Does Costco Have Scan and Go? A Retail Expert‘s In-Depth Look

If you‘ve ever shopped at Costco, you know the thrill of the treasure hunt. Navigating the vast aisles in search of bulk bargains, discovering exciting new products, and of course, sampling all the free food along the way. But after filling your oversized cart to the brim, you may find yourself wondering: why doesn‘t Costco have scan and go technology to let me skip the checkout line?

As a retail industry expert and self-proclaimed "picky shopper" with over 15 years of experience, I‘ve studied the evolution of the in-store shopping experience, from the rise of barcode scanning to the emergence of self-checkout kiosks and mobile scanning apps. In this article, I‘ll take an in-depth look at Costco‘s approach to checkout and explore the factors behind the retailer‘s resistance to scan and go.

The Rise of Scan and Go

Scan and go technology, which allows shoppers to use their smartphone or a handheld device to scan items while they shop and pay without going through a traditional cashier-assisted checkout, has gained significant traction in recent years. A 2021 survey by Anyline found that 77% of shoppers would be more likely to shop at a store if it offered scan and go, with 67% believing it makes shopping easier and 62% saying it speeds up the process.[^1]

Several of Costco‘s competitors have embraced scan and go, aiming to attract time-crunched, tech-savvy customers. Sam‘s Club, Costco‘s chief rival, introduced its Scan & Go app in 2016, allowing members to scan items on their phone as they shop and pay through the app, skipping the checkout line entirely.[^2] BJ‘s Wholesale Club followed suit with its ExpressPay mobile app in 2017.[^3]

Outside of the warehouse club sector, retailers like Walmart, Kroger, 7-Eleven, and Amazon have also implemented scan and go options to varying degrees. Walmart briefly tested a Scan & Go app but discontinued it in 2018, citing low customer adoption.[^4] However, the retailer still offers Mobile Scan & Go at its Sam‘s Club locations.

Why Costco Doesn‘t Scan and Go

So with so many retailers betting big on scan and go, why is Costco holding out? The answer lies in the unique nature of the Costco shopping experience and business model.

First and foremost, Costco is designed for bulk purchasing. The average transaction at Costco is around $200, compared to just $50 at Walmart.[^5] A typical Costco shopper isn‘t just picking up a few items – they‘re stocking up for weeks or even months at a time. Individually scanning and bagging dozens or even hundreds of items could be more hassle than help for these bulk buyers.

Moreover, Costco intentionally limits its selection to around 4,000 stock keeping units (SKUs) per warehouse, far fewer than the 30,000+ found at a typical grocery store.[^6] This curated assortment allows for high inventory turnover and encourages shoppers to browse and discover new items they might not have planned to purchase. Impulse buys and treasure hunt-style shopping are key to Costco‘s success – and that experience could be diminished if shoppers are heads-down scanning barcodes on their phone the whole time.

Costco is also known for its high-touch customer service, with friendly employees available to assist shoppers and answer questions at every turn. The company prides itself on compensating employees well above industry averages, with hourly wages starting at $17 and average total compensation of over $50,000 per year.[^7] Self-checkout and scan and go naturally involve less human interaction, which could undermine Costco‘s emphasis on service.

There‘s also the question of whether scan and go would actually save time for Costco shoppers. The retailer already boasts impressively speedy checkouts, with an average wait time of just 1-2 minutes from the time a member reaches the cashier to receipt in hand.[^8] This efficiency is thanks to Costco‘s highly trained cashiers, wide conveyor belts that accommodate large orders, and assistants who help unload carts and box up purchases.

Costco‘s Self-Checkout Strategy

While Costco may not be on board with scan and go, the retailer has embraced self-checkout kiosks as a way to offer a more autonomous option for shoppers. Most Costco locations now feature at least a handful of self-checkout stations, with some high-volume warehouses offering upwards of 10-12 kiosks.

Self-checkout has proven popular with shoppers, with a 2021 survey by foodservice research firm Technomic finding that 47% of consumers used it on their last grocery trip.[^9] At Costco, self-checkout is particularly appealing for shoppers with smaller orders or those who prefer to avoid human interaction (especially in the age of social distancing).

However, self-checkout still requires shoppers to wait in line and individually scan and bag their items at the end of their trip, rather than doing so while shopping. It‘s a step up from waiting for a cashier, but not quite the frictionless, scan-as-you-go experience some shoppers crave.

The Future of Costco Checkout

While Costco has held firm in its resistance to scan and go thus far, it‘s worth noting that the company has shown a willingness to adapt and innovate in other areas. Costco was initially slow to embrace e-commerce, but has since built out a robust online presence, with web sales growing 50% year-over-year in 2020.[^10]

It‘s possible that as scan and go continues to gain steam, Costco may explore ways to integrate it into its model without sacrificing the elements that make the Costco experience unique. For example, the retailer could offer scan and go as an option for smaller "fill-in" trips rather than large stock-up visits, or implement it only in designated areas of the store.

Costco may also look to emerging checkout technologies like Amazon‘s "Just Walk Out," which uses computer vision and AI to automatically detect and charge for items shoppers take from shelves, eliminating the need for any scanning at all. While this technology is likely still a ways off from widespread adoption, it hints at a future where the act of "checking out" is essentially eliminated.

For now, however, expect Costco to stay the course with its tried-and-true formula of bulk deals, treasure hunt excitement, and high-touch service at the checkout line. As long as shoppers keep flocking to fill their carts, Costco seems content to keep ringing them up the old-fashioned way.


In a retail world increasingly obsessed with speed and automation, Costco‘s resistance to scan and go stands out. But a closer look reveals that the warehouse giant‘s approach is less about stubbornness than it is about staying true to its unique value proposition.

By prioritizing bulk purchasing, curated selection, and high-touch service, Costco has cultivated a fiercely loyal customer base willing to pay an annual membership fee for the privilege of shopping there. And while scan and go might save a few minutes at checkout, it could undermine the very things that make Costco special.

As a savvy shopper and student of retail trends, I‘ll be watching closely to see how Costco continues to evolve its in-store experience in the years to come. But for now, I‘m content to keep exploring those treasure-filled aisles, filling my oversized cart, and enjoying a friendly chat with the cashier as I check out – no scanning required.

[^1]: Anyline. "The State of Mobile Shopping 2021." 2021.
[^2]: Sam‘s Club. "Sam‘s Club Evolves Its Scan & Go App, Merging Digital and Physical Experiences." 2019.
[^3]: Supermarket News. "BJ‘s launches mobile pay, enhanced app." 2017.
[^4]: Business Insider. "Walmart is eliminating the most dreaded part of holiday shopping." 2018.
[^5]: The Motley Fool. "3 Reasons Costco Is Beating Sam‘s Club." 2021.
[^6]: CNBC. "Inside the success of Costco‘s private label brand Kirkland Signature." 2019.
[^7]: Business Insider. "Why Costco pays its 180,000 employees so well." 2020.
[^8]: Kiplinger. "Worst Things to Buy at Costco." 2021.
[^9]: Technomic. "Self-Checkout Usage Continues to Rise." 2021.
[^10]: Digital Commerce 360. "Costco‘s online sales jumps 50.1% in its Q2." 2021.