How Trader Joe’s Makes the Experience its Competitive Advantage

Customer Experience | 3 minute read

After graduating from university, I spent a sun-soaked 18 months living in Southern California. Having moved from Ireland, my family and friends back home were interested to hear what I liked and disliked about my new life “state side.” They did not expect to hear about my adoration for the supermarket chain Trader Joe’s, which happened to be conveniently located two blocks from my apartment.

I never considered trips to supermarkets to be transcendent experiences. So, why was I suddenly enjoying this erstwhile chore? It’s because Trader Joe’s (or “TJ’s” as it’s affectionately known) is no ordinary supermarket. It’s quirky. It’s affordable. It stocks good products. There is an essence of good vibes, partially attributable to the Hawaiian-shirt-attired employees and handwritten signs. Plus, when you’re in a crowded store after a long day of work, the friendly folks that work there lighten your mood.

I’m not the only TJ’s fan. In fact, there’s a dedicated fan club for people who are as equally smitten as me. TJ’s has also picked up some notable awards for customer experience, most recently ranking first among multichannel retailers in Forrester Research’s 2018 U.S. Customer Experience Index. So, how has TJ’s turned CX into its competitive advantage?

They Don’t Ignore the Importance of Employee Experience

There is an undeniable link between employee experience and customer experience. Forbes found that companies with highly-engaged employees outperform their competitors by 147%. TJ’s provides further evidence of this.

Trader Joes

In 2018, Glassdoor named Trader Joe’s as one of the best places to work in the U.S., no small feat in the often grueling world of retail. Not only does Trader Joe’s starting salary average well above most states’ minimum wages, employees consistently emphasize the sense of freedom and flexibility the chain fosters. In a study of TJ’s’ employees carried out by Pepperdine, “Crew members indicated that they felt empowered to make decisions, were collaborative in their relationship with others, and were motivated to high levels of performance. These characteristics were demonstrated in the extent to which they were enthusiastic, hardworking, outgoing, team and customer oriented.”

This goes a long way in creating a friendly atmosphere where employees take the initiative to be helpful. Being helpful saves customers time and money and greatly impacts customer satisfaction. I can vouch for this, having had cashiers suggest pairings for certain products or run to get me an ingredient I forgot while I unloaded the rest of my cart.

They Provide a Seamless In-Store Experience

Consumers have increasingly high expectations when it comes to their shopping experiences, which has consequently resulted in the experience “bar” being set very high for retailers. From entering the store to waiting in the checkout line, creating a positive memorable experience in the retail environment is a great way for brands to achieve differentiation and thrive in the long run. This is exactly what TJ’s has done.

Beyond the friendly staff, the in-store experience has been optimized with the customer in mind. For example, a typical supermarket has 40 to 50,000 SKUs (stock-keeping units). A Trader Joe’s store typically has about 4,000, so only about 10% of the total number of products. This difference is important. Psychologist Barry Schwartz says that reducing choice not only simplifies the shopping experience but reduces the stress of selecting from an overwhelming array of largely homogenous products. Forrester Research reported that 87% percent of TJ shoppers noted that their experience of shopping was easy.

Another element of this seamless in-store experience is the consistency across locations. You’ll see an almost identical inventory from San Diego, California, to Salem, Massachusetts. Not only can you get the same product in every TJ’s, you probably already know where they live in the store. This eliminates the frustration of finding yourself in a new grocery store and spending an inordinate amount of time searching for a few items.

In Conclusion

On a recent trip to Florida, my girlfriend could not understand how I could be excited by the prospect of visiting a grocery store. After all, buying groceries is not supposed to be fun. Therein lies the genius of TJ’s’ approach. They make it fun by offering great products and friendly customer service that is unparalleled in the supermarket world. As the importance of CX becomes clearer to brands, retailers have started to focus on providing customers with a seamless, enjoyable experience. They should look to TJ’s as an example.



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