Costco Wholesale store
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The Big Differences Between Costco and Costco.com

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Costco Wholesale store
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Costco vs. Costco.com

In this brave new world of ecommerce, plenty of stores have tried to make their websites a seamless extension of the bricks-and-mortar shopping experience. But even the biggest Costco fans would probably admit that shopping at Costco.com is nothing like their beloved trips to the warehouse club, and Costco itself has admitted that online retail hasn’t been a focus in the past. That doesn’t mean you should write off Costco’s website, but there are quirks you should know before you buy online. Here are the biggies. 


Prices and availability are subject to change.


Related: Don’t Miss These Holiday Gift Bargains From Costco

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However, You'll Pay a Surcharge

No, you don't have to be a member to shop at Costco.com, but you'll pay for the privilege. You'll get hit with a 5% surcharge upon checkout — and that's often enough to eat up a substantial part of the savings you'll get by choosing Costco in the first place. Shop in person with a member, and there's no such fee. 


Related: Costco or Sam's Purchases That Make Back the Membership Fee

Some Items are Off-Limits, Too
Costco

Some Items Are Off-Limits, Too

Another drawback for nonmembers who want to shop online: Certain items won't be available at all, as they'll require a member log-in to buy. This is most often the case with big-ticket electronics (think Apple, Samsung, or Dyson) and popular kitchen brands (Ninja, Calphalon, or Cuisinart) but can pop up across categories.


Related: Surprisingly Good Costco, Walmart, and Target Products

Costco peanut butter
Costco

Prices Are Often Higher Online

Here's one of the most important differences between Costco and Costco.com: Even if you can find the same item in both places, you may not pay the same price. Costco sometimes rolls shipping and handling fees into the prices of online items, and its business model still largely relies on getting shoppers into the stores for that "treasure hunt" experience. Prices are more likely to be the same on big-ticket purchases such as TVs, but smaller items are often a few bucks cheaper in the warehouse. The cost of convenience can add up.   


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Example Non-Grocery Price Differences
Costco
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Online Grocery Prices Can Be Higher, Too

Bulk food buys are one of Costco's claims to fame, and can save shoppers a mint. Think twice before you try to replicate that online. Costco.com offers nonperishable food and household supplies through 2-Day Delivery, and while there's no delivery fee for orders of $75 or more, items are often still a buck or two more expensive than in-store to cover fulfillment costs, which can add up fast. Savings are also elusive if you need fresh or frozen items, which means you'll have to use same-day delivery by Instacart. The program's pricing accounts for service and delivery fees, and the difference can be significant: Consumer Reports found that its bill was 31% higher using same-day delivery compared with shopping in-store.


Related: Costco vs. Sam's — Which Has Better Prices and Services?

Example 2-Day Grocery Delivery Price Differences
Costco
Instacart
Instacart

Example Same-Day Delivery Price Differences

No one can deny the convenience of same-day grocery delivery from Costco, but you'll pay a premium to use this Instacart-run service. (Don't forget the tip, too.) Here are some recent examples of how prices can differ from buying in-store. (Costco member can view same-day delivery pricing when shopping for current options.)

  • Tuxedo Bar Cake: Regularly priced $16 in-store, $18.71 online
  • Bibigo Fully Cooked Mini Wontons: Regularly priced $10 in-store, $11.69 online
  • Kirkland Signature Meatballs: Regularly priced $17 in-store, $19.88 online
  • Kirkland Signature Bagels: Regularly priced $6 in-store, $8.18 online


Related: Is One of These Online Grocery Services Right For You?

warehouse sales costco
Costco

There's a Bigger Selection Online ...

As massive as the typical Costco is, it doesn't carry that many products. In-store, you may find around 4,000 items; the Walmart down the road may have 30 times that. And while there are select items that can be found only in-store, in general, there are more that are exclusive to Costco.com. In fact, most savvy Costco deal hunters know to look for two main sales each month: Warehouse Savings, which apply to items you'll find in-store and online, and Online-Only Savings, which are items exclusive to Costco.com.

$419,999.99: Price of Most Expensive Diamond Ring
Costco
You Can Buy a Car Through Costco
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Services Vary From In-Store

Costco's in-store services include a pharmacy, photo center, optical department, and tire center, but there's more you can do online — much of which you may not have even realized. Businesses can buy supplies in bulk through the Costco Business Center, plus get discounts on phone services, printing, insurance, and more. Individuals can score discounts on home, auto, and life insurance; get vision or dental benefits; join a prescription savings program; sign up for bottled water delivery, and renovate their home with savings on everything from flooring to HVAC. You can buy a shiny new car through the Costco Auto Program, or book a cut-rate vacation with Costco Travel


Related: Is Costco the Best Place to Buy a Car?

choosing which credit card to use
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Payment Options are Different

In-store, Costco is notorious for accepting one credit card and one credit card only: Visa. Otherwise, shoppers are mostly limited to debit, cash, and check. If you're shopping at Costco.com, the chain isn't quite as discriminating, and you can use your MasterCard or Discover, too (sorry, still no American Express).


Ready to sign up for Costco membership? Apply here.