How do you do Costco? I shop every other Saturday with my six-year-old in tow between soccer and tee-ball games. If you’re thinking, “What a nightmare!” you’re not wrong. It’s very crowded, both inside and in the parking lot. But that’s the only time that works for our busy family schedule, so we take it as calmly as possible—going down every aisle so that we don’t forget anything and picking up tasty samples along the way.
No one likes playing obstacle course with hoards of shoppers going the wrong way—grocery traffic should flow like the highway traffic, stick to your right unless you’re passing. Or when the world is stocking up for a big holiday weekend and the checkout lines loop all the way back to the snack aisle.
This led us to perform a study we’re calling Smart Costco Timing (SCT)—many visits to Costco every day of the week and at all hours to check on the best times to avoid crowds. Don’t worry, we were rewarded with lots of soft serve cones. Here are our findings.
The Best Time to Shop at Costco
Our experiment was held at a Costco in Chicago, and therefore the advice here is relevant to an urban shopping experience. If your local Costco is a suburban, exurban, or rural location, your experience might be different.
The perfect time to shop at Costco is between Tuesday and Thursday, arriving between 3 and 4 p.m.
Let’s look at why other days and times are the busiest:
Time of day: Mornings are often a preferred shopping time for groups of seniors and parents stocking up after dropping the kids off at school. By mid-day, you’ll compete with people sneaking in on their lunch hour for groceries or coming in to eat lunch. Any arrival time after 5 p.m. puts you with the after-work, stop-on-my-way-home crowds.
Mondays: Parents traditionally use this day to catch up on chores after the weekend and restock for the week. Businesses that buy in bulk also come in on Mondays to stock up for the week.
Fridays: Folks line up to buy groceries for the weekend.
Saturdays and Sundays: Weekends are madness, full-stop. Avoid when at all possible.
This leaves the middle of the week and the afternoon—if your obligations allow—as the ultimate sweet spot. Parking is plentiful, the aisles are clear, and the lines are manageable. The shelves have been restocked after the busy weekend rush.
If you love a more relaxing Costco shopping adventure, mid-week and mid-afternoon are going to be your best bet. You might even see me there—cone’s on me!