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Costco is one of the most beloved retailers in America. Millions of people have memberships at the warehouse club and spend countless hours each year perusing its shelves.
But nothing in life stays the same, and that includes Costco. Each year, changes — some subtle, some large — make their presence felt at the store. And 2021 is no exception.
The following are several key ways that Costco is changing this year.
1. Perishables are available through CostcoGrocery
As we recently reported, you now can order select cold and frozen foods through CostcoGrocery and get two-day delivery service.
Previously, the two-day service was limited to nonperishables. Items you now can purchase for two-day delivery include:
- Cheese and dairy
2. Masks are no longer required
Like most retailers amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Costco required all shoppers to wear face coverings throughout most of 2020 and into this year.
But in mid-May, Costco ended the mask requirement for those who are fully vaccinated and shopping in locations with no local or state rule mandating the wearing of masks. However, masks may still be required in some health care settings that result in close contact, such as in the retailer’s pharmacy, optical and hearing aid departments.
In addition, Costco has returned to allowing shoppers to use reusable bags in places where they are not prohibited, as long as shoppers pack their bags themselves.
3. COVID-19 vaccines are available
Costco pharmacies are providing COVID-19 vaccinations to those who want them. The rules are as follows:
- All individuals age 12 and older are eligible for COVID-19 vaccines in the U.S.
- Only the vaccine from Pfizer is authorized for those ages 12 to 17.
- The vaccines from Moderna and Johnson & Johnson are authorized for those age 18 and older.
At many locations, you can simply walk in and ask for immediate vaccination. Or, you can set up an appointment. Costco notes that either way, it is best to call ahead to make sure the vaccine is available at the particular warehouse location you plan to visit.
4. ‘Senior’ hours have been extended indefinitely
Since the pandemic began, Costco has hosted special operating hours for shoppers age 60 and older and those with disabilities or who are immunocompromised. The idea was to keep the most vulnerable Costco shoppers a little safer as the virus circulated.
The threat of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 may be fading, but the new hours for seniors and others are here to stay. The special operating hours will remain in place from 9 to 10 a.m., Mondays through Fridays, until further notice.
Only members who meet the criteria will be able to shop during these hours. Costco notes that the special hours may vary depending on location.
If you take advantage of Costco’s senior hours, you also might want to check out “11 Things Retirees Should Always Buy at Costco.”
5. Food courts are making a comeback
The food court at Costco has been a shell of its former self, thanks to the pandemic. However, this beloved aspect of Costco membership is well on its way to returning to its former glory.
Seating is returning to many food courts, but the area will look a little different. Tables will seat four people instead of six or eight, and there will more distance in between, which will mean a reduced capacity.
The menu itself is also changing. For example, it will feature new churros and soft ice cream rather than frozen yogurt.
6. Free samples are coming back in earnest
During the pandemic, Costco ended its ubiquitous free samples in hopes of keeping the coronavirus at bay. But with COVID-19 on the run, Costco is expanding its sampling in waves.
The first wave started in early June, with full sampling returning to about 170 locations.
Expect safety protocols to remain in place, though. For example, samples will be prepared in small batches and behind plexiglass, and distributed to members one at a time.
7. More clubs are getting self-checkout
Costco has been working to increase the number of its warehouses that offer self-checkout lines. The company said at a January shareholder meeting that nearly two-thirds of U.S. and Canadian locations already offered self-checkout at that point, and that number is expected to rise to more than 90% this year.
8. Paper towels look a little different
When the pandemic began, it was a time when all of us were terrified of a deadly virus. But it is ending as a period when we are fretting about the shortage of goods on our shelves.
Paper towels have been in short supply in many places during the pandemic. Now, Costco is ensuring it can keep paper towels in stock by reducing the size of its Kirkland Signature Paper Towels 12-Pack from 160 sheets to 140 sheets per roll, Hip2Save reports.
9. Membership fees are expected to increase
In an era of inflation, perhaps it is no surprise that Costco membership fees are expected to increase soon. As we reported, Wells Fargo analysts predicted in March that Costco likely would boost its membership fees sometime within the following 18 months.
Costco last raised fees in 2017, hiking the price of membership by $10 for the Gold Star Executive package and $5 for Gold Star Everyday membership.
When Costco’s chief financial officer, Richard Galanti, was asked about the retailer’s membership fees on a May 28 earnings call, he acknowledged that Costco historically has increased its fees every five years and that its last such increase was four years ago. But he stopped short of confirming a fee hike on the way, saying, “We’ll have to wait and see.”
10. A pilot program for curbside pickup is underway
During the pandemic, curbside pickup became a standard feature at many grocery stores and other retailers.
Costco now is testing curbside pickup service. A pilot effort in Albuquerque, New Mexico, is underway and “has actually surpassed our expectations,” CFO Galanti said in the March earnings call.
11. The minimum wage is higher
While labor activists demand a $15 minimum wage nationally, Costco is already there — and then some.
In February, the retailer boosted its workers’ minimum wage to $16 an hour. Costco CEO Craig Jelinek has noted that 89% of Costco workers also are eligible for health care benefits.
12. In-store photo centers are gone
Finally, Costco has bid adieu to its in-store photo centers.
The move — which took place this past Valentine’s Day — might have broken a few members’ hearts. But cheer up: You can still order from the Costco Photo Center website for delivery to a home or business location.
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