To say that 2020 was a year of major changes—even if temporarily necessary—would be an understatement of epic proportions. But for major national retailers like Costco, shaking things up to better serve customers is part of what has keeps their devoted customers coming back for more.
From saying goodbye to longstanding services to welcoming in some new safety arrangements, these are some of the big changes that Costco is rolling out lately. And while these are things you'll see the next time you shop, there may be some empty shelves—here are some Grocery Shortages To Expect in 2021, According to Experts.
It's closing all photo centers.
In the era of Instagram stories and digital frames, a trip to get photos developed isn't nearly as common of an occurrence as it used to be. As such, Costco recently decided to discontinue the Photo Center, all locations of which will be closing for good nationwide on Feb. 14. Fortunately, you don't have to fret too much if you're a regular patron: customer-favorite services such as printing, enlargements, greeting cards, canvas prints, photo books, calendars, and photo blankets—as well as all business printing products—will be moving online and remain available. The store's home movie transfer service will also live on at CostcoDVD.com.
Unfortunately, this means that other popular services, including passport photos, photo restoration, and the YesVideo Home Movie Transfer Service will disappear for good. But maybe the most painful departure will be the loss of Costco's ever-popular ink cartridge refills—which were typically just $8-10 compared to buying a new cartridge starting at $16.
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Costco is making COVID-19 safety updates.
Major on-site changes for safety's sake was the name of the game in 2020. And as the pandemic, unfortunately, carries into 2021, Costco is keeping up their own promises to protect customers and workers. While an initial limit on one accompanying guest per member was not extended, Costco has announced that it's planning to keep senior store hours in place "until further notice" to help better serve those who are at higher risk of the virus. Customers who are 60 years old or older, immunocompromised, or otherwise disabled are welcome to shop at most stores from 9 to 10 a.m. before the general public is allowed to enter. Just be sure to check ahead if you plan on making use of this service, as hours are store-specific.
Costco will also maintain its customer mask mandate, which requires all customers above the age of two to wear a face mask while shopping regardless of medical conditions. "If a member has a medical condition that prevents them from wearing a mask, they must wear a face shield at Costco," Costco CEO Craig Jelinek said in a public statement. "This updated policy may seem inconvenient to some, however, we believe the added safety is worth any inconvenience."
Recently Jelinek also revealed the reason why the price of this food court staple will never change.
It's updating the food court menu.
For most, a trip to Costco isn't complete without a stop by the food court—despite some heart-crushing losses to the menu over the years, and even during the food kiosk's pandemic-limited offering period. But never say never when it comes to discontinued items: the food court's beloved churros are coming back after disappearing from the menu last year. Testing in one location revealed a slight change in price from $1 to $1.49, but the jump in price was also evidently matched with an increase in size, much to the delight of Costco customers.
Another popular item that is being revived is the customer-favorite chicken bake. Similar to the churros, the fried treats are now cost $1.49 instead of only $1. And while only one Costco location is getting the new version of this old staple for the time being, the frozen section might have a box you can take home and bake yourself while you wait for a larger rollout. According to Fox Business, boxes of six individually wrapped and microwavable pockets follow the tried-and-true food court recipe.
Costco is testing curbside pickup and same-day delivery.
While businesses may have been moving towards more delivery and on-demand services, 2020 put the industry-wide shift into overdrive. And even though it may have taken them slightly longer to adapt to the change, Costco began their own foray into curbside pickup in December to help ease crowds and protect customers during the pandemic. For now, the service has launched for members in New Mexico, where customers can place a minimum order of $100 for a $10 fee through Instacart and have their goods brought right outside to their vehicle.
And while there's still no news on whether curbside pickup will become available at other Costco locations nationwide, it now currently offers same-day delivery on perishable groceries like meat, produce, and seafood via Instascart in some zip codes. All other non-perishable items are available for 2-day delivery nationwide, except in Alaska, Hawaii, and Puerto Rico.
The company is opening COVID-19 vaccination centers.
As part of a group of 11 grocery stores that made a deal with the Food and Drug Administration in November to partner up and release a COVID-19 vaccine to as many Americans as possible, Costco has entered the early phases of administering doses. The chain currently has posted availability for vaccine appointments in California, New York, Oregon, Puerto Rico, South Carolina, and Washington. And while appointments are still only available based on state-set eligibility, the wholesale supermarket will "begin offering the general public COVID-19 vaccinations at its in-store pharmacies around early spring," Jelinek said to CNBC.
Related: Costco Pharmacy Says Don't Do This When Scheduling Your COVID Vaccine
It's putting new products on the shelves!
Costco's preternatural abilities to seemingly stay one step ahead of stocking the items customers really want is one of the reasons for its devoted fan base. This year, it includes refreshing inventories with new products to meet demand, including an influx of vegetarian and vegan products. This January, the company sent out a mailer to members highlighting Veganuary and some of its best offerings. While the wholesaler has long carried products in the category, newer popular products include 24-pack of Beyond Meat meatballs (for just $9.99!), and vegan brands JUST Egg, Daiya, and more.
And never let it be said that Costco isn't there for our four-legged friends, as well: the wholesaler recently launched a limited-edition collection of food court-inspired dog toys. According to Frugal Hotspot, this bundle of four toys is priced at just $14.99 in-store and $24.99 online (including shipping and handling) and comes complete with your dog's own Costco membership card, a toy soda, a toy hot dog, and a toy slice of pizza.
For more, here are 55 Cheap Costco Buys That Make the Membership Worth It.
Costco is paying their essential workers.
During the height of the pandemic, essential workers were heralded as the unsung local heroes that braved danger to keep our everyday necessities available to us. Unfortunately, most praise heaped on these men and women stopped at lip service, while months of overburdened scheduling and uncertainty over their own health and safety prevailed. But Costco has stepped up to make their workers feel valued, using the bulk of the increased profits earned during the pandemic to provide hourly bonuses, increased hazard pay, and most recently a permanent hourly raise to their employees.
"During this extraordinary time in which we've all adjusted to many changes in Costco's business, your service to each other and to our members has remained truly outstanding," Jelinek wrote in a company-wide letter to employees. "Thank you."
And for more on Costco, here are 17 Items Costco Stopped Selling This Year.