Line of shoppers with carts at Costco
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Certain stores have developed a fandom as loyal as that of any sports team. Think of the Trader Joe’s devotees, or those who love Target with a passion (guilty on both fronts). Costco definitely makes that list.

Avid fans discuss the warehouse store on the discussion board Reddit, and numerous blogs and Facebook groups share deals and finds.

That devotion is all the more impressive considering that unlike Trader Joe’s or Target, Costco isn’t free. Its memberships actually cost a bit more than those of both Sam’s Club and BJ’s warehouse clubs. But whether drawn in by the famed rotisserie chicken or the inexpensive gasoline sales, Costco loyalists seem to think the annual membership fee is worthwhile, and then some.

Here’s a look at some of the reasons why these sprawling warehouse stores have captured so many fans.

1. Rotisserie chicken

Costco's Kirkland Signature rotisserie chicken
David Tonelson /

New to Costco? First, find the giant case packed with golden-brown rotisserie chickens, and toss one in your cart. The mouthwatering meals sell for only $4.99, and CNN reports the chain is so determined to stick to that price that Costco has been willing to lose money on them.

You can slice up the meat straight up, or shred it for soups, burritos or any number of other dishes. In fact, rotisserie chicken is so versatile we cite it in “10 Foods That Should Always Be in Your Pantry or Fridge.”

2. Kirkland Signature products

Costco's Kirkland Signature brand of organic creamy almond butter
David Tonelson /

Even if you’re ridiculously loyal to favorite brands, you may want to rethink that shopping strategy at Costco. The chain’s house brand, Kirkland Signature products, are a cut above most no-name products sold at other stores — and often quite a bit cheaper.

My personal favorites are the Kirkland Signature bath tissue and paper towels — cheaper than the big brands, and just as high-quality.

3. Food court

Costco food court
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When you’re done shopping, consider grabbing a meal or snack at the food court. You may be able to pay with change scrounged from your car — the classic hot dog and drink offering is just $1.50, and it’s held that price for decades. Vary your order on your next shopping trip by choosing the tasty pizza instead of a hot dog.

4. The return policy

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Thanks to the enormous selection, you may be tempted to buy things at Costco that you’ve never tried before. Give in to temptation: Costco’s return policy is especially generous, with satisfaction guaranteed. You can even return opened food items that you’ve tried and decided just aren’t for you.

You’ll want to check out the rules and regulations — electronics must be returned within 90 days, for example — but overall, Costco has your back.

5. Cheap gas

Costco's Kirkland Signature gas pumps
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Until that science-fiction day when we’re all cruising around in gas-free, self-driving, flying cars, most of us need to purchase gasoline. And few stations have better deals on gas than Costco’s own chain.

The company’s Kirkland Signature fuel meets Top Tier standards, an enhanced level of fuel that even AAA urges drivers to use. And you never need to worry about which side of the car is facing the pump: Costco uses long hoses that reach gas tanks on either side.

6. The toy and gift selection

Discounted gift cards on display at a Costco
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You may not think of Costco as a toy store, but think again. When my daughter wanted to do nothing but paint and draw, I discovered her dream art kit at Costco. When her crafty best friend celebrated a birthday, we found an impressive make-it-yourself bath bomb kit for a gift.

I’ve bought toys and gifts at Costco in every season, but you’ll find the best selection as the winter holidays approach. I’m also a fan of Costco’s book section, which offers everything from best-sellers to box sets of childhood favorites.

If you’re unsure what to get someone, there are always gift cards — and buying them from Costco is one of few ways that you can get a brand-new gift card for less than its face value.

7. Free samples

Costco aisle with food samples

Like the rest of us, the legendary Costco free sample has had a tough 2020.

The stores used to have sample kiosks scattered throughout the store, offering bites and sips of such treats as artichoke dip, pasta, jams and even kombucha. Sampling took a break in March due to coronavirus safety concerns, but it’s been slowly returning to stores — with plexiglass partitions and prepackaged samples.

Still, free is free, and we can hope that the hot and fresh, pop-em-in-your-mouth samples will be back someday.

8. Pantry-stocking staples

Heinz ketchup in a Costco condiment aisle
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Costco has always been where you go if you want to buy food for an entire day care center, or a huge graduation party. (Remember when we could have parties?) But even if large gatherings are on hold for now, this is the ideal place to stock your pantry, thus cutting down on your shopping trips during these days when staying home is safer.

I avoid many of the perishables. But shelf-stable items such as the three-pack of Heinz ketchup, the 24-count Cup Noodles case and the 72-count K-cup coffee variety packs are ideal for long-term storage.

9. Surprises on every shopping trip

warehouse club
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Costco’s buyers never seem to rest on their laurels. I can’t think of a trip there where I didn’t find something fun, surprising and new to me. Recent favorites include a motion-operated trash can (just wave your hand to open it), a rainbow-colored set of gel pens and a three-pack of spill-proof water bottles. I didn’t head to Costco with any of those items on my list, but that’s what keeps shopping there so much fun.

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