In a dream world, would you have all your Trader Joe’s favorites regularly shipped to your door? For better or worse, being able to load up a virtual cart with Mini Almost Everything Bagel Sandwich Crackers and Coffee and Dark Chocolate Joe-Joe’s Cookies when the best new products come out is not something that TJ’s plans to embrace anytime soon. Le sigh.

In the latest episode of their in-house podcast, Inside Trader Joe’s, co-hosts Tara Miller and Matt Sloan dig into why TJ’s likes its place in the world as a brick-and-mortar-only establishment. Literal brick-and-mortar stores are a fundamental part of their business model and overall approach to their marketing strategy. They love being a “real” in-person retailer for a number of reasons, but perhaps most importantly as Sloan says, “It’s because we’re good at it, and it’s because we know how to go about it.”

Like any business, though, cost is a major consideration. And Miller doesn’t hesitate to bring that to the forefront by talking about the added costs associated with ordering things online. And I’m embarrassed to admit this, but the way she explained it really stopped me in my tracks. As she put it, “Somewhere in the chain there are costs involved with ordering things online, shipping things to your door, with trucks and warehouses that are dedicated to not servicing a store location, which services a lot of people, but servicing individual homes where products get delivered.”

The idea that online shopping caters to one versus many should come as no surprise. But since the rise of Amazon shopping, I’ve always thought of this model as being more cost-efficient for businesses. So it definitely took me aback to have it framed to highlight the idea of catering to one versus many. And it does seem kind of silly to have this level of attention as a consumer. I mean, it’s not like I’m Oprah! As a direct result of the pandemic, so many of us have gotten used to the online shopping experience and the immediate convenience it provides. I’m not even sure if I can go back to my old ways anymore.

But the shopping experience is an equally important reason that TJ’s isn’t keen to offer an online option. The store itself is their brand—the way the customers, staff and products interact in the space together creates something special. Being in-store allows customers to interact with the crew, navigate the layout of the store and experience firsthand new, fun and innovative products they might not otherwise know about. This is intentional. “There’s this treasure hunt that we hope is experienced by customers,” says Sloan.

Setting themselves apart from other online retailers and competitors who offer online shopping options is important to them. Trader Joe’s is “not a big box.” They value being a small footprint store. “There are always going to be costs associated with running a business,” says Miller. “We prefer that those costs be people; we’re familiar with our products, we’re familiar with our neighborhoods, we’re familiar with our customers.” And that personalized experience is what makes them unique. They’re clearly doing something right to have dedicated fans who vote yearly on their favorite products.

Sloan also acknowledges their behavioral economics strategy in action. This approach, used by the majority of, if not all, businesses, takes an understanding of human behavior and decision-making to help influence buying. The store design “drives a lot of behavioral stuff too. We can only fit so many things, so many products, and people come in and they interact. They have to navigate around other people and they speak with those people and that’s all on purpose.”

So not only does TJ’s have really good products at a lower cost, they are very good at creating a welcoming, interactive and exciting space that makes customers want to come back, try all the new things and talk about them with their friends. So even if they only ever remain a brick-and-mortar business, we’ll likely never stop shopping there. There are just too many amazing things we can’t live without.

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