Costco employee
Brace yourself for a treasure hunt.
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  • Costco stores can be tricky to navigate.
  • That’s because the store is known to move items around constantly, in a bid to get you to buy more.
  • But employees know how to navigate — and which people you should (and shouldn’t) ask for help.

Costco stores are like sprawling labyrinths, with bulk-sized pallets and free samples instead of a fearsome Minotaur.

But, as a result, they can be pretty hard to navigate. That’s not a result of poor planning, though. It’s by design.

“I think people assume stuff isn’t there when they can’t find it right away,” an employee with two years of experience told Business Insider. “Costco is a scavenger hunt.”

Costco warehouse designer Stan Laegreid wrote in Fast Company that the store layouts function as a large “racetrack” that exposes shoppers to “a greater number of products.”

Business Insider recently spoke with 46 Costco employees. A number of these store employees had tips for navigating the store and having a better shopping experience, whether you’re a first-time shopper or a pro looking to hone your browsing skills.

Here’s how to get around the store without getting lost or spending a fortune:

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Have your membership card ready when you walk in

And stay off your phone.
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Get off to a good start by entering the store in an efficient manner. Employees recommended having your membership card ready to go as you walk in. Otherwise, you could end up delaying other customers.

“Concentrate on handing me your membership card instead of telling me a story,” a Costco employee with eight years of experience said. “I can listen to your story as I do whatever you need me to do, but I can’t do that until I have your membership card.”

A 25-year Costco veteran said that shoppers should get off their phones and focus on handing over their membership cards.

Six Costco employees also told Business Insider that members should always follow the rules and not share their membership cards with family or friends. The resulting confusion can cause problems at the front of the store.


Learn the general layout

The front of the store is a danger zone.
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Costco stores may be somewhat confusing, but most tend to follow a certain layout.

The front of the store is usually a danger zone for impulsive shoppers. That’s where Costco keeps more expensive and temporary displays.

Laegreid wrote that members will see “‘luxe’ offerings of televisions, computers, and electronics” at the front of the store, as well as “exotic” items like fancy handbags and watches.

“They may be for sale at a much reduced price, but likely for only a fleeting moment,” he wrote.

Business Insider’s Kate Taylor reported that the middle of the store — or “center court” tends to house the best deals.

Essentials like fresh food are toward the back, in order to draw people in.

“The very outside of the track is home to practical staples, including toilet paper, whose location requires consumers to pass many impulse buys,” Laegreid wrote.


Know what items tend to move around

The basics don’t move.
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“Be alert,” an employee who has been with Costco for 10 years told Business Insider. “Most of our regular items stay in the same spot. The things that move are seasonal — furniture, flowers, and holiday decor.”

But a Costco employee from Minnesota said you should never assume that “every…