Ten tips for shopping at Costco during a pandemic

Ten tips for shopping at Costco during a pandemic

Ten tips for shopping at Costco during a pandemic

  1. Don’t.
  2. Go.
  3. There.
  4. Just.
  5. Don’t.
  6. Way.
  7. Too.
  8. Many.
  9. Darned.
  10. People.

Just kidding! Sort of.

If you want to stay 2 metres away from strangers right now, it’s not going to happen at Costco.  At least not at my Costco! (Deerfoot Meadows in Calgary.)

Different communities seem to be responding to public health guidance in different ways, so perhaps it’s better in your neck of the woods, but yesterday, I found that there were too many people in the store, despite staff limiting numbers at the entrance and (trying to) manage traffic inside. Avoiding people at high-traffic zones like the checkouts was impossible.

However, Costco is an economical way to feed a family and fill the pantry in one go. That’s why I finally broke down after nearly two months and did it. I don’t recommend it — I won’t be going there again until things are better — but if you are planning a Costco run, here are a few ways you can make it smoother and safer.

1. Take a list.

I know, obvious right? You don’t want to miss something! Bonus points if you plan a few meals first and factor that in.

2. Take my list!

Years ago I created a list mapped to the layout of that Deerfoot Meadows Costco in Calgary, for smooth shopping. I’ve just updated it. Download, modify if you like, and print it, so you can simply check off your favourites and go.

Costco list – PDF

Costco list – MS Word (modifiable)

3. Bring patience. A lot of it.

Practice phrases like “go ahead,” “after you,” and “thank you.” Take a deep breath if someone is considering yogurt options before you reach over them and grab what you want. (You know who you are, tall impatient man from yesterday. Grrr…)

And be prepared to head elsewhere if you find this when you arrive. (!) Nothing at Costco is worth this.

4. Go at an off-peak time.

Speaking of that lineup, can you plan your shop when it’s not quite so busy? Check Google for your local store, but it usually looks like this:

(They always show “less busy than usual” these days because of the smaller number of people being allowed in. What you’re looking for is those early and late hours.)

The last hour before closing has always been good for me, except that I’m usually ready for bed by then! If you’re eligible for the 8am-9am 60+ hour, take advantage of that. Coming about a half-hour after opening seems to work well too. The keeners who lined up early will be in and the line will be gone, if you’re lucky.

Whatever you do, don’t go on the weekend or in the afternoon if you can help it.

5. Go by yourself, if you’re able.

They’re already limiting shopping to two people per membership, but if you can manage it alone, the line will move that much faster.  (Shopping alone is also a recommendation from the health authorities, at least here in Alberta.)

6. Leave your shopping bags/bins in the car.

Costco employees aren’t allowed to pack your food into your reusable shopping bags or bins right now anyhow. You can use the cardboard boxes they offer at checkout, but I skipped them yesterday and I transferred my purchases into bins I had set out in the trunk:

  • One for my mom
  • One for frozen food and fish (goes in right away)
  • One with other items that need refrigeration (goes in next, after a handwash and a breather)

The rest went into bins I left in the car overnight. Much easier than trying to unpack it all in one go.

7. Start with non-perishables.

This tip is for when you’re planning a BIG shop. The normal flow of traffic at my store brings shoppers to the meat section first (after you pass the clothing, books, and other impulse buys). But if you put fish or chicken in your cart first, you’ll have a highly perishable food nearly at room temperature by the time you get it in your fridge, especially if you spend a lot of time shopping, unloading, or even dropping off food to someone else. Not ideal.

So this time I went in reverse, going up the less travelled outside aisle so I wouldn’t disrupt the flow of traffic. I started with heavy, tough items in boxes and hard containers, like nuts, contact lens solution, dishwasher tabs, and crackers, and put the perishable and more delicate items like produce on top. (Chicken goes on the bottom of the cart though, to keep it separate from foods eaten raw. Food safety geekery here.)

If you’re making an extra stop on the way home like me, you might want to pop those perishable items into a cooler when you get to the car. They’re okay at room temperature for up to two hours, but why risk it?

8. Wear a (non-medical) mask.

I know, masks aren’t very comfortable, but the public health experts are pretty consistent now in recommending wearing them when you’re not able to stay 2 metres apart. (In Alberta: “…masks, are another way to reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19 in areas where physical distancing (2 metres distance between individuals) may be challenging or not possible.”)

Trust me, in Costco, physical distancing is “challenging or not possible”. It’s confusing, I know, because (just going to quote the Alberta public health people again here) “wearing a non-medical mask, such as a homemade cloth mask, has not been proven to protect the person wearing it. However, it may be helpful in protecting others around you.”

In other words, it’s evolved into a way of saying “I care about not getting you sick.” Essential workers at grocery stores deserve at least that from the hungry public.

9. Skip the gloves.

They’re likely doing nothing to protect you, and most people are wearing and removing them wrong anyhow. More here on gloves if you’re curious. Just sanitize your hands when you get back to the car and wash them well when you get home.

10. Leave your phone in the car.

That’s one more thing you now have to wipe down. Turns out you can shop without it. Who knew? Would have liked to include more pictures in this post for you, but I was kind of focused on getting in and getting out. So no phone.

Bonus tip: Take time to relax afterwards!

Congratulations! You survived. Unless you have nerves of steel, it’s stressful, so give yourself a chance to unwind afterwards!


What about you? How are the crowds at your local store? Join the conversation on Facebook.

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