Here's What Happens When You Return Too Many Items to Costco

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  • Too many returns to Costco and your account is likely to be flagged.
  • Once flagged, you run the risk of losing membership privileges.
  • The exact number of returns considered unacceptable is unknown.

Reddit's Costco page features an interesting thread that asks Costco employees to name the weirdest items they've ever seen returned to the warehouse store. Their answers are sometimes funny, often cringe-worthy, and sometimes a little sad. But they also help to explain why it's possible to lose your Costco membership if you abuse the retailer's generous refund policy.

Costco employee stories

Current and former store employees chimed in to paint a picture of the types of returns customer service can expect to see on any given day. Here's a sample:

  • Sony boombox, over a decade old
  • Old mattress with clear signs of urine stains
  • Container of bones and fat, all that was left of a ribeye steak
  • 13-year-old fish that had been found in a freezer
  • Playset because "the kids grew up"
  • 4-year-old Whirlpool washing machine
  • 10-year-old sneakers
  • 15-year-old pressure washer
  • 10-year-old ping pong table

As you might imagine, reactions vary. Some Costco employees winced at the idea of giving a refund on food products that had obviously been consumed, wine that had been drunk, and dead plants that only died because they were never watered. Others have learned to laugh at the ridiculous things Costco members think to return and gladly refund the money back to their bank account or Visa card.

No matter how employees feel about it, though, Costco rarely refuses to refund an item, or at the very least, work with a member to make them happy.

There's a limit

The lady who returned an empty bottle of wine because it "gave her a headache" should probably know that Costco does reach a breaking point. There's a limit to how much a member can return before they're asked to surrender their membership card. And if that Costco card is helping a member save money, it can be a huge loss.

The tricky bit is that no one knows precisely what the limit is. Costco keeps track of merchandise as it comes back into the store and which member made the return. At some point, a member who habitually returns merchandise will be flagged. And once flagged, they may be operating on borrowed time.

In truth, this sounds far more ominous than it is. The worst that can happen is that Costco offers one more refund -- this one for the person's membership card. Once Costco has canceled their membership card, it may be impossible to purchase a new one.

A little like the Wizard of Oz

Like the great and powerful Oz hiding behind a curtain, no one knows for certain how it all works. It's not clear if the decision to cancel a membership is made at the district level or if store management has that power. We aren't sure if all stores have the same return limit or if that's decided on a store-to-store basis. It's also unclear whether making returns to different Costco locations makes a difference.

What we do know is that you'll have to truly abuse Costco's return policy to be flagged. Thirteen-year-old fish aside, Costco has worked hard to make members comfortable with its return policy and prides itself on removing as much stress as possible from the process.

You'd have to step over a faintly drawn line (several times) before customer service would consider revoking your membership.

Still, there are plenty of things to do in life that are brag-worthy. Testing the patience of a popular retailer is not one of them.

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