Do You Deliberately Bond With Customers?

Shopping at Trader Joe’s is like going on a treasure hunt for food. Customers smile as they reach for products and become part of the inside joke: Thai-style dumplings are produced by “Trader Ming,” and pizza comes from “Trader Giotto.” Vitamins are courtesy of (who else?) “Trader Darwin.” Charming as those are, what rules at Trader Joe’s is how things taste. Trader Joe’s decides which items will be carried in its stores based on the palettes of their employee tasting panel in Monrovia, California. At the sound of a maritime bell rung in the main office, the panel breaks from their “regular jobs” and assembles to taste a new batch of products.  The panel has thorough discussions and then decides what products should line the shelves of Trader Joe’s. Once a product makes it to the stores, it goes through the ultimate test: customer tasting.

“Tasting Huts” throughout the stores offer generous mouthfuls of both new products and old favorites proffered up by conversational crew members who don’t ever look at you sternly if you take more than one or two tastes. If these new products don’t find a customer following validated by tastings and sales, their fate is sealed: they’re out. Trader Joe’s always rotates out the bottom 10 percent based on customer selection, sales, and feedback. The cornerstone of the Trader Joe’s experience, they know, is delivering great food at a good value, with some whimsy thrown in.

By believing in its customers’ discerning taste buds to stock its shelves, Trader Joe’s has forged an intensely close bond with customers. Long before other forms of social media took hold, Trader Joe’s was giving its customers a vote on what they sell. This belief has spurred on Trader Joe’s to become a $6.5 billion supermarket with zealot customers who won’t shop anywhere but “their” Trader Joe’s. Each Trader Joe’s store carries about 3,000 items compared to standard garden-variety grocery stores carrying 30,000 items, yet in sales per square foot Trader Joe’s is a force in the industry. It is estimated that Trader Joe’s generates sales of $1,300 per square foot, double the supermarket industry average.

Power Sources for Customers

  • Are you the customers of your products and services?
  • Do you taste your food, wear your clothes, and experience the same services you deliver to customers?
  • Do you connect regularly with customers to see them use, taste, or try on your products?
  • How would you rate your intent and ability to bond with customers?
  • How do your decisions to regularly connect with customers compare with this beloved company?


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