There’s so much to love about shopping at Trader Joe’s. Low prices, friendly staffers, unique products — the list goes on. And while shopping at Trader Joe’s is easy enough once you’ve been there a few times, there’s definitely a bit of a learning curve. This isn’t your average grocery store, after all.
One reason people are so obsessed with Trader Joe’s is the store’s ever-changing supply of quirky, unexpected, and totally different food items. It’s not just that other grocery stores don’t carry these products, it’s that Trader Joe’s is literally inventing them. They’re combining some of our favorite flavors and textures in new and surprising ways, with a focus on making foods inclusive for people with all sorts of dietary restrictions and preferences. Vegetarians and meat-eaters alike love Trader Joe’s cauliflower gnocchi. The chain’s Everything But The Bagel seasoning and spread is beloved by eaters from all walks of life.
All this variety can make shopping at Trader Joe’s a bit intimidating for the first time. The store takes a unique approach to business in order to offer low, low prices. Whether you’re a seasoned veteran or you’re shopping at Trader Joe’s for the first time, you’ll want to be mindful of these things you should never, ever do.
Don’t skip the flower bouquets at Trader Joe’s
When you walk through the doors of your local Trader Joe’s, you might be inclined to head right to the display of ridiculously cheap bananas. Not so fast. Right inside the store’s front door, you can find a treasure trove of fresh flower bouquets, a few types of potted plants, herbs, and other fresh plant goodies.
Go ahead, treat yourself. Add a bouquet of flowers to your cart, even if you’re just there to pick up a few things, because you deserve it. Also because Trader Joe’s flowers are incredibly affordable — and the store doesn’t skimp on quality, either. The Kitchn compared flower prices at Trader Joe’s, Costco, Aldi, Kroger, and Whole Foods. They found that Trader Joe’s has some of the most affordable flowers on the market, with bouquets starting at $3.99. And when it comes to a dozen roses, Trader Joe’s handily beat the competition.
Don’t forget to read the Trader Joe’s Fearless Flyer
Before you start making your Trader Joe’s shopping list, you’ll want to take a peek at the latest Fearless Flyer. Part newsletter, part magazine, part comic book, the Fearless Flyer is where you’ll find all the information you could ever want about Trader Joe’s newest products. And because the store is constantly adding new items to its shelves, reading the Fearless Flyer is one of the best ways to prepare in advance for your upcoming shopping trip. Plus, it’s just fun to read. The Flyer often contains recipes, nutrition information, witty jokes, and creative ways to use Trader Joe’s groceries you might not have considered.
You can ask Trader Joe’s to add you to their Fearless Flyer mailing list for a hard copy, or sign up to receive the Flyer via email. Trader Joe’s also has a handy email newsletter with even more information, ranging from events and contests to how-to guides. You can also access the Fearless Flyer on the Trader Joe’s website, where they’ve created a handy digital shopping list with the latest products. You can check the boxes next to any item you want to remember to purchase, then print the whole thing out and bring it with you to Trader Joe’s.
Don’t leave sample trash around the store
One of the best parts of shopping at Trader Joe’s is the ability to sample products, including new food items the store is trying to highlight. There’s often a friendly employee manning a sample station near the back of the store, handing out tiny paper cups of salsa or little napkins topped with a piece of their newest pastry.
You might be so excited at the prospect of tasting these new foods that you accidentally set your trash down on the counter or drop it into your cart. But of course, this is really bad etiquette and it’s a pet peeve of store staffers (via Insider). Trader Joe’s employees already work hard to keep prices cheap. Go ahead and make their lives a little easier by tossing your sample trash in a garbage can or, if necessary, in your purse or shopping bag.
Most Trader Joe stores are small, too, so even a few pieces of trash can really make the store dirty — and fast. Clean up after yourself so that your store stays neat and tidy for other shoppers.
Don’t forget to have your kids look for Trader Joe’s hidden stuffed animal
If you typically leave your children at home while you venture out to do the grocery shopping, you might want to reconsider if you’re paying a visit to Trader Joe’s. Why? Because shopping at Trader Joe’s with kids can actually be a really fun outing for them — no complaints about boring grocery shopping here. Trader Joe’s welcomes children (with their parents) with open arms.
Staff members at many locations hide a cute stuffed animal somewhere in the store. Lobsters, lemurs, donkeys, monkeys, and whales are just some of the animals that kids have spotted hanging out among the canned goods or between boxes of cookies. Even better, kids who find the stuffed animals get a little treat or prize for their discovery, too. Not all stores hide stuffed animals, but most do, so it’s worth a shot. A Trader Joe’s spokeswoman told Today that the game is intended to help keep little shoppers engaged while their parents grab everything on their list. How sweet!
Don’t ignore Trader Joe’s return policy
While pretty much everything you’ll find on the shelves of your local Trader Joe’s is delicious, there may be times when something just doesn’t quite mesh with your tastebuds or when a product just seems … off. The team at Trader Joe’s understands this and will graciously give you a refund or let you grab a replacement item, no questions asked.
It’s not just that Trader Joe’s has a generous return policy. It’s also that the store makes it easy for shoppers to get in and out quickly, without all the hassles typically associated with returns or refunds at other stores. One customer shared on Reddit that Trader Joe’s employees have always been super chill about product issues. When the Reddit poster brought in a bag of arugula that had gone bad, an employee said to simply grab another one and tell the employee at the checkout counter that it was free. The same scenario played out with a bottle of lotion that had a broken pump. Bottom line: Don’t be afraid to speak up at Trader Joe’s if you realize something isn’t quite right after you get home and unload your shopping bags.
Don’t shop at Trader Joe’s on the wrong days
As with many stores, there are right days and then there are wrong days to do your shopping. Okay, "wrong" might be a strong word here, since you’ll still be able to get all the groceries you need. But if you really want to optimize your next Trader Joe’s visit, consider shopping on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Better yet, shop in the mornings on those days.
The reason is pretty simple. Many Trader Joe’s stores have tiny footprints, which can make them feel especially crowded during peak shopping times. People sure do love their Trader Joe’s, after all. The stores also don’t use self-checkout lanes, either, so you may have to wait in line for an employee to scan and bag your groceries. If you’d rather shop in peace, Tuesday and Wednesday mornings tend to be the least busy times at most Trader Joe’s stores, according to a manager on Reddit.
Another perk of shopping early? Your store will have the freshest produce at that time. Plus, some hot-ticket items (we’re looking at you, cauliflower gnocchi) might even be sold out by the middle of the afternoon. So shop early and get ’em while you can!
Don’t ring the bells at the checkout line
We get it. Standing in the checkout line at any grocery store can be tedious. But just because you’re bored doesn’t mean you should start fussing with items you see at the checkout stand. More specifically, don’t mess with the shiny metal bells hanging from the wall or the stand at your Trader Joe’s store.
These bells may seem like a fun diversion for customers — but they’re anything but that. Trader Joe’s employees use these bells to communicate with each other, in lieu of a fancy public announcement speaker system installed throughout the store.
Trader Joe’s employees know a special morse code that’s reminiscent of what sailors heard while onboard a ship. The bells can indicate everything from, "It’s time to open another register" to, "We need a manager" (we’re paraphrasing here). If you randomly ring the bell, you’ll distract store employees from more important tasks, like stocking the freezer with more mango mochi or adding additional bottles of Two-Buck Chuck to the shelves. If you’re bored, play a game on your phone or strike up a conversation with other shoppers instead — you just might make a new shopping buddy.
Don’t skip Trader Joe’s private label products
Look around the shelves of your local Trader Joe’s and you’ll notice tons of unique products you’ve probably never seen anywhere else. Not to mention the bright, bold, and colorful labels that adorn these bottles, boxes, and bags. You can thank Trader Joe’s private label for all these interesting and delicious foods (plus the quirky branding!).
You might be looking for your favorite brand names while shopping, but you really, really don’t want to skip out on the grocery chain’s in-house store brand. Not only are these private label products super affordable, but they’re also innovative and tasty. Case in point: Trader Joe’s wildly popular "Everything But The Bagel" seasoning, which until recently you couldn’t find anywhere else. Trader Joe’s team just thinks way outside the box, developing creative items like watermelon fruit spread, "brookies" (a hybrid of brownies and cookies), and ketchup seasoned with black summer truffles. Just wow.
Don’t drive your car to Trader Joe’s if you can help it
Driving your car to get groceries just makes sense. If you’re shopping for a family or loading up for a backyard barbecue, chances are you’ll have lots of bags of groceries – and the trunk and backseat of your car is the perfect place to stash them.
But at Trader Joe’s, you might want to reconsider your grocery shopping strategy. You’ll make your life a lot easier by riding your bike, take public transportation, or using a ride-sharing service to Trader Joe’s. This is because Trader Joe’s stores have famously small parking lots, with tiny parking spaces and tight corners. Trying to park a car will absolutely frustrate you, which is not the kind of mood you want to be in when shopping at a fun place like Trader Joe’s.
The small parking lots aren’t an oversight by the grocery chain, either. It’s all part of Trader Joe’s strategy for saving you money. Smaller parking lots means lower overhead costs, which can be passed along to customers. The small parking lots may also have something to do with Trader Joe’s parent company, which owns the German grocery chain Aldi (via CityLab). In Europe, they just don’t build stores with huge sprawling parking lots attached to them.
Don’t skip the Trader Joe’s wine and beer section
If you’re running a bunch of errands, there’s no need to make a special trip to the liquor store if you’re planning to stop by Trader Joe’s. Not only can you pick up your groceries for the week, but you can also grab some beer and wine while you’re at it.
And if you’re concerned about the quality of Trader Joe’s wine and beer selection, think again. The grocery chain is best known for its famous "Two-Buck Chuck," named for its low, low price. But you’ll find so much more, whether you’re into hoppy IPA beers or bold red wines. Some Trader Joe locations even carry liquor, depending on local alcohol rules and regulations. There are dozens of Trader Joe’s private-label offerings, but you’ll also find beers and wines made by companies you recognize. The stores often partner with local beer and wine producers to stock their shelves, and they carry some national brands, too.
Don’t get too attached to your favorite Trader Joe’s products
Thanks to Trader Joe’s seemingly endless supply of unconventional and flavorful products, you’re probably going to find some new foods and items you just can’t live without. And, chances are, you won’t be able to find these products anywhere else either, which is one reason you keep coming back to Trader Joe’s week after week.
But be forewarned: It’s not a good idea to get too attached to any one product sold at Trader Joe’s. The store is constantly reinventing itself, rolling out new products while discontinuing other popular items. Brands often run experiments, during which they release a limited supply of something new, then wait to see how it performs. But if a new item flops, you may never be able to find it again – it’s just a gamble. As the folks at Trader Joe’s like to say, "It’s all part of the shopping adventure." Good or bad, this is just how the grocery chain operates.
Don’t expect sales or coupons at Trader Joe’s
You may be accustomed to clipping coupons or using your customer loyalty card to score extra discounts at your regular grocery store. But if you’re planning to shop at Trader Joe’s, you can skip all these extra steps and just head right to the checkout counter.
As a rule, Trader Joe’s doesn’t offer sales, deals, promotions, or other discounts in its stores. Period. The grocery chain also doesn’t have any type of membership or loyalty program, either. This is because Trader Joe’s tries to offer the best prices it can every day of the week. And if you’re seeing a special Trader Joe’s coupon or gift card deal online, just back away from your computer. These are either scams or unauthorized parties using Trader Joe’s name. The chain doesn’t offer online promotions, coupons, or deals, either, so don’t be fooled.
And while you’re at it, go ahead and report what you’ve encountered to Trader Joe’s "Trader Joe’s has no association with these organizations. When alerted to the existence of misleading promotions of this nature, we actively attempt to get our name removed," according to the store’s website.
Don’t expect to do all your grocery shopping at Trader Joe’s
Though Trader Joe’s is a far cry from a tiny specialty store or a boutique grocery shop, you shouldn’t plan to do all of your grocery shopping here. Though some people can get away with making Trader Joe’s their one and only grocery store, other people may find they have to make additional shopping trips elsewhere to pick up other products on their list.
While Trader Joe’s carries a diverse selection of products, they don’t carry a ton of products, and some Trader Joe’s foods are a hard pass. By some estimates, Trader Joe’s has about 4,000 products at any given store, which is much lower than the 50,000 products you can expect to find on the shelves of a traditional grocery store (via CNBC). This helps Trader Joe’s employees more efficiently unload delivery trucks and stock shelves, since there are just fewer products to mess with. Down the line, this also helps Trader Joe’s keep each store’s labor costs low, which they can (and do) pass along to shoppers in the form of lower prices. It all makes sense now.
Don’t ask two Trader Joe’s employees for the same item
If you arrive at your local Trader Joe’s store and see that the space where your favorite product should be is bare, it’s totally OK to ask an employee to check if there are any extras in the back. But what’s not cool is getting impatient and asking two employees to unwittingly perform this task at the same time.
This is a particular pet peeve for store employees, who are all trying to do more with less to keep prices as low as possible (via Insider). You’re wasting their time and keeping them from other important tasks, like restocking shelves or helping other customers. Just be patient and remember that Trader Joe’s often sells out of popular items. You snooze, you lose. It behooves you to get to the store early if you really, really want something. Ask employees to fill you in on their typical restocking or shipment dates so you can plan ahead for next time.
Don’t forget to take advantage of Trader Joe’s sample philosophy
One of the coolest parts about shopping at Trader Joe’s is you really never know what you might find. If you see something new and enticing, you could just go ahead and throw it into your cart. You can try it out at home to see if you like it. Or you could take advantage of Trader Joe’s generous sample philosophy instead. The chain actively encourages customers to try items in the store before they buy them.
Obviously, there are limitations — PopSugar reports that you can’t ask for a sample of frozen foods, for example, or alcohol (this isn’t a bar!). But you can always ask an employee to help you taste snacks, fruits, vegetables, and some of Trader Joe’s prepared foods like sushi, sandwiches, and salads. Don’t abuse this generosity, but also don’t be afraid to ask. Trader Joe’s gets so many new products all the time that it would be impossible to keep up without trying some every now and again.