Costco provides members with the ability to buy household goods and groceries in bulk sizes at discounted prices so that families can make fewer grocery trips and save money.
Large grocery trips can get hectic, especially if you bring additional family members with you to “help.”
You may end up discovering that you bought the wrong product when you get home and finish unloading the car.
Can you return the item to Costco?
What if the kids accidentally threw the receipt away with the plastic bags and you can’t find it?
Can you return items without the receipt?
We cover everything you need to know about returns at Costco (and whether you’ll need a receipt).
Costco Return Policy Without A Receipt
Costco proudly promises customers a “risk-free 100% satisfaction guarantee” return policy.
To uphold its promise, Costco accepts returns of unused items with or without a receipt, in many cases, with no expiration as to when you can process the return.
Costco will also process returns for used products and products that don’t contain the original packaging.
Some of the reasons you can return items to Costco include:
- Change of heart
- Accidental purchase
- Received incorrect item
- Delivery refusal
- Missing item (replacement only)
- Lost shipment
Thanks to these generous policies, Costco boasts one of the best return policies in retail.
However, they still have some small regulations they follow regarding the items they will refund.
Costco will not accept returns for products that are missing accessories or products that have clearly been damaged by the customer.
They also can’t accept returns for exceptionally old perishables, such as three-week-old moldy bread.
Essentially, they won’t take back any open perishables or any perishables past the expiration date.
You also must be a member to make a return at Costco.
At the very least, you will need to have the receipt or the membership ID of the buyer if you plan to return an item for someone else (if you make a lot of returns for a particular member, talk to them about adding you as an approved person on their account).
You cannot have another member return something you bought on an old membership.
If your membership expired before you could make a return, you will need to renew your membership or keep the item.
You will no longer have access to the store or the online self-service return.
Even if you bought the item the day before and never took it out of the box, you must pay for membership to take advantage of the return policy.
How Costco Can Find Your Purchase Without A Receipt
Your membership card not only gets you into the warehouse, but it also connects all of your purchases to your account.
Cashiers can quickly and easily locate the receipt in question by looking at the transactions under your account.
All refunds go back to the payment method used to make the purchase.
Costco accepts different payment methods in-store and online.
While most products come with a lifetime guarantee, some products only have a 90-day return window.
Costco items with a 90-day return window include:
- MP3 players
As you see, all of the items on the list are electronics.
Due to the fast-paced nature of the industry and planned obsolescence, the standard return policy just doesn’t make sense for the manufacturer.
Still, 90 days to return a television or water heater seems more than fair.
To reduce returns of electronics, Costco offers free troubleshooting services on electronic products with the hope that proper training will convince customers to keep the products.
When returning purchases you bought online, you will find the self-service system won’t allow you to process certain products that you will need to return at a warehouse location:
- Prescription glasses and other optical products
- Digital media
- Event tickets
- Apple products
Some products you can return but the return comes with additional requirements.
For example, diamonds that weigh over one carat must pass inspection from a gemologist before Costco will accept a return.
Furthermore, some products can’t be returned at all, including:
- Car tires
- Car batteries
- Personalized items
- Gift cards
You also won’t be able to return products that have been used or don’t contain all of the accessories that came with them.
Returning Products Bought At A Store
Products bought at one of the Costco store locations can only be returned in-store.
You can return the product to any location and not only the location you bought it at.
However, you cannot return items that you bought in a store online.
- Visa credit cards
- Debit/ATM Cards
- Mobile Wallets (Apple Pay, Google Pay, Samsung Pay)
- Costco Shop Cards (gift cards)
- EBT cards
The notable missing link in this list is the other credit card companies outside of Visa.
Costco has an agreement with Visa.
As part of the agreement, Costco POS systems only accept Visa credit cards.
You cannot pay for your items with a Mastercard, Discover, or American Express credit product.
You can use any type of debit card, though.
When you enter the store, you will head to the return desk with the product in question.
It does not matter if you have the receipt with you or not.
At the return desk, the associate will process your return.
Return perishables as quickly as possible so that you don’t end up getting your return denied for waiting an unreasonable amount of time.
(Costco must have processes in place that ensure people don’t come back with abandoned food they left in the fridge too long hoping to get their money back.)
Returning Products Bought Online
Items you bought online can be returned at a store or through the mail.
Payment methods accepted online:
- All Visa Cards
- Discover Cards (Including JCB and Diners Club)
- Most PIN-based Debit/ATM Cards
- Costco Shop Cards*
You cannot pay for your items online with your EBT card, checks, or your mobile wallet.
You cannot return an item you purchased online with a Discover card in store for a refund.
However, you can get store credit.
To process a return online, you simply log into your account and locate the items you want to return under the “Orders and Returns” tab.
When you find the correct transaction, you will see an itemized list of the items you bought during that transaction.
Next to each product, you will have the option to select a box labeled “return item.”
Be sure to mark every product you want to return.
Remember that you can’t return produce and a couple of other items through the self-service return method.
Once you select all items you want to return, you will continue through a couple of screens to complete the refund request and receive a return label.
Package all items in a shipping box and attach the shipping label to the outside of the box.
Returning Extra Large Items
It’s one thing to return a sweater or a pair of headphones through the mail.
It’s another thing when you need to return a refrigerator or a water heater.
For extra-large items, you will need to schedule a time for Costco to come pick up the item for you.
You will get information about how to schedule your pickup after you process the return.
The freight carrier will arrive at your home and pick up the item in the same way it was delivered:
- Curbside: Have your item dropped off outside in your driveway or near the curb. You have the option to select a delivery window and require a signature or not.
- Threshold: Freight delivery where the delivery driver crosses the threshold just barely into your home to ensure your item doesn’t get left outside. Access to home and signature required.
- White Glove: High-end freight delivery services that include unpacking and placing the item in the general area where it will be installed and inspecting it to ensure that the product arrived as expected.
Nonmembers Returning Gifts
What happens if you’re a nonmember who wants to return something to Costco they received as a gift?
You will not get stuck with an unwanted gift just because you don’t have a membership to Costco.
Nonmembers can return gifts as long as they have the member ID of the person who bought the item.
They will get a store credit that they can use toward whatever they want.
Refund For Your Costco Membership
Costco allows you to refund your annual Costco membership up to 364 days after you purchase it.
It doesn’t matter how often you used the membership or not.
If you don’t like the service, you can get your money back for pretty much any reason as long as you request the refund on that 364th day or earlier.
Your membership will renew at 365 days.
At that point, you will not qualify for a refund on the previous year’s membership.
However, you can get a refund for the renewal (although you may as well use it a couple of times first).
Despite the ability to get a refund for the membership, more people prefer to keep the membership and the savings they get with it.
What Does Costco Do With Returned Items?
With such a generous return policy, you may wonder what Costco does with the returned products.
Most unused products that still have the original packaging end up back on the sales floor at a discounted rate.
Costco practices an open-door policy when it comes to returned products and doesn’t attempt to disguise the products as brand new.
They mark down the rate appropriately, as well.
You can still return discounted items that someone else returned before you.
Of course, you will only get a refund or store credit for the amount you paid, not the full price.
Used items and items without proper packaging that still work and look satisfactory get sold at liquidation auctions to make up as much of the cost of the item as possible.
Ruined items and perishables get discarded.
Costco eats the cost of these items.
How Costco Minimizes Return Expenses And Return Fraud
With such a generous return program, it won’t come to you as any surprise that some customers will attempt to abuse the system, adding to the already expensive program’s cost.
For example, one customer returned an empty bottle of wine saying that it gave her a headache.
Yet another customer returned a dead Christmas tree in late January.
Both customers got the refunds that they asked for.
Clearly, Costco needs to put systems in place that reduce the likelihood of unnecessary returns and return fraud, especially considering their already low markup on the products they sell.
Costco reduces the expense brought on by returned items and minimizes fraud in a number of ways:
- Selling high-quality products
- Attaching all transactions to member accounts
- Offering tech support and friendly staff to answer questions
- Using the impressive return policy to attract customers
- Encouraging store credit as opposed to a refund
- Disposing of unusable returns wisely
- Accounting for returns in the budget
- Tracking customer returns
Customers who make an excessive number of returns may get flagged in Costco’s system.
Customers who blatantly take advantage of the return policy can lose their membership.
(It’s unclear if they get a refund for the membership if Costco bans them as a member in the middle of their membership.)
It’s not fair to return a printer seven years after you buy it and expect a full refund, especially when the customer has made an alarming number of returns throughout their time as a consumer.
Costco only asks that customers show integrity in their choices when doing business with them.
Violators can shop at Jewel or Aldi.
Saving Money At Costco
Now that we’ve covered the Costco return policy in excruciating detail, we can talk about the actual shopping.
Use these tips on how to save on your purchases at Costco.
1. Eat Before You Shop
People tend to buy more and buy things they don’t need when they shop hungry (I have a huge tub of cheese balls on my fridge that proves that theory).
Eat before you go shopping at Costco.
You can even buy a hot dog in the food court for a great price to stifle your hunger around all of the food.
2. Opt For Kirkland Signature Brand
Costco makes all Kirkland Signature brand products themselves.
As the manufacturer, they can control quality and sell the products at a reduced rate.
The products reliably taste great and have a slightly lower price tag than the competition.
3. Know The Signs
Products that end in $0.97 are clearance items.
If an item has an asterisk by it, that indicates that Costco will eventually phase that product out.
Buy before you can’t find it anymore.
4. Avoid Bulk Perishables
Some people get so excited about low bulk prices that they buy things they won’t use.
Buying extra toilet paper or cans of tuna won’t matter since you can store those items almost forever.
However, some items will go bad before you manage to eat them all.
You may think that six packages of refrigerated lunchmeat for $20 sounds like a great deal, but if you only eat one package before the other five go bad, you would have been better off spending $10 on the one package.
If you simply can’t resist the savings, consider freezing some of your groceries for a later date.
Costco offers one of the best, if not the best, return policies of popular grocery store chains and retailers in general.
Despite the extra cost to them, they manage to make it work by keeping customers happy and staying alert for customers who attempt to fraud the system.
If you do have a legitimate return, and we all do from time to time, rest assured you won’t have to search for the receipt.