All The Don'ts

I Write About Trader Joe’s Full-Time. Here Are 6 Mistakes You’re Making.

Time to maximize your TJ’s trips!

Originally Published: 
A shopping cart at Trader Joe's
Michael Nagle/Getty Images

Whether it's the local coffee shop or your favorite skincare brand, we all have that one retailer we'll follow into oblivion. For some, it's Starbucks; for others, it's Target or Whole Foods. My shopping kryptonite? Trader Joe's. My obsession with the national chain of neighborhood grocery stores has even transpired into a career where I write about Trader Joe's for a living.

From delicious freezer aisle finds to quick and easy breakfast recipes, I've covered TJ's extensively over the years. I've put my neck (erhm, taste buds) on the line, shining a spotlight on the most overrated products at Trader Joe's. I've volunteered my taste buds as tribute to test-try some of TJ's more peculiar ingredients. Additionally, I do all my grocery shopping exclusively at Trader Joe's.

All of this to say, I like to consider myself an expert in all things Trader Joe's. Through my grocery travels, I've uncovered shopping hacks and mastered several TJ's recipes. However, I've also learned from my mistakes — between the bare naked shelves and high foot traffic, I try to avoid TJ's on Sundays and Mondays at all costs... but more on that later.

If you're a longtime TJ's patron like me, you may already know some of these Trader Joe's pro tips. Either way, here are six of the most common mistakes customers (both first-timers and veterans!) make when shopping at Trader Joe's.

1. You skip past the samples station.

From cheese and cracker pairings to bite-sized desserts, the sample stations at Trader Joe's often feature seasonal and limited-edition products, as well as customer favorites. Whether food or drink, samples are a great way to test-try products you've been on the fence about. Additionally, TJ's employees can be an amazing resource for recipe and cooking tips or even storing questions. Not to mention, samples can help curb a rumbling tummy if you or your little shopper are browsing the store on an empty stomach.

2. You shop on restock days.

It's no secret that Sundays and Monday evenings are two of the worst times to grocery shop at Trader Joe's. The third? The day your local TJ's does a bulk of its restocking. I know what you're thinking: But Emily, wouldn't it be smarter to shop during restocking hours to guarantee that I get what I need? While you could argue yes, it would be, let me tell you why it isn't.

Customers aren't privy to Trader Joe's hour-by-hour restocking schedule, which means they could restock certain items you need hours before or after you visit. Not only do restock days make for a crazy shopping experience, but there's a higher likelihood that popular items such as breads, meats, and salad kits won't stay on the shelves long enough for you to swipe one for yourself. Instead, try grocery shopping post-restock day when shelves are typically overflowing with product.

So, how do you figure out your local Trader Joe's busiest restock day? It varies by location, and obviously, TJ's restocks its shelves throughout the week. But for me, in New York City, Monday is when employees are scrambling to restock shelves the most. One way you can tell is by paying attention to how many inventory boxes are on the floor. A crate/box pile-up is a good indication that they're gearing up to restock that aisle.

You can also ask an employee when they typically restock shelves. I've done this during the fall months when a lot of my favorite seasonal products sell out fast.

3. You don't buy your favorite seasonal or limited-edition TJ's products in bulk.

On that note, Trader Joe's is famously known for its seasonal and limited-edition products, especially in the fall and winter months. Albeit, every season there is a tier of veteran products that customers go absolutely bananas over (like Nora-Krank-Hickory-Honey-Ham crazy). With many of these types of products, TJ's will only distribute a certain amount, so once they sell out, they're gone.

Similarly, you can get stuck waiting a long time for a viral or popular item to be restocked. To avoid a butternut squash mac and cheese catastrophe, buy your favorite seasonal products in bulk. If you have the extra pantry and fridge/freezer space, get as much as you can store, or else the candy cane-flavored Joe-Joe's and pumpkin bagels may be long gone by the time you make your next grocery run.

4. You bypass the beauty and home aisle.

Trader Joe's is a grocery store, first and foremost, but the grocery chain also boasts an impressive beauty and home section. You'll find home and kitchen products (such as paper towels, napkins, and cleaning products), toiletries and skincare items (shower gel, lotion, body butter, moisturizer, and tons more), and even travel-sized necessities. Through my shopping travels, I've found that TJ's home products — especially its paper products like napkins — are often cheaper than its competitors. Plus, I can get my grocery and home shopping done in one trip.

Additionally, if you look close enough, you'll find skincare dupes for some of your favorite name brands, including Goop! Personally, I love Trader Joe's candle selection, which updates seasonally with new scents.

5. You aren't subscribed to the Fearless Flyer.

The Fearless Flyer is a free catalog, newsletter, and comic book all rolled up into one that's delivered to your inbox about once a month (sometimes more, depending on the season). Subscribing means you'll be among the first to hear of new Trader Joe's products and giveaways. You'll also receive recipe ideas and cooking tips and tricks from the TJ's masters themselves. The Fearless Flyer is basically insider access to all things TJ's, and who wouldn't want that?! You can subscribe here.

6. You don't use Trader Joe's signature reusable bags.

Trader Joe's is one of the many supermarket and retail chains that now requires you to bring your own bags. You can still ask for paper bags at checkout, but they'll cost you 10 cents a piece and aren't exactly environmentally friendly. Unlike other stores' bags, TJ's reusable bags are super cute and durable AF — no, seriously, I bring my TJ's reusable bags everywhere (even Target!). They never break, can hold upwards of 15 pounds, and come in all sorts of prints and materials!

Pro tip: I like to keep a few Trader Joe's reusable bags in the back of my car for last-minute or emergency grocery trips.

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