There’s a reason Trader Joe’s won’t let you order groceries for pickup or delivery

Illustration for article titled There’s a reason Trader Joe’s won’t let you order groceries for pickup or delivery
Photo: Alexi Rosenfeld (Getty Images)

As both a crowd control measure and a safety precaution for essential employees, many grocery stores have begun offering grocery pickup and/or delivery during nationwide stay-at-home orders. Online ordering forms make it simple to select your items and choose a pickup window, and while you might not get everything you ordered, it beats wandering narrow, crowded aisles and handing your card off to someone who’s had to interact with too many people today already. But Trader Joe’s, beacon of delicious frozen foods and comforting snacks, won’t budge. It continues to operate sans pickup or delivery, and now the grocery chain has explained why.

Business Insider notes that on a recent episode of the Inside Trader Joe’s podcast—a podcast that has existed since 2018, with episodes like “We’re Nuts About Wine and Cheese” and “Why Is Everyone So Nice?”—the company provided an update on how the chain is handling operations in the midst of COVID-19. When it comes to curbside pickup or delivery, Trader Joe’s marketing director Tara Miller notes, “We understand the impulse, and we know that some other retailers are offering these services. We also know those offerings don’t always translate into positive results.”

Matt Sloan, vice president of marketing at Trader Joe’s, also chimed in, explaining that for a grocery chain with 505 locations and counting, it would be a “massive undertaking” to implement an effective online ordering and delivery system. “At Trader Joe’s, the reality is that over the last couple of decades we’ve invested those resources in our people rather than build an infrastructure that eliminates the need for people,” said Sloan.


This might also be Trader Joe’s protecting its own relevance in a post-COVID-19 world. The current restrictions will be lifted at some point in the (hopefully near) future, and when they are, the grocery chain known for its friendly service, free samples, and fun environment doesn’t want to be left saddled with the conundrum of how to take all those defining features of the Trader Joe’s experience and move them online. Instead, it wants to play to its strengths—or, as Sloan puts it, “We know that this period of distancing will end and when it does, our crew will be in our stores to help you find your next favorite product, just as they’ve always been.”

The podcast then moved on to its topic du jour, coffee, and in an iconically Trader Joe’s move, the episode featured a game show called Get Buzzed.

Marnie Shure is editor in chief of The Takeout.

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¿Donde está la biblioteca?

Hmm. No. I’d say that Trader Joe’s is on the wrong side of the coin here. Whilst they may think that people will want to frequent their stores post-lockdown (and they may well be correct), there’s no actual indication that everything will return back to the way it was before. In my country (UK) we’ve seen a massive increase in online food shopping, to the point where our biggest supermarkets - Tesco, ASDA, Sainsburys, et al - are all struggling with the demand. And here’s the thing - once you start shopping for food online, it’s actually harder to bring yourself to go into a supermarket to do your weekly shopping. Believe me, I know. I used to say to people that the only things I wouldn’t buy online were things like fresh fruit, vegetables and eggs - well, after being made to queue outside a supermarket last month for half an hour before I got to go inside to find zero bread on sale (oh, so that’s what it was like in Soviet Russia?)? Yeah, I’m going online all the time now.

Here’s the thing that Trader Joe’s is ignoring:  this crisis will pass, but the behaviour of the consumers will take a long time to shift back.  Yes, the staff may be “friendlier” (as if you couldn’t increase on that saccharine-sweet yankee-doodle customer service...) but your customers are going to remember that it’s easier for them to go to another store online - where the same products (or similar) will be on sale and cheaper.  Oh, and they can get them delivered to their home at a time that’s better for them.  We’ve seen several stores shit themselves and start offering online food shopping in the past two months, purely because people just do not want to go into a store and possibly risk their health.  What makes Trader Joe’s think that makes them so special?