6 Secrets About Costco’s Free Samples, According to Retail Experts


Costco has developed an intensely devoted fan base thanks to everything from its wide selection of essential bulk items and generous return policy to its beloved in-house Kirkland brand and timeless food court. But regular customers know that one of the best perks of shopping with the warehouse retailer is the delicious free samples available.

However, while it’s no surprise that the tantalizing bites make it much harder to stick to your set grocery list, there’s more going on than just an effective marketing tactic. Read on for all the secrets about the free samples at Costco, according to retail experts.

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1 There’s (technically) no limit.

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Whether you’re shopping on an empty stomach or you’ve been lucky enough to find a product that’s just really delicious, limiting yourself to just one bite can arguably be the worst part about Costco’s free samples. But if you’ve ever been tempted to grab one more taste—or even two or three extra—you’re technically not breaking any rules by doing so.

“The employees handing out free samples can’t tell shoppers ‘no,’ and most of them probably wouldn’t bother anyway,” Julie Ramhold, consumer analyst with, tells Best Life. “There are stories of extreme abuse of the free sample policy online, but most people aren’t taking the whole tray or $50 worth of product. Still, some shoppers will indulge two or even three times.”

However, this doesn’t mean it’s a free-for-all. “If you’re one of those, it’s OK—but be polite about it and at least listen to the employee’s spiel about the product,” she suggests. “Also, if you’ve returned three times for a tiny piece of cauliflower pizza, you might as well just buy the cauliflower pizza since you clearly like it enough.”

2 Skip Sundays unless you want to mingle with huge crowds.

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For most people, weekends are the time to get errands out of the way, including any Costco runs. But if you’re looking to get the most out of your shopping experience—and to get in and out of the store without waiting as much—you might want to try to find time in your schedule to ensure you can shop on Saturday.

“Sundays are prime sample time, but it’s also one of the busiest days at Costco in general as a lot of consumers do their weekly shopping in the afternoon and may have their whole family with them if they’ve come straight from church,” says Ramhold. “While Saturdays and Sundays are likely to have the biggest selection of samples, and especially in the afternoon, if you have a personal bubble, you probably want to avoid seeking out these treats on Sundays.”

She adds that besides having fewer people at comparable times on Saturday, other days of the week can be an even better option if you’re looking to avoid lines. “You can also try shopping on Mondays and Tuesdays if you want to have samples with less hassle, but the problem then is that there won’t be as many samples available to try,” she says. “So you may end up having to weigh your options on how many people you want to be around and how many products you want to be able to try, then plan accordingly.”

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3 Chocolate and cheese can make sampling chaotic.

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Some people live for savory snacks. Others have an insatiable sweet tooth. And since Costco isn’t afraid to put some of the most tempting products out for customers to try, Ramhold says you can expect a bit more competition and a longer wait for some of the more popular items.

“It’s probably not a surprise that desserts will get a lot of draw from crowds, but specifically, cheese and chocolate seem to be the samples that shoppers go bananas over,” she shares. “This may mean you have bigger crowds to fight through to get your own sample, or you may have to wait around for new ones to be put out depending on how busy the sampler is and what kind of product it is.”

However, this is where patience can pay off. “If it’s a brownie they’re baking fresh, be prepared to wait a bit. If it’s a new cheese or a cold dessert, you may just have to wait for them to slice more and put them out,” Ramhold says. “Depending on how crowded your local club is, you might be able to tell the best samples just based on how big the crowd around them is. Then you have to decide if the sample of chocolate tuxedo mousse cake is worth the wait and fighting the other shoppers—and in my opinion, it is so worth it.”

4 It’s a highly-effective sales tactic.


It makes plenty of sense that someone who is stopped in their tracks by a delicious sample is more than likely going to put that item in their cart. After all, the point of free sampling is to lure in new customers. And according to data, it’s probably even more effective than most might imagine.

“When we compare it to other in-store mediums, in-store product demonstration has the highest life,” Giovanni DeMeo, an executive with marketing company Club Demonstration Services that coordinates and runs the samplings, told The Atlantic. According to sales data, a beer tasting led to a 71 percent spike in sales of the product, while a frozen pizza brand jumped a whopping 600 percent after customers were able to try it in-store.

According to Pam Danziger, market researcher and founder of Unity Marketing, extensive research has found increasing interaction time spent in the store will translate to an increase in sales—something which the warehouse retailer pulls off.

“The magic bullet to engage interaction is delivered through their rotating setups of sampling locations,” she tells Best Life. “Mrs. Fields built an empire on sampling alone, and that is what Costco repeats in the stores. Who doesn’t stop to get a bite, which inevitably leads to a purchase? And interacting with the friendly person behind the counter who can talk up what’s on offer makes it even more effective.”

5 Samplers are contracted employees.


Even though each location of the warehouse wholesaler may feel physically large in and of itself, Costco is a massive company overall by any measure. The retailer employs around 203,000 full and part-time workers across its 584 locations in the U.S. as of 2022. However, the person cutting up your sample slice of pepperoni likely isn’t included in that count.

“They don’t technically work for Costco, which means they aren’t going to be familiar with where items are located,” says Ramhold. “Don’t expect to ask a person handing out free ice cream where the pasta is: Most of the time, their focus is on the product they’re selling and where it’s located, and that’s about it.”

Of course, this means you should direct your queries elsewhere. “If you’re having trouble finding another product, consider asking at the customer service desk or a department worker in the bakery or behind the meat counter instead,” she suggests. “Those are Costco employees and may know where to direct you, but you’ll still likely have better luck by asking the customer service desk for help, or even a cashier.”

6 Not all the samples are worth it.

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Giving something away free of charge is an easy way to make it harder to pass up. And even if you’re sticking to your planned purchases at Costco, samples can be a great way to find a new favorite with zero risk. But while many of the items that make their way to the warehouse retailer’s sample trays can be downright fantastic, you shouldn’t expect a 100 percent success rate.

“Costco sells a ton of different items, and that means that not every free sample is going to be a tasty adventure,” says Ramhold. “Sometimes you’re going to have the option to try things like sugar-free flavored water with a terrible aftertaste, a new plant-based milk that may or may not be good, or even a protein shake that swears that it tastes like a chocolate milkshake when it really doesn’t. While these products might not be bad per se, they aren’t the same as a delightful chocolate crepe or a sample of refreshing juice.”

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