Retailer Teardown & Takeaways: Trader Joe’s

Yes I know, Trader Joe’s isn’t an obscure secret trendy underground brand that nobody’s heard of. In fact, these days it’s closer to a frequent fan favorite brand that many consider to be an everyday household retailer – and they’ve gained this reputation by doing a lot of “little things” you may not even notice. Little things that improve customer loyalty, as well as create big increases to sales and profitability – meanwhile, the concepts can be applied to any retailer (not just food/grocers).  

Every brands should be paying attention to this 470+ store grocery business, which is why this week’s post breaks down a lot of the things Trader Joe’s does – what, how, and why, along with the takeaways to apply to your business or brand. 

We’ll dive right in by taking a trip to Trader Joe’s in the eyes of a customer – ME!

Every time I walk into my local Trader Joe’s I’m sucked into a world of absolute delight. YES – It’s “DELIGHTFUL” to go grocery shopping. I spend a ridiculous amount of time in there shopping for my favorite shishito peppers, cranberry-mandarin seltzer water, and salt and pepper pistachios. I walk around the store once putting everything I NEED in my cart and then I walk the store again, putting everything I WANT in my cart. I actually BROWSE at Trader Joe’s. Who browses as they grocery shop?? As minutes start ticking away, I start to time-travel with an hour quickly passing. Perhaps I have too much time on my hands OR maybe they are doing (more than) a few things right to keep me spending money – probably a combination of the two. 

Trader Joe's Products

Trader Joe’s has really high standards for all of their products. If it’s got a Trader Joe’s private label it’s got some pretty big shoes to fill. It must be free of high fructose corn syrup, GMO ingredients, hydrogenated oils, MSG, and artificial colors, preservatives, and flavors. Now whether YOU agree with these standards is a different discussion, but the point is THEIR CUSTOMERS do and they are putting some pretty strict boundaries in place to make sure they deliver exactly what their customer wants.

TAKEAWAY #1: Make sure your products actually represent your customer’s interests, not what you want.  

Trader Joe’s has very unique product offerings under their private label. Aside from all the basics, they aren’t afraid to step out and offer something a little different if they see the potential for their customer. They will take an item or category that is a known winner, usually a basic, and put a little twist on it. When done well, products have been known to sell out and can actually develop a bit of a cult classic appeal.

Green matcha tea yogurt anyone? 

TAKEAWAY #2: Don’t be afraid to take a few product risks, especially if you have some data to back up your gut feelings. You might just end up with a few more loyal customers.  

With notoriously top secret sourcing practices, Trader Joe’s doesn’t reveal who is behind their famous private brand products. While it’s believed that many of their brands are sourced through beloved national brands, the enigma alone keeps people coming back. 

TAKEAWAY #3: Even in today’s age of transparency, you don’t have to offer up every single thing to your customer - sometimes a little mystery is good. 

Trader Joe’s pricing is pretty top notch and they offer a solid value for the items they sell. They are open about their purchasing strategy - contracting early direct from suppliers, negotiating to get the best price, and purchasing in volume. Additionally, they don’t charge a stocking fee to keep prices low and pass it all along to the customer’s bottom line.

TAKEAWAY #4: This is a value equation. While their prices are lower than others, they aren’t the lowest. However when you combine their pricing with their customer experience strategy, they add way more value than any of their competition. 

Trader Joe's Customer Experience

Trader Joe's aisles - fully stocked, clean, & easy to shop

Trader Joe's aisles - fully stocked, clean, & easy to shop

Trader Joe’s keeps it pretty real meaning what you see is what you get…literally. There is no giant stockroom in the back with floor to ceiling backstock. Instead stores frequently get multiple deliveries a day. So unless your favorite product is waiting to be shelved from today’s deliveries, it’s likely not there. In today’s age of transparency, it’s nice to know exactly where my products stand, not to mention it means your items are likely pretty fresh.

TAKEAWAY #5: Be honest about who you are and what you can deliver.   

Did you know you can try almost anything you want at Trader Joe’s? Obviously with the exception of uncooked items, you can ask an employee next time you aren’t sure if you’ll like their organic blue corn chips, and they’ll let you try it out. (I'd recommend them - they are deliciously salty). Trader Joe’s would prefer you ask for a taste test then to purchase the item and be unhappy with it.

How’s that for putting the customer first?!

TAKEAWAY #6: Do what it takes to make your customer happy. 

I’ve never had a negative experience with the team at Trader Joe’s. They are always helpful, pleasant, and I frequently find myself in conversations with team members as I check out. (One chat that stands out - the questioning of my 20 count lime purchase, and my reply, "Sarah's famous homemade margs"). 

TAKEAWAY #7: Your teams are your brand advocates – make sure they are just as excited to be there as your customers are to shop.

Trader Joe's Store Experience

Trader’s Joe is clean. Do I have to say more about this? It’s a grocery store – it should be clean if it wants to be the housing station for my soon to be food.

TAKEAWAY #8: As much as we talk about aesthetics today in retail, this simple standard should never go overlooked. No one wants to shop in a dirty store (or bathroom).

There is no getting lost in this store for me because Trader Joe’s is easy to shop. I frequently get frustrated in those BIG grocery stores looking for an obscure item, walking from aisle to aisle unable to find the product, or a team member, to help me locate it. Not so at Trader Joe’s! It’s modest size and great organization of products make it easy to shop and locate exactly what I’m looking for.

TAKEAWAY #9: every store is a different size, however there is no good reason to remain unorganized. Make sure your products are merchandised nicely and easy to find.

Trader Joe's hand drawn artwork

Trader Joe's hand drawn artwork

The final obvious reason that Trader Joe’s rocks…it’s fun! There is a reason that many Trader Joe’s employees wear Hawaiian shirts and the store features hand drawn artwork throughout advertising their specials. It’s a purposeful strategy to entice the shopper to relax for a moment and enjoy their shopping experience.

TAKEAWAY #10: Create an ambiance that you would want to shop. It may be different from brand to brand, but it should represent you and your brand uniquely.


When it comes down to it, inspiration for your business and brand can be found just about anywhere. There is always some nugget of good strategy, product, or customer experience to be found and applied, regardless of your business type. It’s about keeping your eyes open to opportunities and learning from the positive wins of others. 

If this article resonated with you, I welcome you to subscribe to my e-newsletter HERE. By doing so, you'll receive alerts for new features in my blog featuring retail trends and insights, exciting business updates, and much more. Or if, after reading this article, you conclude that you found it helpful, please feel free to share it with your network. Thanks!