9 Etiquette Rules You Should Never Break At Trader Joe's

If you're like many, Trader Joe's may be among your favorite grocery stores. The chain is known for its wide selection of products available for a reasonable price. Whether you're a devoted customer who knows all the secrets of shopping at Trader Joe's, or you've only heard about the wonder that will await you on your first visit, it is important to make sure you're a courteous shopper.


There are several unwritten etiquette rules that you simply shouldn't break during a Trader Joe's shopping trip, or at least not if you want to stay in the good graces of the employees and avoid looking like you don't know what you're doing. If you've ever thought about running up to the registers and ringing the bells or hitting up the free sample bar enough times to count as your lunch, you'll want to think again. Read through the following etiquette rules for Trader Joe's before you head off to the store again — or for the first time.

Abandoning your cart when in line to check out

We've all been there. It's a busy day at Trader Joe's. You've been standing in line for several minutes and it's finally almost your turn. Then it happens: You realize that you forgot something you need for tonight's dinner. As tempting as it can be to leave your cart and run back to grab what you forgot, don't do it.


You might think that you'll be able to find what you're looking for and get back in line before it's your turn, but that isn't guaranteed. Abandoning your cart is rude to the other shoppers and the Trader Joe's crew members. If you take longer than you think to find what you need, the person ahead of you may move forward or even finish checking out. This will leave the shoppers behind you in a tight spot. They may not be able to get around your cart to get up to the register.

The best option is to take your cart with you, grab what you need, and get back in line. Bring your shopping list with you and check it before you get in line. This will save you the frustration of having to leave and hunt the item down before joining the back of the line again. 


Abandoning your cart in the middle of the parking lot

Just as you shouldn't abandon your cart in the check-out line inside Trader Joe's, you also should not abandon it in the middle of the parking lot. After loading your car with all your groceries, the last thing you want to do is walk the cart back to the store. But, leaving it in the parking spot next to yours, on a sidewalk, or in the middle of the road is disrespectful to your fellow shoppers and the Trader Joe's crew members.


A stray cart adds an obstacle for other shoppers and can even create a safety hazard. During busy times, especially, it is important to leave space for cars to drive and park. Plus, employees aren't paid to wander around the parking lot gathering up stray carts. That's why many stores have cart corrals for their customers to place them in a central location for pickup. 

And, as former employee Mackenzie Filson told the U.S. Sun, even if you decide to do the right thing and bring the cart back to the store, "and see an employee in the parking lot who is pushing carts back to the store, don't automatically assume they can take yours, too." So, just take the extra few steps and bring your cart back up to the storefront.


Trying too many of the free samples

One of the benefits of shopping at Trader Joe's is that they frequently offer free samples to their customers. The next time you visit your local store, be sure to stop by the free sample counter to try one or two new products. It's great to sample something before buying it so you can get a feel for whether it is something you'll like. You can try nearly anything you want in the store before buying it, as long as you just ask a crew member first. Just, whatever you do, don't take advantage of the generous free sample policy. Limit yourself to just one or (maybe) two of the samples being offered by the crew members to make sure you leave plenty for the other shoppers. If you do want to try something that isn't being sampled, you can ask for help.


And, make sure you clean up after yourself. Don't leave your trash in your cart, drop it on the floor, or toss it on one of the nearby shelves. Find a trash can — there should be one near the sample counter — and dispose of it properly. One former Trader Joe's employee, Lauren Wardini, told Business Insider, "There are plenty of garbage cans around the store, so it's annoying to find trash left on shelves or in carts."

Walking on the wrong side of the aisle

Just as you drive on the right side of the road, you should also walk on the right side of the aisle when shopping at Trader Joe's. This is proper etiquette at any grocery store, but it can be even more important at Trader Joe's. If you've ever been inside a Trader Joe's, then you know that the stores are smaller than many other grocery stores which means the aisles are smaller too. Plus, because Trader Joe's is popular, the stores can be quite busy at times, which means crowded aisles. 


Walking down the wrong side, especially if you're pushing a cart, is a surefire way to annoy the other customers and cause a traffic jam. You might only want one thing that is on the opposite side of the aisle, but just do a little extra walking so you can turn your cart around at the end of the aisle and head back for what you need. It'll be worth it to avoid causing a back-up or risk getting bumped into by another shopper who isn't expecting you to be on the wrong side.

Getting up to the register without your method of payment ready

Not being ready to pay for your order once the crew member has finished ringing you up can cause irritation and unneeded delays. Trader Joe's is often busy and even with lots of crew members working at the registers, there is likely to be someone in line behind you.


If you're not ready to pay, you're going to make that person (or those people) standing behind you have to wait even longer, especially if you need to sift through your bag to find the correct payment method. Even if there's no line, it simply isn't respectful to the cashier, who could be ready to take their break after they finish your order, or needs to complete other pressing tasks throughout the store. Once you get in line, pull out your wallet to get your credit card, cash, checkbook, or other form of payment ready. You'll be able to get out of the store and on with the rest of your day more quickly, too.

Putting a product back in a different spot on the shelf

If you change your mind about a particular product in your cart, don't drop it on whichever shelf is closest to where you are. Doing so has the potential to cause a few different problems. The first issue with this is that you're adding unnecessary work for the crew members. They have enough to do with stocking the shelves, responding to the questions of customers, and getting everyone checked out. They don't need to search for products in random places throughout the store and bring them back to where they belong.


Leaving products in the wrong spot can make it more difficult for other shoppers to find what they're looking for. Your misplaced product may block their view of the item that is on their shopping list, causing them to miss out on something they need. Another potential issue is that the item you drop back on a shelf could spoil. For example, if you had some cheese, milk, or frozen orange chicken, they could go bad if you don't return them to the refrigerated or frozen sections.

If returning the item to its proper place in the store isn't possible, then bring it to the register instead of abandoning it on a random shelf. As former Trader Joe's employee Lauren Wardini told Business Insider, "It's so much easier for employees if you bring items that you don't want up to the cashiers."


Not encouraging your kids to look for the hidden stuffed animal

Bringing children to the grocery store can make a simple trip much more complicated and time-consuming. It can be difficult to keep them occupied, to stop them from getting in the way of other shoppers, and they can even make you lose your shopping focus. But, leaving the kids at home isn't always an option, which is why many Trader Joe's tries to make it grocery shopping fun for kids by hiding a stuffed animal somewhere in the store.


The next time you bring your kids to the store with you, keep them engaged by having them hunt for the hidden stuffed animal (who will likely be dressed in Trader Joe's gear). If they find the animal, let them share their discovery at the customer service desk before you check out. They'll be rewarded with a little prize. The crew members move the stuffed animals around, so the next time you visit the store, the scavenger hunt can start anew. By using this TJs shopping hack, you'll find it much less stressful to shop with your kids in tow.

Abusing the return policy

Trader Joe's return policy is among the best you'll find from a grocery store. If you're unsatisfied with your purchase for any reason, simply bring the item in question back to the store and request a refund. You can even return opened products or packages that are mostly empty.


The excellent return policy makes it possible to experiment and try some things that you might not buy otherwise. However, you should be careful not to abuse it. So, avoid returning things just to get your money back. We all love Trader Joe's and want them to stay in business. We also don't want them to change their return policy because of a handful of customers who take advantage of it. Abusing the return policy and returning mostly eaten bags of chips or containers of yogurt with just one spoonful left probably isn't necessary. If you ate the majority of an item, chances are that you liked it and shouldn't be returning it. If you weren't in love with it, just try something else next time.

Don't ring the bells

The sound of ringing bells by each register is one most of us associate with shopping at Trader Joe's and is in keeping with its nautical theme. What many people don't realize, however, is that these bells are more than just decoration. The crew members ring the bells as a way to communicate with one another. Each bell ring means something different: One ring calls another crew member up to the front to open an additional register, two rings signal that someone in line has a question, and three rings call a manager to help with a problem or question at the register.


It can be tempting to ring the bell when you get up to the front. But, given that the bells are used as a form of communication, it's pretty obvious why you shouldn't ring them (and why you should make sure that your children don't play with them either). You don't want to inadvertently pull a crew member away from what they're doing for a false alarm. This could cause a whole host of unnecessary delays not to mention irritated Trader Joe's employees.