A recent podcast episode from the grocery chain helps explain the policy.

By Mike Pomranz
April 28, 2020
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Trader Joe’s has always prided itself on doing things differently, and being just a wee bit anachronistic is part of the charm—from hand-drawn display boards to bells instead of a PA system. True story: I applied for a cashier position at Trader Joe’s around 2001 and had to complete a math test because, at the time, the chain was still avoiding computer checkout systems. So it’s easy to understand why, under normal circumstances, the grocery chain wouldn’t offer delivery or pickup. But the COVID-19 pandemic is not a normal circumstance—and delivery has become more popular than ever. So why isn’t Trader Joe’s jumping on the bandwagon?

Interestingly enough, the company addressed this last week in an unlikely place (which I guess is on-brand)—the most recent edition of its semi-regular Inside Trader Joe’s official company podcast. In “Episode 24: The Coffee Cuppers’ Guide to Trader Joe’s,” Marketing Director Tara Miller begins on a much different topic, saying, “We want to take a moment to talk about the current state of things.”

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Matt Sloan, Trader Joe's vice president of marketing, soon chimes in. “Our main focus as a company has been doing what's right for our crew members and customers for decades,” he states. “And in fact, it's that focus that provides the answer to one of the most frequently asked questions we're hearing right now.”

“Customers are asking if given current circumstances, we're planning on offering delivery or curbside pickup,” Miller says next, getting to the heart of the matter. “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.”

Sloan then tag-teams back in. “Creating an online shopping system for curbside pickup or the infrastructure for delivery, it's a massive undertaking,” he explains. “It's something that takes months or years to plan, build and implement and it requires tremendous resources. Well, 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.”

Finally, Miller wraps things up. “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,” she says. “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.”

Adding to Trader Joe’s defense is that the company actually has, in the past, tried delivery on a limited basis. But early last year, the grocer announced it was ending delivery in New York City, and at the time, seemed so fed up with delivery that they said they were done with the idea companywide. “Instead of passing along unsustainable cost increases to our customers, removing delivery will allow us to continue offering outstanding values—quality products for great everyday prices, and to make better use of valuable space in our stores,” Trader Joe's representative Kenya Friend-Daniel told Business Insider at the time. “This was not a decision we made lightly. We value our customers and all that they do to come shop with us.”

Granted, things change: Trader Joe’s now has cashiers scanning groceries, unlike two decades ago. But at the same time, Trader Joe’s has also proved it will move at its own pace when it comes to adapting, pandemic or not.