15 Mistakes Everyone Makes When Shopping At Trader Joe's

If you're lucky enough to have a Trader Joe's close to your home (sadly, there are eight states that have yet to see a Trader Joe's), then you may already know about the wonder that awaits inside this grocery store. Whether you are one of the cult-like followers of Trader Joe's or only stop in every few months to see what's new, you want to make the most of every shopping trip. Trader Joe's may be known for having some great deals. However, that doesn't mean your shopping trip is guaranteed to go off without a hitch.


Unfortunately, there are several common mistakes that many shoppers make at Trader Joe's. Making one of these mistakes could cost you money, cause you to miss out on finding a new grocery item you'll love, or make an already stressful day even more frustrating. Fear not; we've made a list of these 15 mistakes so you can learn what not to do during your next Trader Joe's shopping trip. As a regular customer, I combined my experience of shopping in Trader Joe's with research on the retailer's policies and practices.

Waiting for items to go on sale

If you're waiting for a favorite item from Trader Joe's to go on sale before buying it, you'll be waiting a long time. Forever, in fact. Unlike many other grocery stores, Trader Joe's does not run any sales. But don't let that make you think you'll never be able to get a good deal at Trader Joe's. The opposite is true. The retailer doesn't run sales because it strives to keep item prices low all the time.


Trader Joe's believes in making shopping easy for its customers. It wants them to feel confident they'll get the best deal whenever they shop. In addition to not running sales, the grocer doesn't have a membership or loyalty program. It doesn't issue any store-brand coupons, either. The price you see is the price you'll pay, whether you shop today, tomorrow, or next Sunday. So, don't make the mistake of waiting for something to go on sale — it isn't going to happen.

Assuming you can't use any coupons

Although Trader Joe's doesn't issue any store-brand coupons, you can still use coupons from other brands to save money when you shop. While many of the items sold by Trader Joe's are the grocer's own store brands, not everything is. If you take a closer look, you'll notice that the grocer also stocks a few national brands. For example, you might find Kerrygold Pure Irish Butter in your local store.


If you have any manufacturer's coupons for national brands, such as Kerrygold, you can use them at Trader Joe's. With Trader Joe's already low prices, saving even more with a coupon is just a bonus. The next time you shop at Trader Joe's, note which national brands your local store carries, then be sure to keep your eyes peeled for these brands as you flip through coupons.

Overlooking allergen-friendly options

If someone in your family has a milk allergy, celiac disease, or any other allergy or food sensitivity, you might be able to find more than you'd expect at Trader Joe's. The grocer is often seen as an excellent resource for those with allergies or other special dietary needs. Wandering through the store and looking for options can be fun, but if you're in a time crunch, start your search on the company's website. There are various filter options, including dairy-free, gluten-free, and vegan, under each food product category, such as From the Freezer, Dips, Sauces & Dressings, or Fresh Prepared Foods, 


For example, if you try to eat gluten-free, you might want to try the Gluten Free Breaded Shrimp, the Gluten Free Pizza Crusts, or the Gluten Free Mac & Cheese. Vegans might like the Sriracha Flavored Baked Tofu or the Organic Hearty Minestrone Soup.

Skipping the sample bar

Who doesn't like free samples? Trader Joe's is kind enough to regularly have items out for its customers to sample. Each store has a sampling station where you'll often find a crew member serving up some deliciousness. And, if you're a Trader Joe's regular, then you know that these samples are often more than a bag dumped out on a plate. Many times, crew members heat up and offer samples of some of the frozen or fresh meals. Other times, they'll show you how good two of the store's products can taste when paired together — like a spread or dip with some chips, crackers, or bread.


Skipping the Trader Joe's sample bar is a mistake you don't want to make. First, you might as well give yourself a snack to help you power through your shopping trip. But, beyond that, you might find that you like the item(s) the crew members are passing out. You could miss out on discovering a new favorite item, without taking a few minutes to try the sample. It is also possible that you'll try one of the samples and decide that the item is not something you'd want to have again. In this case, it will save you from purchasing a full package or container of the product only to discover that you don't actually like it.

Not asking to sample products

You can learn a lot about what you like and don't like by taking advantage of the free samples each time you shop at Trader Joe's. However, it is unlikely that every product you are potentially interested in will be selected by the crew members to be given out as samples. Fortunately, there is a solution that doesn't involve buying everything you think you might like to try at home. You can sample any product you want at Trader Joe's.


Yes, you read that correctly. Trader Joe's allows its customers to taste test anything in the store that is ready to eat (sorry, no raw meat or frozen foods). Simply ask a crew member — don't just start opening bags and boxes on your own — and they'll help you get a taste so you can see if you like it. While this is an excellent policy, make sure you don't take advantage of the store's generosity by asking for an excessive number of samples; we don't want the company to revise its sampling rules!

Not returning products you don't want

If you don't take advantage of Trader Joe's free sample policy and discover that you don't like something after you bring it home or encounter another issue related to product quality, all is not lost. You should never make the mistake of keeping any product you are not happy with.


Trader Joe's has a very generous return policy. In nearly all cases, you can return any product that didn't meet your expectations. Even if there was nothing inherently wrong with an item, but the flavor didn't match your taste preferences, you should be able to bring it back to the store. This often includes alcohol, though because of different state laws, it is a good idea to check with your local store about its alcohol return policy. When returning an item, bring the receipt (if you have it). This will simplify the process. However, if you don't have the receipt or received the product in question as a gift, you aren't likely to encounter any issues.

Failing to pick up the Fearless Flyer

Before your next Trader Joe's shopping trip, be sure to grab a copy of the Fearless Flyer (or subscribe online to have it delivered to your inbox). The Fearless Flyer is how Trader Joe's shares new product information, recipe ideas, and entertaining stories with its shoppers. It is a multi-page document, which is laid out much like a newspaper. Each edition features interesting information about the newest products, such as some of the key ingredients, the company's motivation for releasing them, and how they are best enjoyed.


If one of the recipes in the Fearless Flyer catches your eye, one shopping trip to Trader Joe's should help you gather everything you'll need. As you may guess, the featured recipes feature Trader Joe's products, though you could substitute with similar items you already have in your pantry or refrigerator, if desired. One of the best things about the Fearless Flyer, is it is completely free, whether you pick one up in a store or subscribe online. In fact, each edition features the phrase, "As always free and worth every penny" right at the top.

Not grabbing seasonal items before they disappear

Assuming seasonal items — or any Trader Joe's products — will be there the next time you shop could be a big mistake. Product inventory changes and there is no guarantee that the product you see today will be available next month, next week, or even tomorrow. Only a limited quantity of seasonal items are released each year. Many of these seasonal items, particularly some pumpkin-inspired and holiday items, are customer favorites that may be snapped up quickly. Stores may receive additional shipments, but you never know when, or even if, more will be delivered. If there's something you want to try, be sure to snag it when you notice it on the shelves.


You'd like to think that non-seasonal items should be there the next time you shop, but this isn't guaranteed either. First, shipment schedules can vary, and other customers could buy the remaining stock of a product right before your next trip. Also, several discontinued Trader Joe's products were on the shelf one day and permanently gone shortly thereafter. You don't want to run the risk that a favorite item of yours will be discontinued before you get one more chance to buy a box or package of it.

Not paying attention to the labels on the shelf

As you walk through your local Trader Joe's, make sure you pay attention to the labels. These will let you know how much a given item costs, which is important for your budget, but they serve other important purposes as well. First, if you have an allergy or food sensitivity, the labels can often help you quickly identify foods that are safe for you to eat. If you look closely, these labels may have information about whether the item is vegan or free of nuts, gluten, or other allergens.


If that isn't reason enough to read the labels on the shelves more closely, you can also find some inspiration by reading them. Trader Joe's crew members will often write a description of the product's taste/texture, highlight key ingredients, or list recipe suggestions/food pairing ideas. You never know what you might learn that could impact your meal prep at home.

Choosing the wrong time to shop

Try to be purposeful whenever you head to Trader Joe's because it's a popular grocery store. Part of its appeal is its smaller size and more focused selection. However, because of this, the stores can get very crowded. Even with attentive crew members, you may spend a lot of time looking for someone to help answer your questions, and you might also find yourself in a long check-out line. Moreover, nearly every Trader Joe's also has a small parking lot. Shopping during a busier time means you'll also have to deal with extra traffic, wait longer to find a spot, and you might have a longer walk into the store from the place you finally park.


If possible, try to shop at Trader Joe's during an off-peak time to save yourself some time and frustration. Stores will likely be slower during the week, particularly earlier in the morning. Shopping during an off-peak time can also increase the chances that the products you want will be in stock. For example, fruits and vegetables are delivered each morning, so you should get first pick of these items.

Overlooking store brand items

Being a brand snob won't serve you well when you shop at Trader Joe's. First, while there are some national products, many of the items you'll find are Trader Joe's store brands. So, if you're not willing to try some of these store brand items, you're likely to leave with a pretty empty cart.


Beyond this, Trader Joe's store brand items are one of the things that make Trader Joe's so popular. The company's private label products are not only reasonably-priced compared to similar products from national competitors, but its also well regarded for its quality and taste. Shoppers swear by many of these products, like the Spinach and Artichoke Dip that won the Customer Award in 2024.

Trader Joe's does extensive product testing before putting anything on its shelves, so you can be confident that you're getting a quality product. Plus, if you decide you don't like something for any reason, you can always take advantage of the store's generous return policy. Need another reason to try Trader Joe's store brands? Well, rumor has it that popular national brands make many of these items and just package them under the Trader Joe's label. As an example, many believe that Naked Juice is the brand behind Trader Joe's smoothies.


Walking past the floral department

Whether you want a small bouquet to add color to your kitchen table, need a gift for a loved one, or are planning an important event, take a stroll through Trader Joe's floral department. At first glance, you should notice that the relatively small grocery store offers a relatively wide selection of products. The exact varieties of available flowers will vary based on where you live and the current season, but you should be able to find something fragrant and beautiful on every visit.


The selection isn't the only reason to shop for flowers at Trader Joe's. As is true with the rest of the grocer's products, its flowers are also reasonably priced. In fact, some couples looking to get married on a budget have even relied on Trader Joe's for their wedding bouquets and decor for the ceremony or reception.

Not looking for recipe ideas on the website

If you're planning a Trader Joe's shopping trip in the next few days, do yourself a favor and check out the recipes section on the website. This section can help if you find yourself in a meal prep slump and are stuck preparing the same thing. The recipe section is brokn down by meal type, including categories for appetizers and side, desserts, beverage, lunch, dinner, and breakfast. You can filter based on various topics, such as quick and easy, meatless options, heat wave, effortless entertaining, date night, or even mouth on fire.


Reading through the recipe ideas can do more than inspire your week's meal plan. Each recipe features Trader Joe's products, so you can add everything directly to your shopping list. Moreover, as you explore the various recipes, you may learn about new products you didn't even realize Trader Joe's had. Even if you don't like a specific recipe, you may be inspired to try one of these new-to-you products.

Trying to place an order for delivery or curbside pickup

Curbside pickup and grocery delivery have taken off over the past few years, with many stores now offering delivery services. And, for those that don't, you can often shop through apps such as Instacart to place an order and have it delivered straight to your home. However, you cannot order Trader Joe's online for curbside pickup or delivery through the store's website or a third-party app.


Trader Joe's philosophy centers around the shopping experience inside the store. The grocer doesn't feel that this experience can be replicated online or by someone else shopping for your groceries. This may change in the future, but for now you'll have to plan to shop in-person at Trader Joe's if you want to take advantage of its reasonable prices and tasty products. Doing so may require some schedule adjustments, but it will be worth the time.

Not stopping by customer service if you're organizing a charitable event

Trader Joe's believes in giving back to the communities where its stores are located. If you are planning a charitable event and want donations for a silent auction or to give directly to community members in need, consider contacting Trader Joe's. While many companies ask customers looking for donations to go through its corporate offices, each Trader Joe's store handles its own local contributions. Just be sure to ask early; the company recommends a lead time of three weeks. Remember that stores have a limited budget and cannot donate to every event or cause its asked about.


You'll also want to make sure that your donation request matches the company's guidelines. First, don't make more than one request each year for the organization you represent. Your organization must also be a nonprofit group with a valid tax ID number. Bring your request in writing, on the letterhead of the nonprofit group (with the tax ID too), and be sure to include information about what type of donation you're requesting and why you are asking for it.