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trader joes, where less is more

(Welcome to the second in a two-post series on how retailers manage the choice conundrum.  This is written by C. B. Whittemore, Chief Simplifier of Simple Marketing Now, a marketing communications consultancy focused on simplifying customer interactions with social media and content marketing.  The first post, REI Makes Choosing Easier, which I wrote, can be found on her blog, Flooring the Consumer — part of my regular reading repertoire along with C.B.’s Twitter gems. .)

Trader Joe’s considers itself an intensely committed product driven company. Unlike traditional grocery stores, Trader Joe’s takes product to a new level with a carefully managed product line of approximately 4,000 SKUs [vs. the more traditional and overwhelming 50,000 SKUs]. Products earn the right to be included; few items get added without a lesser performing product being eliminated. Talk about careful product curation! [see Trader Joe’s – Where Values Drive The Brand]. You will find no redundant and confusing options to choose from!

What might be construed as limited product selection does not mean that Trader Joe’s is an unpleasant or boring store to shop in. Quite the contrary! The careful curation of products combined with a Zappos-like Wow!-customer-experience-commitment makes for a store that reinvents the notion of discovery, engages shoppers, instills in them confidence and enthusiasm and creates a comfortable environment for making sense of product choices and indulging in impromptu experimentation.

Humor doesn’t hurt either! Look in the Trader Joe’s Fearless Flyer – described below – for the statement “…For mental consumption only.”

Have you visited a Trader Joe’s? You won’t yet find them in every state in the US [see http://www.traderjoes.com/pdf/locations/all-llocations.pdf], but each new opening is a major event worth celebrating given how involved each store is in its community [see http://www.traderjoes.com/stores/neighborhood-involvement.asp] and how each reflects the neighborhood it lives in. Trader Joe’s takes seriously its tagline as “your neighborhood grocery store” [see Trader Joe’s Neighborhood Grocery Retail Experience].

These images from the Trader Joe’s in Wayne, NJ, reflect the local William Patterson University Football Team.

Trader Joe’s relies on two primary means for communicating with customers about products:

• The monthly Trader Joe’s Fearless Flyer which you can sign up for online. It’s a 20+ page brochure filled with stories about products, about the product selection process, about the product discovery process, etc. You’ll find quotes, whimsical images, valuable information and even a ‘Handy Flyer Shopping List’ that you can cut out and take with you when you shop to remind you of what to buy… It’s also the kind of brochure that you hang onto rather than file away in the circular recycling bin.

Radio ads where real Trader Joe’s crew members [including CEO Dan Bane!] tell real stories about Trader Joe’s products.

Once in-store, the story-telling takes place through signage

and tastings that bring featured products to life.

The crew member conducting tastings offered us generous portions [enough so you really know what it is you are trying], and didn’t begrudge a 9 year old coming back for seconds [and possibly even thirds!]. When asked, she explained that she loves her job and Trader Joe’s. For real. Wow!

There’s more product discovery to be had… If you’re willing to try something new, but want to learn more about the product, hand-written signage [a trick ‘borrowed’ from Disney] offers information relevant to a cheese-lover:

I look forward to visiting a Trader Joe’s store. The scale is human, even if I’m visiting Little Italy!

Grocery shopping is a basic need. As a child, I loved visiting the small Parisian specialty grocery stores on the street where my grandmother lived. None was huge; each was filled with surprises and delights – I can still remember smelling ripe peaches and being astonished at the many different kinds of pears. All seemed very real and human.

Trader Joe’s has that quality. Every product offered has meaning. The overall selection and presentation reflect intelligence and respect for me, the shopper. It’s a store where how a product tastes still matters, where what goes into a product has been considered, and where product information is readily available [see http://www.traderjoes.com/products.asp] as many friends with specific dietary needs frequently tell me. Unlike traditional grocery stores, it also exudes warmth.

Trader Joe’s may offer customers less choice. However, in terms of ease of choosing and relevance of choice, it is definitely where less choice is more. No wonder it’s one of the hottest retailers in the US, with sales of approximately $8 billion and on par with Whole Foods. Wouldn’t you want to go where choosing is easy?

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  • At Scarlet Opus we have been forecasting the less is best policy for retailers in all areas. We love Christine’s posting which demonstrates how the trend is feeding through. It is a really difficult one for retailers the world over – they are mostly set in the way of having to offer everything just in case someone wants something they never sell! Way to go Christine!

  • Phil,

    Thanks so much for your comment. Less is more is definitely a concept that goes against the DNA of most retailers. And yet it’s so powerful as Trader Joe’s – and Apple – demonstrate in their retail iterations.

    Have you observed other retailers that do so successfully?

    Best,
    CB

  • Denise,

    Thanks so much for this opportunity to share perspectives on this paradoxical topic with your readers. I’m on the lookout for other retail examples that successfully help customers navigate through choices.

    Best,
    CB

  • I always told my museum shop managers to be aggressive and experiment. If something did not sell, drop the price and blow it out and order something different. No penalty for making a buying mistake, but a big penalty for not being aggressive and experimental.

    Now, think about selling something with no inventory but huge margins and delighted customers. The Shreve Memorial Library has recently launched its Lagniappe Program, a patron appreciation effort. It invites library patrons to become members of the PeoplePlusCard program that saves them substantially on their lifestyle and healthcare expenses. 30% of the patron’s $19.95 membership fee goes to the Library’s endowment fund. 3,000 members yields $216,000 annually.

    20,000,000 Americans have this company’s discount cards and the 3,000+ clients such as AVON, eBay, and Citibank love it.

    The SML has bookmarks, a web page (www.shreve-lib.org), table tents, fulfillment booklets at check out counters, newsletter articles on specific benefits, newspaper articles, etc.

    Best wishes!

    Don Hoke

  • Great post CB! Nice to find another grocery store, like Stew Leonard’s, that “gets it”. Though there are no Trader Joe’s in Florida, I have been visited a few of their stores. What I also find interesting is that they do a great job of promoting their own brand products as a quality choice, unlike other store’s that promote their store brand as just a value alternative.
    I enjoy following you. Keep up the good work!

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