Big Changes Might Be Coming To Costco's Signature Samples. Here's How

Free samples are arguably one of the biggest benefits of a Costco membership, but there was recently a time when they were unavailable. Those who shopped at the bulk grocery chain in recent years may remember that Costco paused serving food samples for the first year and two months of the pandemic. Fortunately, the best part of folks' weekly (or perhaps monthly) grocery trip has been back for almost two years now.

However, even as we transition into a post-pandemic world, the ripple effects of those unprecedented times are still being felt, and Costco samples are not immune. It's no secret there's a labor shortage in America right now, and according to data from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the food and retail sectors are among the hardest hit, grocery stores included. So, how is a chain like Costco to ensure it can continue giving out free samples?

Costco kiosks offer up food

It seems simple automation may be the answer. As reported by Kitchn, there's evidence of a new food-sample distribution system being implemented in Costco stores. A recent Instagram post shows one example in Issaquah, Washington. There, a tall, boxy, person-sized cart on wheels advertises free samples with clear Costco branding, confirming the location. A closer look shows text instructing customers to "take one," and below, plastic bags containing food are left easily accessible.

All it takes is for one worker to fill the thing up at the beginning of the day, roll it out onto the shop floor, and then collect it at close. Compare that to a dedicated sample-giver standing out there all day, and Costco is likely saving lots of money on labor now. Plus, since the object operates on the honor system and isn't some electronic vending machine, there's no extra charge on Costco's power bill.

Online opinions seem mixed so far. Commenting on Instagram and Reddit, some reject it for taking away jobs from real people, while others think it will surely be abused by greedy consumers looking to grab some freebies. Those in favor feel it's an elegant solution to present-day staffing problems. Either way, it's clear modern economics are a bit shaky for grocers. After all, Costco memberships should technically be getting more expensive, but they're not (yet). Apparently, solutions like this are how Costco is avoiding raising prices.