Grocery shopping isn't something that I do for fun. I put it in the same category as buying gasoline for the car. You go to the gas station, select your grade of gasoline, fill the tank, pay and leave. It's all about getting what you came to get, and moving on to the next errand. Buying gas or groceries isn't fodder for conversation.
A few months ago, Trader Joe's opened in Portland, Maine. The Portland area has been well-served by two regional chains, and more recently, a Whole Foods. But Trader Joe's clearly delivers a more unique experience, which elevates grocery shopping from an errand to an event.
There are three ways that Trader Joe's is different from other grocery stores. And each of these three contribute to the fun factor in going there.
The Physical Environment & Store Decor
"TJ's" adds a regional flavor to the decor of every store. It's starts out with the standard island theme through painted ocean scenes and island murals that you'll find in every Trader Joe's, but then adds murals of Portland-area sights, painted by local artists. The local decor makes browsing the store a little like going to a local art show or farmers market. You find yourself checking out the decor more than you normally would in a grocery store.
The Employee Culture
The second thing that Trader Joe's does is hire gregarious employees, and set them loose to create a shopping experience worth remembering. Think of the customer experience leaders who've become household names - they all leverage the employees to make being a customer a memorable experience.
Disney doesn't call their employees employees; it calls them "cast members." Disney cast members engage customers likes actors would, in live theater. Every Disney employee is an actor on stage, staging an improvised show for the customer.
Ritz Carlton has its "Ladies and Gentlemen" who create opportunities to delight guests.
Zappo's employees are the core of the company's culture, which is all about creating happiness for the customer; delivering "Wow" through service. The shoes are merely a product that's wrapped in service experience.
Similarly, when you go through the check out line at Trader Joe's, you'll be served and entertained not by a grocery cashier, but by what the company calls one of its "crew members." That's right - that don't treat you like you're just shopping for groceries, but more like you're a guest on a cruise ship. Every crew member at Trader Joe's has a flamboyant peronality, and a noticeable desire to make grocery shopping something that you'll consider fun.
The third thing that Trader Joe's does that's different is sell the way its customer want to buy. If you don't want to buy an entire six pack of Mission Street IPA's, and instead want to substitute two White Hawk IPA's, two Mission Street Browns, one Fat Weasel and a Sierra Nevada, you can do it. And the price will be practically the same as a single six pack.
By decorating the grocery store more like a tropical retreat than a grocery store, by hiring employees who seem more like your fun college roomate than mundane cashires, and by eschewing standard inventory practices to allow customers to buy the way they want to buy, Trader Joe's has turned a otherwise dull chore into a 30-minute tropical vacation.
The Crew Members at Trader Joe's turn grocery shopping into a beach party.