Trader Joe’s Won’t Do Delivery Or Pickup. For An Extraordinary Reason

Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek. 

Grocery chains are working themselves to exhaustion.

Or, rather, driving their employees beyond limits previous seen. 

Not all, though, are embracing the same means in order to satisfy customers.

Last week, Trader Joe’s released the latest of its regular podcasts. Naturally, the first and most important topic was the Coronavirus crisis.

The chain admits customers are asking it to provide curbside pickup and delivery — something Walmart is emphasizing strongly, given the number of locations it has. And, of course, given the social distancing advantages offered by these means.

You’d think, then, that Trader Joe’s would leap at the potential of additional revenue and increased customer satisfaction.

Instead, Matt Sloan, the chain’s VP of marketing, said it isn’t going to happen. He explained: 

Creating an online shopping system for curbside pickup or the infrastructure for delivery, it’s a massive undertaking. It’s something that takes months or years to plan, build and implement and it requires tremendous resources.

This is understandable, but surely Trader Joe’s might appreciate the great customer need and attempt to at least offer it at certain stores, where perhaps resources are greater.

Sloan has a different perspective. It’s one that has enormous implications for the chain’s future — and for future planning in many business spheres. He said: 

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.

It’s extraordinary — and, frankly, cheering — that Trader Joe’s thinks technological ordering and relatively impersonal transactions are anathema to its future.

At a time when everyone is trying to be Amazon and Amazon is trying to be everything, this chain believes one of its strong points of difference is the personal touch. Though when or whether that can be fully realized in the future is extremely hard to tell.

Still, Trader Joe’s marketing director, Tara Miller, added to this very human sentiment: 

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.

Clearly, the current distant period doesn’t make this stance easy. Moreover, there’s plenty of evidence that all the crew at Trader Joe’s aren’t adoring management.

The company is not entertained by the idea that employees might unionize. It wasn’t the swiftest at reacting to the virus’s onrush either. Especially when you consider some of the quite stellar management preparation done by San Antonio-based H-E-B

The congenitally cynical might even venture that Trader Joe’s reluctance to offer what many customers clearly want might just reflect its imperfect anticipation of the virus’s severity.

Now, the chain appears to be catching up to the idea of wellness checks for employees and even a $ 2 per hour thank you bonus, as well as greater access to health benefits.

In my own trips to Trader Joe’s, it’s always evident that employees’ relaxed, helpful attitude contributes greatly to the experience. 

Yet if you build your brand on that very experience, you’d better ensure that you continue to deliver on it.

If you want your employees to treat your customers with surprising grace, it might be an idea to treat your employees that way too.

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