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Someone once asked me if our site ever writes things critical of Aldi. The answer, I said, is yes. We certainly think Aldi is a good grocery store — which is why we write about it — but we’re a review site, not a fan site. Because we’re not affiliated with or compensated by Aldi or its subsidiaries, we have the freedom to call things like we see them.
We’re pleased to say that, most of the time, we can call things as being pretty solid. But not always. Sometimes Aldi comes up short, either directly or by the choices it makes with its associated suppliers and warranty providers. We even keep a category in our annual AR awards recognizing our biggest disappointment for each year, and we’ve also previously written about the specific Aldi products that we think deserve their own Hall of Shame.
This post covers our five biggest Aldi letdowns to date. These are not specific product failures (again, we’ve covered that separately) but instead are broader issues related to things like company strategy, marketing, inventory, or outsourcing. We could be wrong, of course, and we invite readers to weigh in themselves in the comments.
The Uneven After-Sales and Warranty Experience
Aldi outsources its after-sales support and warranty services to numerous companies. The end result? For us, a heavily mixed experience. We’ve interacted with several warranty providers that are quick, responsive, and helpful, such as when we had a problem with our Aldi tent. Other warranty providers are responsive but limited in what they can do — we’ve had too many experiences where warranty providers have said they don’t have replacement parts and can only offer us a partial or full refund.
And then there are the ones that are less helpful. Probably the most egregious is one based out of New York, a company that handles many of Aldi’s furniture products. We flat out couldn’t get through to this provider, a situation not helped by the fact that its voicemail was often full. It took us months, including getting Aldi CSRs involved, before we got any kind of resolution.
Lingering Weak Spots in the Store Inventory
We’ve been covering Aldi since 2016. In that time, we’ve seen some things in the store improve, especially at the individual product level. It’s our belief that, overall, the food quality situation is better now than it ever has been.
Some weaknesses, though, have persisted during the entire time we’ve been writing about the grocer. Easily the most egregious is the store’s toiletries and personal hygiene section. It is, in our view, the weakest part of the Aldi inventory lineup. We think the selection of body wash, soap, shampoo, deodorant, toothpaste, and the like are mostly mediocre at best, with few options. If you want men’s deodorant, all you’ve got is Old Spice. If you want shampoo, Aldi sells a Head and Shoulders imitation alongside a handful of national brands. And if you want dental floss … Aldi hasn’t ever carried it at all in the time we’ve been writing.
I don’t expect Aldi to be a hygiene store — it’s a grocer, after all — but other grocers, including distant cousin Trader Joe’s, have found a way to do better. Even Aldi has found a way to do better … as in Aldi in Europe, where private label personal care items are more abundant. Aldi US, meanwhile, lags behind.
A Shortage of Presence, Both Online and In-Person
Aldi is in a lot of places, and it is even now in the midst of an aggressive new store and remodeling expansion. We salute that. However, that aggressive expansion also belies the fact that Aldi isn’t in a lot of places.
If you live in Colorado, you don’t have an Aldi. Same for northern California. Or Washington state. Or most of Louisiana or Mississippi. Or all of Canada. Even some areas that do have Aldi stores still see them only thinly dispersed, so the nearest store may still be farther away than is practical. We know why — it’s about infrastructure and distribution — but that’s of little solace to those who aren’t anywhere near an Aldi.
It’s not just about what’s available in person. Aldi’s online presence also leaves something to be desired. You can’t have products shipped online (not in the United States, at least) and if you want delivery or curbside pickup, you have to go through Instacart. The Aldi website is adequate, but also incomplete: Aldi Finds are scrubbed as soon as the current weekly ad ends, leaving no archives of any kind. (That’s a big reason we decided to create one.) No one will confuse Aldi for Walmart or Amazon.
A Lack of Transparency on Products
Look, we get it. Aldi is a private company. Because it doesn’t sell stock, it doesn’t have to report out to stockholders. In fact, it doesn’t have to divulge much of anything. There are virtues to this: it lets Aldi think long-term rather than about what’s right in front of it. We believe long-term thinking tends to be better for the company, and for consumers, in the long run.
Still, it would be nice to know more about some things. Namely, more about Aldi suppliers. The German grocer mostly stocks private labels, but behind those private labels are companies that supply them. We frequently hear from readers who ask “who makes this?” or “where is this sourced from?” Those are, in our view, legitimate questions for a shopper to ask.
Sometimes we’re able to figure it out, perhaps because of information the government requires to be printed on the label. Other times, we can discern who the manufacturer or supplier or distributor is based on the after-sales information, if such is provided. Still, at other times, Aldi’s own warranty site might offer some clues.
In some instances, though, we have no idea. None. We often don’t know who the supplier of a specific food or non-food product is, much less the region or country of origin. Does it make a difference? Maybe, maybe not, but we’d still like to know what we’re getting. When we pick up grass-fed beef, we’d like to know where this beef is from and what exactly the farm means by grass-fed. Likewise, when we pick up an Aldi Find, we would like to know who put it together.
That’s one area where we really value transparency. We wish we could see more of it at Aldi.
Aldi Going All-In on the Superfan Cult
It’s no secret that Aldi has created a cult. Aldi faithful have stormed social media groups, lined up for wine Advent calendars, and turned the store’s middle aisle into its own temple, all while developing not-so-secret catchphrases.
Aldi isn’t the first company to develop a cult following, and there are different schools of thought on how to handle them. Some companies opt to float above the fray, letting the cult cultivate itself. Other companies actively fan the flames, maybe even trying to capitalize on them with additional sales.
I think it’s safe to say Aldi has leaned in on the fan cult thing. Hard.
On one level, it’s easy enough for us to understand the motivation. How can a company stand idly by and not try to harness the wind? If Aldi doesn’t try to lean in on this movement, there is a risk it could fizzle out.
But it’s also … a lot. We kind of miss some of the simpler days, when Aldi just was a cult rather than a store trying to be one. You know, like Trader Joe’s is right now: a store that is a cult without acting like it’s a cult.
What’s more, we worry that Aldi’s attempts to capitalize on its own cult status could induce Aldi fatigue. What happens if — or when — people are tired of seeing Aldi tracksuits? Will Aldi finally jump the shark?
Time will tell.