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Costco Vows to Finally Launch an Upgrade That Customers Have Been Waiting For

Club members have been clamoring for this handy online feature for years. Could it finally happen?

If you want to find out which grocery items are currently in stock at your local Costco warehouse, you'll have to do it the old-fashioned way. Either pick up a telephone, call the store, and ask a real human, or schlep over to the store and search the aisles for yourself.

Checking an item's availability online is not an option. Both the Costco website and mobile app are completely useless in this regard.

Many other big-box retailers conveniently offer this capability on their sites—including America's other major warehouse club, Walmart-owned Sam's Club, which allows you to search inventory at your local store by item number, model number, product description and keywords.

But not Costco. At least not yet.

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During the company's earnings call last month, chief financial officer Richard Galanti said Costco members would eventually have that ability, too: "When you go to look at an online product, if we're selling in a warehouse near you based on where you've shopped, in the next several months, cross my fingers, you will be able to, say, you can go ahead and get it in store at the Kirkland or Issaquah [Wash.] location, which also has it in stock right now."

Costco execs have been promising this upgrade for months now. CEO Craig Jelinek made a similar statement during the company's annual shareholders meeting back in January, noting that an internet-based warehouse inventory lookup feature is "something that everyone has asked for" and would be one of several "enhancements" to expect in the new year.

Indeed, Costco members on Reddit have been clamoring for this feature for years. "Even Walmart has this feature," one shopper wrote back in 2020. "You can look up a specific item in a specific store to see if it's in stock. Ridiculous that a trillion-dollar company that is anal about keeping things in order doesn't offer this."

Theories abound as to why the popular warehouse club has lagged behind its competitors for so long. Some blame the company's current, antiquated inventory-tracking system and the high cost of modernizing it, which could drive up prices for members as a result. One wrote, "I chuckle every time someone complains that Costco doesn't have a frivolous convenience feature that other retailers have because they simply do not understand how the adoption of these features will inflate operational costs that will in turn raise membership fees and product prices."

Others suggest the company's foot-dragging is simply by design. "They want you in the store. $$$," one asserted.

During last month's earnings call, Galanti acknowledged the company is still in the "early innings" of a major effort to upgrade its technology in many areas. He noted that Costco hired a new vice president in charge of "digital transformation" last year and recently began a "two-year road map" to improve its e-commerce business.

"We're currently building and dramatically increasing the number of engineering capabilities that we have," Galanti said. "Just in the last three months, as an example, we've had three small releases to our mobile app that are improvements of it," he added, without mentioning specifics. "And we're now on plans to have small improvements in that app each month for the several months going forward."

As customers continue to wait for the official online inventory feature to materialize, some have figured out a few workarounds. One such "hack" recently posted on Reddit involves Costco's delivery partner: "Use the Instacart app to search for the item you want. You don't have to buy it on Instacart but if it isn't on Instacart it usually isn't in stock. Not foolproof but super helpful and accurate for the most part."

Others have suggested that Costco's same-day delivery portal also provides good clues about which items are in stock at your nearest warehouse.

Chris Shott
Chris Shott is the Deputy Editor covering restaurants and groceries for Eat This, Not That! Read more about Chris