• With quantity limits and no returns allowed on certain high-demand items, shopping at the warehouse store can be stressful during the coronavirus outbreak.
  • Business Insider spoke to three Costco employees from the East Coast, Illinois, and Texas who revealed the best practices to get the most out of a Costco run during the pandemic.
  • From the best times to shop to the most underrated items to buy, here's what they had to say.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories .

It's a crazy time for Costco.

The members-only warehouse chain has experienced a surge in demand as panic-buyers flock to the store to stock up on goods like toilet paper, rice, eggs, and hand sanitizer.

The chain is considered an "essential" business, so its stores have remained open while other businesses have temporarily shuttered amid the coronavirus outbreak.

With long lines and massive crowds reported at multiple stores, Costco can be a stressful place for a shopper during a pandemic. Business Insider spoke to three Costco employees from stores on the East Coast and in Illinois and Texas, who revealed the best practices for getting the most out of a Costco run during the pandemic.

From the best times to shop to the most underrated items to buy, here's what they had to say.

1. Call the store in advance

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Like many stores operating during the pandemic, Costco has been running out of essential items like hand sanitizer and toilet paper.

To avoid coming to Costco only to find empty shelves, an employee in an East Coast store recommended that shoppers call their store in advance to inquire about the availability of high-demand products.

2. Try to get there when the store opens

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"For the best chance to get the high demand item you really need, you'll want to be one of the first people through the door at opening," an employee in a Texas store said. "Right now that means be lined up about 30-60 minutes before opening."

Some Costco stores have changed their store hours , so it is also good to double check with your store before arriving.

3. The evening is another good time to shop

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An employee in an Illinois store said evening hours are another good time to shop.

"[There is] not a lot of traffic in the store and we get deliveries throughout the day so [the] store is stocked," this employee said of his store.

4. Consider buying online

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The Illinois Costco employee said that if he could, he would direct every customer to shop on Costco.com instead of coming into the store. Doing so helps limit the number of people in the store at a time, thereby making social distancing a lot easier.

5. Make a shopping list

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The Illinois employee added that if you do choose to come into the store, making a list is a great way to make sure the shopping trip moves quickly. Making a list can also help to avoid the need to make multiple trips to a store if you forget an item.

6. Consider alternatives to water bottles

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Costco recently placed purchase limits on certain in-demand items to curb the practice of overbuying. The company also barred returns on items like toilet paper, soap, and rice.

When it comes to buying water, employees recommended buying other items that are not selling out as quickly.

The Texas employee recommended that people buy filtered water pitchers.

"With bottled water hard to come by, these are a cost effective way to turn tap water into clean, drinkable water," the employee said.

The Illinois employee said he recommends using the company's water delivery service .

"You will get your water delivered and won't have to leave your house," the employee said. "Win win for everyone."

7. Consider buying protein bars or other long-lasting food products

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The Texas employee recommended buying protein bars at Costco, as they are loaded with nutrients and have a long shelf life.

As people stockpile perishable goods, the Illinois employee recommended that people buy vacuum-tight bags to preserve food. This employee said that purchases of that item have recently spiked in his store.

8. Buy items that can distract from boredom

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The Illinois employee also recommended buying books and gaming consoles at Costco. This employee said that buying the latter in the warehouse store is a great move because of the money you can save, as well as the extra bonuses you can get, like a free game or extra controller.

Buying these products can also make social isolation less monotonous.

"Stay home and use it," this employee said.

9. Shop with as few people as possible

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Both the East Coast and the Illinois employee said that it is best to shop alone or with as few people as possible to help maintain social distancing.

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SEE ALSO: Costco employees describe a frantic workplace as panic shoppers overrun stores and coronavirus cases mount at corporate headquarters