Costco Has Stopped Membership Sharing: What You Need To Know

The big box retailer is taking a page out of the Netflix playbook.
Updated April 16, 2024
Fact checked
A Costco storefront

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Most people know that to shop at Costco, you need to have a membership.

The bulk retailer‘s Gold Star membership costs $60 annually; its Executive level membership costs $120 annually. If you shop at Costco enough, your savings will more than make your membership worth it.

But, perhaps not surprisingly, plenty of folks shop at Costco with membership cards that aren’t theirs.

Equally unsurprising, the store has decided to put a stop to the practice once and for all. Here’s why — and how it will affect you.

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People have been taking advantage of self-checkouts

Satawat/Adobe Self-checkout scanner

The specific offense that Costco is cracking down on has been happening at self-checkouts.

For a long time, you could scan a membership card or QR code and not be subject to identity verification, allowing you to purchase items from the warehouse.

This let people not on a given plan use cards of family or friends who didn’t mind lending theirs out — without paying any membership fees.

Because so many people took advantage of the big box king, Costco will now check your membership card at the self-service lines to ensure you’re the account holder.

Expect to show your card at the door

OntheRun Photo/Adobe costco gold star membership card

The self-checkout check is new, but it’s long been Costco’s policy to check your membership card at the door — at least on paper. 

However, we’ve been there when the staffer is slightly lax about the process and allows shoppers to stream in unchecked.

Considering Costco‘s increased awareness of non-member shopping, it’s safe to assume employees will be stricter about thoroughly inspecting your card at the door. 

To speed up your shopping trip, have your card ready.

Looking alike won’t cut it anymore

the faces/Adobe Surprised emotional twins

Most Costco cards have small, black-and-white photos of the membership holder.

Because of the strict rules and the amped-up enforcement, the old trick of being able to pass for someone else is not a sound shopping strategy.

Costco ensures that the name on the membership card matches the credit or debit card you pay with, rendering this a fool’s errand.

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You'll still need your card at the register

MelissaMN/Adobe Wholesale executive membership card

Even if you don’t use the self-checkout lanes at Costco, you still need to carry your membership card.

This is because staffers scan your card at the register for a variety of reasons. This includes harvesting data that they track for their internal use.

Additionally, if you have an Executive membership, Costco needs to know exactly how much you spend to give you your 2% back every year.

You may need a photo ID at the register

Olga/Adobe California driver's license

The photo on (most) Costco cards helps employees determine if shoppers are the actual paying members. But not all cards have a photo.

In that case, Costco may ask to see a separate photo ID (like a driver’s license) to verify that you are who you say you are.

Even if there’s an image of you on your Costco card, they may ask to see an ID if they can’t determine if it’s a match.

Non-members can still buy these things at Costco

mandritoiu/Adobe Costco store aisle

While Costco is cracking down on enforcing its membership policy, that doesn’t mean non-members can’t go inside the warehouse or take advantage of some of their services.

For example, you can fill prescriptions at their pharmacy and be seen at Costco Optical. You can also buy alcohol in most states and fill up your tank at the gas station (as long as you pay with a gift card).

You can still bring two guests to the warehouse with you

IndiaPix/Adobe Happy couple with cart

You can still count on bringing two guests with you to a Costco warehouse as long as you are a member with a valid and up-to-date membership. They are free to shop alongside you.

You can also have an additional household member on your plan on the Gold Star level. Business memberships can have more.

You may be turned away if you break the rules

NVB Stocker/Adobe Security guard is catching a thief

You might run into trouble if you’re caught trying to use a membership that isn’t yours.

Non-members are allowed into the warehouse, but you won’t be able to shop and check out unless you have a Costco Shop Card or purchase a membership.

Costco can ask you to leave if you’re creating trouble or not following the rules.

Increased labor and supply costs

trongnguyen/Adobe Costco meat department

Why is Costco only now getting so strict with enforcement when it’s reasonable to assume they knew what was happening? It may have something to do with the economy.

With the cost of labor and supplies on the rise, there’s a good chance Costco has to keep a keener eye on its margins. 

In May, Costco‘s CFO told investors he saw signs of a looming recession. Many shoppers were options for more-affordable meats and store-brand products to save on groceries, for example.

Because membership fees offset Costco‘s low prices, cracking down on non-member shopping could protect its cache of cash.

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Bottom line

dennizn/Adobe costco receipt and membership card

Costco is now reviewing cards at those stations in response to people using memberships that aren’t theirs at the self-checkout. This means the workaround will no longer be an option for non-members.

Fortunately, if you go to Costco a lot, you can make your membership pay for itself. So you may as well spring for one if you plan to shop there regularly.

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Author Details

Cat Lafuente Cat Lafuente is a Florida-based writer and editor with extensive experience in digital and print content spaces. Her own personal finance journey — particularly consolidating debt and paying it off, in turn boosting her credit score and becoming a homeowner — inspired her to join the FinanceBuzz team; she hopes she can help others do the same.

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