If you feel like you walk into Trader Joe’s for one thing but walk out with 20, there may be a reason for that.
Trader Joe’s lover Nicole Urban shared the psychological tricks used by the popular supermarket without customers knowing – and reveals how it helps the chain make profits and encourages you to buy more.
She started by outlining the key factors that differentiate Trader Joe’s, which will see peak sales of $13.3 billion in 2022, from other supermarkets.
“Trader Joe’s has roughly one-tenth of the items that the average grocery store has,” Nicole explains in the TikTok video, which has been viewed more than 4.5 million times since it was posted last week. “86 percent of Trader Joe’s products are sold directly by Trader Joe’s.”
Trader Joe’s enthusiast Nicole Urban shared the psychological tricks used by the popular supermarket chain, explaining how it helps them make profits and makes you buy more in a TikTok that has been viewed more than 4.5 million times
Nicole explained that Trader Joe’s sells about one-tenth of the items of the average supermarket, and 86 percent of their products are sold directly by Trader Joe’s.
Nicole also pointed out that the supermarket does not have a sale, does not offer coupons or savings cards, nor does it run advertising campaigns or offer an online delivery service.
“On paper, this sounds like a terrible business practice,” she acknowledged. “So how does this company do this?”
She revealed: ‘It’s because their business model is based on investing heavily in customer experience.’
The Trader Joe’s fan went on to rattle off a whole list of factors, starting with the claim that the chain is very specific with who it hires — choosing people who are “very charismatic.”
“They love to start a conversation,” she explained. “They tend to do more than cashiers in regular supermarkets.”
Nicole points out that there are always enough employees available if you need help.
“They’re always there,” she noted. “They are always stocking the shelves during store hours, and if customers ask where an item is, associates are trained to guide them down the aisle and talk to them along the way.”
Another tactic is the store’s artistic design, where the price tags and signage at each location are hand-drawn.
“These factors make customers feel like they are in a local market,” Nicole explains. ‘Instead of a supermarket chain with more than 500 locations in the United States.’
Nicole said part of their tactic is to make the mass supermarket look like a small market, as well as hiring people who are “very charismatic.”
Features like hand-drawn signs (pictured) make customers feel like they are at a local market, Nicole said
According to Nicole, there’s one big reason people love Trader Joe’s so much: the lack of choice.
“Having too many options isn’t always a good thing,” she explained. ‘For customers, having more choice is often paralyzing instead of liberating.’
She also said that when there are too many options, shoppers can sometimes become overwhelmed, resulting in “choice overload” and failure to make a decision.
The savvy shopper pointed out that many people like Trader Joe’s because there are fewer brands to choose from, which “removes the paradox of choice.”
Nicole noted that, according to a Columbia University researcher, traditional American supermarkets offer an average of 35,000 items or more, while Trader Joe’s offers about 3,000.
“As I mentioned before, most of their products are sold directly by the brand,” she continued.
‘You don’t have to choose between a lot of different brands, which means you’re less likely to get brain fatigue. Your decision-making capacity remains intact, so you don’t make impulsive purchasing choices.’
TikTok users were divided over the supermarket’s brutal tactics
Another trick is that the layout of the store and car park makes it appear busier and draws customers in, while keeping stock and prices ‘reliable and consistent’ and keeping them coming back.
“For the most part, you pretty much always know what to expect,” Nicole said.
‘But what they take you from is the seasonal items and the limited edition experimental products – this adds to the experience of shopping, making it feel like a treasure hunt.’
She said it also activates a scarcity mentality, which can increase the likelihood of impulsive shopping.
Her next point had to do with the layout, noting that the open freezers make it “more fun and accessible” compared to other supermarkets with freezer doors, meaning you would probably have made a decision before opening the door.
“This gives customers the freedom to browse in a more informal way,” she noted.
The consistency of their products ensures that customers are excited about the seasonal items and limited edition experimental products. “This adds to the experience of shopping, making it feel like a treasure hunt,” Nicole noted
Nicole said the store relies on people’s loyalty to the products and keeps prices consistent to keep them coming back
Thousands of users commented on Nicole’s video, with many admitting they were sucked into Trader Joe’s while shopping.
“I’m a sucker for their plans,” one customer admitted. “My friend goes and spends $70 for a week. If I go, I’ll spend $150.”
“I love that they don’t have a billion choices, and as an anxious person, I love that. I’ve been shopping there since 2005!’ exclaimed another.
“My entire shopping trip at Trader Joe’s consists of impulsive purchases,” another added. ‘It’s just an ADHD attack. Weeeeeee.”
However, some shoppers didn’t fall for their tricks and found the story busy and overwhelming.
‘TJs is so overstimulating that I can’t comfortably send more than 10 minutes into it. Also glorified snacks,” one irate customer wrote.
In 2019, The Paradox of Choice author Barry Schwartz explained how the grocery story has managed to outpace competition like Whole Foods, noting some of the points Nicole also made.
“They probably did it to control costs,” the author said of what turned out to be a happy business model for Trader Joe’s.
“Inventory management, you know, simplifying the supply chain. And someone thought that if you offered other types of value, people would be willing to forego options.
“You can’t have everything, but everything we have is worth it and we make your life easier.”