For those who have never been to Aldi before, it can seem a little strange, and the first trip can be a bit disorienting. I know. I remember the first time I went to Aldi. My hometown grocery store chains were engaged in a bitter labor dispute with the local worker’s union, and I decided to avoid some of that mess by going outside my normal grocery chains.
It was like visiting another country. People were trading quarters, picking up brands I’d never heard of, putting things in cardboard boxes, and paying with large amounts of cash. I stumbled through the store, somehow found my way through the checkout, and went home. It wasn’t until years later, after I married someone more familiar with Aldi, that I went back.
The good news is that, with a little bit of information, the first time at Aldi can feel less like another planet and more like just a slightly different shopping experience. And, thanks, to one recent change, the experience is now a little bit easier.
Here’s a quick guide on the Aldi experience for newbies:
What you need:
A quarter. Aldi keeps costs low by having customers return carts. The way they do that is by having customers pop a quarter in the cart when they go to get it. When you return the cart, that quarter pops back out and you get it back. Occasionally someone will walk up and offer you a quarter, which is their way of taking the cart off your hands and using it themselves.
Grocery bags. Aldi does not give you bags, which is another way they keep costs low. You can bring bags of your own. You can also purchase some at the checkout line; they have paper bags for a small cost, more durable plastic for a little more, and they sometimes also sell heavier-duty reusable bags. You can also forage in the store for cardboard carriers and boxes that products come in, but depending on the time of day there may not be many available. If you shop at Aldi long-term, I highly recommend reusable bags.
Cash, a debit card, or a credit card. Good news here: until early 2016 Aldi didn’t accept credit cards, meaning either cash or debit was required. Now all major credit cards are accepted at Aldi.
What is different from other stores:
Regular Buys and Special Buys. All grocery stores have at least some rotating inventory, but the idea is a little bit larger in Aldi culture. Most of Aldi consists of what are called “Regular Buys” — store products that are always there, like bread, milk, eggs, produce, toiletries, pizzas, meats, cheeses, canned products, and so on. A portion of Aldi, meanwhile, is made up of what are called “Special Buys” — things that rotate in and out. Special Buys can be food items like a special kind of pizza or a unique take on fried chicken. Special Buys also include non-food items, like garden tools in the spring or holiday toys in the winter.
Relatively few brand names. If you’re used to General Mills, Wonder Bread, and Frito-Lay, get ready for Millville, L’Oven Fresh, and Clancy’s. Aldi does sometimes feature brand name products, but they are usually Special Buys, and they aren’t much of a discount over other stores, if at all. On the upside, Aldi brands have improved considerably over the years. Not only are most Aldi brands superior to generic grocery store brands, but many of them are as good or close to as good as brand names. And they are definitely cheaper.
You bag your own groceries. Not only do you get to bring or buy your own bags, but you get to pack them. This — once again — is how Aldi keeps prices low. It also helps move lines along, since register workers don’t have to stop to bag everything. The workers will check out your food, lay it in a cart, then you take the cart over to a large shelf where you can bag and organize things however you need to before leaving. It takes a little bit of practice to get everything right, but once you get used to it, it’s no big deal.
One last thing:
Don’t be afraid to ask a question if you need to. Other shoppers are usually helpful. Aldi workers, who are paid well compared to others in the industry, tend to do their jobs well and they will answer your questions if you have them.
Have any questions? Want to leave your own words of wisdom? Put them in the comments!