Costco infuriates customers by constantly moving things around the store — and employees say it's a brilliant strategy

Costco store landscapes often prove to be confusing treks for unassuming shoppers.

On one trip, the light bulbs are in their usual spot. The next, they're gone. What gives? Why do products always seem to be moving around? Why isn't everything easier to find?

It's a question that a number of shoppers have taken to Quora and Reddit to ask — because having to go on a scavenger hunt for certain items can be seriously annoying.

In one thread, a Redditor asked why, while taking their "normal route" through the warehouse, the laundry detergent had been swapped out with baby formula.

RELATED: 15 secrets Costco employees won't tell you:

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15 secrets Costco employees won't tell you

We move items on purpose

Our stores constantly move their stock around, so you won’t necessarily find the peanut butter in the same spot it was last time. The company touts it as a “treasure hunt,” but it also knows the more time you spend scanning the shelves, the more likely you are to notice (and buy) other items. Check out these tips for saving money at Costco.

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We'll keep in item in one spot if it's selling

As we move items around, we pay attention to how they’re selling. If they do particularly well in one spot, we’ll keep them there.

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Pretty much everything goes on sale

Wondering if you should stock up or wait? Most items will go on special eventually, so it’s worth holding off if you can be patient. Check out these things you should never buy at Costco.

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You can hunt us down

Got a meat question but don’t see a deli employee on the floor? Just knock on the door to the department, and we’ll be happy to answer any questions you have.

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Don't sweat on missing a sale

While Costco doesn’t price match with other retailers, it will honor its own sale prices on earlier returns. If you notice a costco.com item you bought had a price cut within 30 days of purchase, put in a request online to get the difference refunded. Some warehouses offer the same perk for in-store purchases, so stop by the membership counter to see if we can help.

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Our rotisserie chickens are as good a deal as you hoped

We aren’t downsizing our birds or adding weird fillers to keep our famous $4.99 rotisserie chickens at their low price. In fact, our chickens can weigh twice as much as our competitors’. We do add seasonings like sugar, salt, and modified corn starch (like many other store-bought rotisserie chickens), but there are no preservatives, MSG, or artificial colors and flavors. Learn more secrets behind Costco’s $4.99 rotisserie chicken.

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Our price tags warn you if we aren't restocking

An asterisk in the upper right corner of a price tag signals our location isn’t reordering the item. It might come back at a later time, like if it’s seasonal, but stock up now if it’s one of your favorites. Learn more about what asterisks on Costco price tags mean.

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What you see is what we've got

Costco is a “warehouse” store in a literal sense—we don’t have any additional storage from what you see on the shelves. If it’s not there, don’t ask us to check the “back.” The “back” doesn’t exist. Every now and then, the items will be out of reach on the high pallets, but most stores won’t bring the forklift out for just for one item. Come back tomorrow; it will probably be restocked.

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You can't use manufacturer coupons

We know you’d love to get an even better deal on the items in your cart, but we don’t accept manufacturers’ coupons, and we won’t negotiate for a lower price. If you want to save extra money, check our warehouse savings books.

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We can help you through tragedy

Steel Costco caskets can cost as little as $950, which is a steal compared to other distributors. The company currently ship to 36 states, plus the District of Columbia. Here are more Costco perks every member should know.

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Put your pizza order in early

On a busy Friday, you might have to wait 20 to 25 minutes for a fresh pizza. Make the most of your time by giving us your order before you start shopping so it’s finished cooking by the time you want to leave.

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Our price tags have a special code

Most prices end with .09 (.89, .99, etc.), but a couple price tags signal you’re getting a particularly good deal. A price ending in .97 means the item is on clearance, so you’re getting an even better deal than usual. Meanwhile, a .00 or .88 price tag signals the manager decided to cut the price, sometimes because it’s the last one in stock, doesn’t have a box, or has pieces missing. Learn more about the secret codes behind Costco’s prices.

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You can get your non-member friends in

It’s no big secret that you can bring two guests with you to shop, but you can set up your friends who refuse to buy a membership with their own access cards. Only members can buy and refill a Costco Cash Card, but whoever you give it to has access to the store to spend the store credit whether they have an annual membership or not. Check out these other things you can do at Costco without a membership.

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You don't pay much more than the store does

To make a profit, stores mark up their prices from what they pay the supplier. For instance, most grocery stores jack up meat prices by at least 30 percent. But at Costco, you won’t pay more than 15 percent more than the store does, and the prices average just a 10.6 percent markup.

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We appreciate when you order ahead

We normally have enough party platters in stock, but we appreciate the heads-up the day before if you know you’ll be loading up so we can prepare. We don’t mind making extra, but we hate telling customers we’re sold out because one person wiped out our stock.

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"Are these changes made purely to force people like me to walk by stuff I wouldn't normally walk by?" the shopper asked. "I bet it works, but it sure does rustle my jimmies."

As it turns out, that's exactly right. Seemingly nomadic essential products are designed to keep you scanning the shelves and buying more, according to Reader's Digest.

"They purposely move products around to different locations and are constantly rotating a certain percentage of their inventory to new products," Tony Jacobson, who worked at Costco for 13 years, wrote on Quora. "This creates a 'treasure hunt' experience as you shop and helps you discover new products that you may not normally see on your shopping visits."

And moving stuff around isn't the only strategy Costco has up its sleeve. CBS reported that the lack of signage within the warehouse is also meant to encourage people to explore.

In an article for Fast Company, Costco warehouse designer Stan Laegreid compared the layouts of the stores to an elaborate "racetrack" that exposes shoppers to "a greater number of products."

Laegreid wrote that this layout allows customers to cruise past "home, seasonal, and lifestyle selections on low-profile racks that allow for open sight lines across any point of the store."

"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.

In general, the retail chain tends to keep fresh food and essentials in the back of the store to draw you in. Meanwhile, many Costco employees place the store's biggest bargains in the "center court" of the store, according to Business Insider's Kate Taylor. The most expensive temporary displays tend pop up near the store's entrance.

So if you're desperate to avoid the siren song of items you don't really need, make a beeline for the middle or back of your local Costco.

 

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