Imagine you’re a first time shopper to Aldi in, say, 2010. This is what your experience might have been like.
You arrive at the store and park in the lot. You approach the store to grab a cart, but you realize the carts are all hooked together by odd red devices you’ve never seen before. Eventually you notice that people are putting quarters into the devices, but you didn’t bring any quarters, so you enter the store without a cart.
You find yourself in the first aisle, and you look around. None of the brands look familiar. There are no Doritos, no General Mills. Instead, you see Clancy’s, Millville, and a host of other names you’ve never heard of. Are they any good? You have no idea.
You start looking for the things on your list. (You can’t carry much, because you don’t have a cart.) The aisles don’t have markers, so you don’t know where anything is located. Even though the store is small, you roam around aimlessly, because you’re not sure where to start. You grab a few things — again, you don’t know if they’re any good because you’ve never heard of them — and head for the checkout, where people are paying up.
When you reach the cashier, you realize that the cashier is not only not bagging your groceries, but you don’t see any bags at all. You look around frantically and notice there are some under the checkout conveyor, but they have price tags. Do you pay for them or not? You don’t have much time to decide, because the cashier is so fast that you have to move, and you can feel the pressure of everyone behind you. So you pass on buying bags, figuring you can drop it all in the trunk.
You reach for your credit card to pay … and the cashier apologetically notes that they don’t take credit. You rummage through your wallet, wondering if you have enough cash on hand. (You’re in such a hurry that you don’t think to ask if they take debit.) You pay up and drift out of the store in a daze.
As you get to the car, you feel like you’ve just been to another planet, and it wasn’t fun. In fact, the thought of going back in there feels like enough of a chore that you’re not sure you need to do that again. Walmart will work just fine.
It’s important to note that a couple of things have changed since 2010. Aldi now accepts credit cards, for example, and in remodeled stores aisles are more likely to have markers. But some of Aldi’s other unspoken rules remain, from the quarter system at the beginning to the lack of free bags at the end. If you’ve never shopped at Aldi before, it’s just different enough that you might decide it’s not worth the bother.
Now, chances are, there are going to be some readers who say, “Seriously? Aldi is just like any other grocery store except that you need a quarter for the cart that is returned when you bring the cart back. Plus you have to bag your own stuff. It is really that simple. Why does anyone think it is complicated?”
If that’s you — if you think Aldi anxiety isn’t a thing, and you think anyone who suffers from it is silly or stupid — feel free to stop reading right now. This article isn’t for you.
But if you have been to Aldi, and you decided the experience was too weird or stressful and you decided you weren’t coming back, read on. Because I have good news: although Aldi is a little weird, it’s very possible to overcome the weirdness and become an Aldi pro.
I know. Because, long before I helped to co-found Aldi Reviewer, I was one of those people who vowed never to set foot in an Aldi again.
My First Trip
I remember the first time I visited an Aldi store. It was back in the early 2000s, and my local regional grocery chains were in the middle of a bitter labor dispute with their workers. Employees picketed outside the stores and replacement workers struggled inside. It was a messy situation, and for a number of reasons I decided to avoid it. So I went to an Aldi just down the street from my apartment.
It was like landing on Mars. From the moment I walked up to the locked carts, to the moment I tossed my mysteriously labeled foods into the trunk, everything about the experience was foreign and stressful, not unlike the scenario I described above. It was bad enough that I determined, then and there, that I’d rather deal with the labor dispute.
So what changed? How did I go from being a guy who walked out of Aldi for the last time to the guy who writes about Aldi?
A few things. And I think those things offer a roadmap to anyone who is looking to overcome any potential Aldi anxieties.
Tip #1: Get a Guide
In the mid-2000s, I met a girl, and we got married. She was an Aldi shopper, like her mother before her. When she went to Aldi, she took me in tow, and that made all the difference. I watched her pack bags into the trunk, pop a quarter into the cart, steer to the aisles she needed, and pay with a debit card at the end. She knew what Aldi brands she liked and didn’t, and she knew what the store stocked and didn’t stock. We were in and out with a minimum of fuss.
If you’re dealing with Aldi anxiety, there is no better remedy than to tag along with an Aldi pro. I know it might feel a little strange asking someone to help you out, but if you come at it from the perspective of, “I’ve never been to Aldi, could you show me the ropes,” a good friend isn’t going to hassle you about it. This is the first, best way to do it.
Tip #2: Go on a Scouting Expedition
If you don’t have a friend to walk you through Aldi — or even if you do — a second option is to take a scouting trip to Aldi. By scouting trip, I mean this: don’t buy anything. Seriously. Just wander around the store. Look at things. Poke around. No one is going to care, I promise you. Aldi employees are way too busy — and Aldi shoppers way to occupied with their lists — to give you trouble. Getting the lay of the land is a surefire way to make the unfamiliar more familiar.
Tip #3: Read Up
The core of our work here at Aldi Reviewer is to provide a comprehensive look at all things Aldi, from tips to product reviews. If you want a guide to going to Aldi for the first time, we’ve got that. If you want some general dos and don’ts for Aldi, we’ve got those. We can help you figure out what payment types Aldi accepts, or how to deal with the checkout line, or what products we like and don’t like, or how to make sense of the Aldi ads.
And if you still have questions, our articles have places for comments, or you can track down our discussion group.
Tip #4: Ask for Help
If you’re in the store and you’re confused, don’t panic. There is help. In my experience, Aldi workers are helpful people, and they’ll answer your questions. I’ve also found other Aldi shoppers to be helpful: they can assist you in finding what you’re looking for, and they may even be able to tell you if they have experience with a product. I’ve done my share of asking — and my share of answering, too — and that makes everyone’s lives a little easier.
I can understand why a first-time trip to Aldi can lead to some anxiety. It’s different than other stores. But I hope this post offers some useful tools on how to make you feel less anxious. And if you have any positive advice of your own, feel free to leave it in the comments.