it's just you and your partner or roommate at home, they can go stale before you have a chance to finish the container or lead to overindulging."
Buying big bottles of ketchup, mayo, or mustard might not be the best move at Costco. "Those jumbo sizes can go bad or lose flavor before you even make a dent. Plus, storing them can be a hassle if you're short on space," says Landau.
"Who wants to dip into a mayonnaise jar that is six months old," adds Danziger.
You can get a great deal on spices, but if they lose their taste and potency by the time you get to use them, you've committed to a huge volume of what eventually amounts to an inferior product.
"Buying spices at Costco is generally a fantastic deal, but spices don't stay fresh for very long," Bodge says. "Spices are at their freshest within six months. Will you finish that huge container of cumin in that time?"
When it comes to the price per can, these food items may not actually be cheaper at Costco.
"Opt to buy canned goods at your local grocery store, which can be anywhere from 20 to 30 percent less and are often on sale," Gall says. "Most people don't need 20 cans of beans!"
Bread and pastries
Fresh bread and pastries don't have that long of a shelf life. Plus, Costco may not have the best prices.
"Unless you have a large family, it's better to purchase bread and other pastries from smaller grocery store chains," says Gina Zakaria, author of the budget blog Saving Whiz. "They'll go on sale about every three weeks, and the sale price is cheaper than Costco."
If you're cost-conscious—and if you're a devoted Costco shopper, you probably are—you'll want to take a second look at Cereal prices.
"I have found that certain cereals aren't always cheaper at Costco," Bodge says. "Before heading to Costco to stock up on cereal, compare the unit price at the grocery store to make sure that Costco is a better deal."
You might think you're getting a good deal on soda at Costco, but it may not be cheaper than at the regular supermarket.
"Sodas are usually significantly discounted already at the local grocery store, so huge bulk purchases won't save you much," notes Gall.
Experts say Costco's book section is not the best place to pick up new titles.
"Costco generally has a small selection of books that cover a wide variety of genres, so it can be harder to find exactly what you're looking for," Ramhold says. "You're better off shopping dedicated bookstores like Barnes & Noble or Books-A-Million, or even better, supporting small indie bookshops."
That spectacular-seeming electronics deal might not be the bargain you think it is.
"Make sure you are reviewing any gadget details to make sure it has all the features you're looking for," Woroch says. "Manufacturers often partner with these warehouse stores to create exclusive versions of their popular TVs and laptops that they can sell at a lower price, but these models could be missing key features."
Woroch advises shopping around and comparing prices before settling on Costco. "Potentially opt for a refurbished model from a store like Best Buy to save instead."
School and office supplies
Although these products don't expire, this is an area where Costco may not be the best bet for bargains.
"School and office supplies are really expensive at Costco," says Zakaria. "You can find a much better deal by shopping at Target or Walmart during their back-to-school shopping sales."
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