Why Trader Joe's Doesn't Do Delivery Or Curbside Pickup

For some people, Trader Joe's isn't just a supermarket, it's a way of life. A significant group of shoppers prefer TJ's over any other grocery store (via Forbes). While TJ's shoppers aren't at the cult level of Apple consumers (per Insider), they do exhibit strong brand loyalty (via Prophet). They cite Trader Joe's manageable footprint, excellent customer service, broad selection of cheeses and seasonal items, exceptional dry and frozen foods selection, spectacularly priced wines (like its famous Two Buck Chuck), and relaxed, sample-laden vibe as reasons to stick around, even when the lines are out the door — as happened especially often during the pandemic in 2020 (via CNBC). 

In short, there are a lot of reasons to love Trader Joe's. Trader Joe's has expanded significantly over the past couple of decades in hot markets (per Winsight Grocery Business), though the chain prefers to persist in its slow and steady rate of growth, and carefully considers its market before opening a new location (via Dejan Gajsek). But one decision that has frustrated and confused even some of its biggest fans is TJ's policy regarding delivery and curbside pickup. That is, it doesn't have one. Trader Joe's doesn't deliver, and it don't offer pickup either. Online shopping is a no-fly zone for the home of the Fearless Flyer.

For some, it's the only chink in TJ's armor

Trader Joe's refusal to give in on this oft-repeated request has sparked more than a little outrage. The decision has been critiqued by fans looking for more convenience (via Reddit), but also by some people in the grocery business, who see it as an unwillingness to adjust to consumer spending and habits (per Twitter), first during, and now after the pandemic, since online supermarket sales are clearly here to stay. 

Reddit has its own Trader Joe's forum, and there are numerous threads bringing up this issue: One shopper called it "just stupid" and (during the pandemic) "a public health hazard." One Twitter user even suggested that Trader Joe's "would be worth more than Tesla right now if they had a home delivery service." 

A former regular at the supermarket vented their frustration, exclaiming, "It just seems more and more financially stupid as time goes on and more people are shifting to this kind of hybrid store/online/curbside model" (per Reddit).

Clever work-arounds

All that grumbling sounds a lot like pent-up consumer demand.  And where there is something a lot of people really want, there is usually someone ready to find a way to provide it. While Trader Joe's hasn't changed its mind about offering online ordering, delivery, or pickup, there are ways of getting TJ's brought to your home, if you know how. Many of TJ's shoppers are a committed bunch and have spread the word about ways to get your food from Trader Joe's delivered, even if it's not delivered directly from Trader Joe's itself. 

One of the most popular ways, judging from Twitter and Reddit threads, is the third-party app Dumpling. Dumpling connects people who want things delivered to people willing to shop for and deliver those items. Those people are essentially personal shoppers, and they can shop anywhere a customer requests, so they function much like a regular customer from Trader Joe's perspective. Dumpling charges a delivery fee, and a tip is suggested, so it's generally more expensive than a typical supermarket delivery service. However, for many shoppers, it's worth it. This is especially true for those who pay a lot for transportation to and from their local store or whose schedules make it hard to get into the store during regular business hours.

People first is the TJ's way

What's the story behind Trader Joe's strong resistance to delivery and online shopping, anyway? It's a deliberate part of the store's ethos and approach, and boils down to Trader Joe's identifying its store, the store experience, and its people, as itsbrand — as it was explained on one of the earliest of the Trader Joe's podcasts (via Trader Joe's) hosted by TJ's Tara Miller and Matt Sloan. They went on to address online shopping directly in April of 2020 (per Trader Joe's).

Miller raised the online shopping and curbside issue on so many shoppers' minds. Sloan had this to say in response, "Creating an online shopping system for curbside pickup or the infrastructure for delivery, it's a massive undertaking ... it requires tremendous resources ... at Trader Joe's ... we've invested those resources in our people rather than build an infrastructure that eliminates the need for people."  Miller chimed in, adding, "The bottom line here is that our people remain our most valued resource. While other retailers were cutting staff and adding things like self checkout, curbside pickup and outsourcing delivery options, we were hiring more crew, and we continue to do that" (via Trader Joe's Podcast).

Trader Joe's is an outlier in many elements of its business model, and its strong internal culture influences its decision-making (via Today). It's chosen to invest elsewhere in its business, and are hoping that customers can get on board with the culture that's informing its choice, even when it's inconvenient.

Any hope on the horizon?

Trader Joe's gives the impression that the discussion is not up for negotiation, but the chain is not entirely immune to changes in the grocery industry, consumer spending, and concerns. It did offer delivery for a period of time in the New York City stores, but gave up the practice in 2019, citing cost and space issues (via CNN). Even though that experiment didn't pan out, it shows that there is some room for re-evaluation.

While Trader Joe's overall approach has worked very well for the company (per Joel Eisenberg), as more and more grocery retailers get in on the online action, TJ's could start to lose out. Some recent reports suggest this could present a real problem as online retailers gain traction (via CBS News). TJ's isn't alone in its historic resistance to online shopping, and hopeful consumers can take refuge in the knowledge that other holdouts like Costco and Aldi have finally gotten on board the online train, particularly by outsourcing the bulk of the process to third-party apps like Instacart (via Aisle of Shame and Grocery Dive). 

And if Trader Joe's ever does change its policy, it can certainly count on an eager fan base ready to receive its "new" product!