Trader Joe's

What Trader Joe’s Can Teach About User Experience

Trader Joe’s is a popular grocery store located throughout the United States. The company’s stores have bright decorations, are often extremely packed with customers, and offer products that cannot be found anywhere else. Although Trader Joe’s stores are not located online, many characteristics of its physical locations offer user experience lessons that can be applied to computer based interfaces.

Atmosphere and Tone

From the humorous product descriptions on the boxes to the colorful shirts employees wear, Trader Joe’s stores create a light-hearted and friendly atmosphere. Food items often have entertaining names, but it is still clear what the product is and how it should taste. For example, Trader Joe’s Raises the Bars are described to ‘surpass your granola bar expectations, and perhaps position themselves as standard bearers for future granola greatness’. The description is hyperbolic, but creates the image of a high quality product.

Trader Joe's Raises the Bar
Trader Joe’s Raises the Bar


Tone plays a critical role in shaping users’ brand perception and is important to consider when designing an interface. Recent research by the Nielson Norman Group found that there were ‘measurable effects of tone of voice on users’ and concluded that ‘tone of voice can and should be tested’ as part of user experience design processes. Just as Trader Joe’s meticulously crafts its style,websites should curate their tone and copy.


Trader Joe’s stores are well organized and structured for easy navigation. Products that belong in one category, such as cereals or dried fruit, are placed near each other and shelves have prominent labels. The stores follow the common grocery store layout schema of produce, dairy, and meat sections on the outer walls, with packaged and frozen foods occupying the middle aisles. Additionally, there are many friendly workers available to assist shoppers looking for a specific product.

These characteristics make finding a particular food or browsing for something new in Trader Joe’s stores an easy task. Many of the physical features of the store that make it so customer friendly can be implemented in computer interfaces.

Grouping items and creating meaningful labels on webpages allows users to efficiently find what they are searching for. Also, utilizing common schemas and design patterns, as Trader Joe’s does in their overall store organization, allows users to quickly adapt to an interface. Similar to how workers at Trader Joe’s stores are trained to be able to assist customers, all navigation tools in an interface should serve a purpose. If an employee continuously failed to help customers he or she would be removed. The same should be done to superfluous navigation elements.


Upon entering most Trader Joe’s stores you may notice customers roaming around with small coffee cups and plates of free samples. The free samples are great for keeping children busy and demonstrating new products.

Free Samples
Free Samples

You may occasionally hear a bell ring. The sound may be jarring at first, but it is a signal that another check out line should be opened. This audible message lets customers know that the workers are aware that there are lines and are working to remedy the problem. These two small, but important facets of Trader Joe’s have parallels in computer interfaces.

Many companies provide preview or trail versions of their software. Similar to the free samples in Trader Joe’s stores, these previews allow customers to get a better understanding of the product they are interested in purchasing and encourage them to seek the full paid version of the software. Allowing potential customers try an experience encourages them to explore the interface and create expectations about its functionality. Not all companies have goods that can be offered as a trail, but those that can should be confident that the demo will demonstrate why it is better than the competition.

The bells at Trader Joe’s are an important way of alerting customers that the employees are aware that the current check out situation needs improving. Online interfaces can implement dialogues and progress modals to continuously inform users about the status of their interaction. Interfaces with progress bars which indicate a video is buffering provide a better experience than displaying a blank screen causing users to wonder whether the page crashed. Interfaces should inform users of their state with clear messages much like Trader Joe’s uses bells.


Trader Joe’s has been expanding its reach throughout the United States and has become so popular that it inspired knock off stores. Much of the company’s success is due to its use of tone, organization, and delights. These concepts apply to physical and computer interfaces, so the next time you work on a user experience remember all the lessons Trader Joe’s has to offer.

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