Is Self-Checkout Coming to Trader Joe’s?

Trader Joe's stock

Self-checkout has been on the rise in recent years. The technology has existed going back to the 1980s, but only in recent decades has it finally taken a firm hold in the market. In 2021, some 30% of supermarket checkouts happened with self-checkout.

There are a number of reasons for this increase. The technology has improved, meaning fewer mistakes or “please wait for an attendant” error messages. The COVID-19 pandemic contributed as well, thanks to a shortage of workers combined with more people wanting to check out apart from other people. And companies have increased the number and visibility of self-checkout lanes in stores, as they view it as a potential way to make a greater profit.

The jury is still out on whether self-checkout is all it claims to be, both for consumers and for companies. That hasn’t stopped most retailers, including grocers, from pressing forward with the technology. Aldi, for its part, has been all in on self-checkout, rapidly rolling out kiosks across the country during the last two years.

What about Trader Joe’s? Is the Aldi distant cousin also edging toward self-checkout?

We can confidently say that the answer is no, and it won’t be for the foreseeable future.

Here’s why.

What Company Leadership Has Said

In Trader Joe’s August 14, 2023, podcast, the company hosted a Q&A with the store’s top leadership. Matt Sloan, Vice President of Marketing for Trader Joe’s and co-host of the podcast, said, “I have a bunch of rumors that I would like to prove true or false. Are we ready? True or false, coming soon, self-checkout.”

Bryan Palbaum, TJ’s CEO said, “Oh, that’s false,” adding “that’s a double false.”

Jon Basalone, the company’s president, explained. “That’s as false as false can be because we believe in people and we’re not trying to get rid of our crew members for efficiency sake or whatever the, I don’t know what the reasons are people put self-checkout in.”

“It’s not fun,” Palbaum agreed. A moment later, he elaborated: “I was just saying, I would, I have fun bagging groceries and working at the register. Self-checkout is work. I don’t want that.”

Basalone chimed in with a story of his own. “That’s like the time I was in a store, and I couldn’t get the thing to scan and do the, and then the person came over and was trying to explain to me. I’m like, I do this for a living, and I can’t get this thing to work.”

The company’s top brass didn’t do much to hide their dislike of self-checkout, both philosophically and as a matter of personal experience.

The Bigger Picture

It’s probably enough just hearing it from the people atop the grocer. Even if they hadn’t come out and said it, though, it seems clear to us that self-checkout runs against the supermarket’s whole approach to doing things.

A core value of the TJ’s experience is the value of human connection as a means to create and retain loyal customers. Trader Joe’s spends little on advertising, instead relying on word of mouth to draw in shoppers. Inside, everything looks hand drawn, as if a personal touch.

Nothing, though, in the store speaks more loudly to the way it prioritizes relationships like its employees. Crew members, as they are called, offer some of the friendliest, most personal service that we’ve ever seen in any retail store, ever. TJ’s cashiers are not only conversational, but they carry on the small talk while bagging (or even double-bagging) customer’s groceries with speed and grace. It’s as close to white glove treatment as we’ve ever seen at a grocer.

Trader Joe’s is very careful not to short-circuit that connection. It’s why the store doesn’t offer online ordering, curbside pickup, or home delivery. It wants customers to retain in-person human interaction with its workers. It’s not just a matter of good manners, either: Trader Joe’s makes more money per square foot than any other grocer. TJ’s personal, human approach makes the supermarket a lot of money.

In that light, it’s easy to see why Trader Joe’s would balk at self-checkout. Why would TJ’s want to sever its human link to its shoppers by replacing attentive, speedy crew members with kiosks? It would undermine one of the store’s fundamental principles.

Closing Thoughts

The old saying goes that you should never say never, and perhaps it’s possible that one day Trader Joe’s will relent and automate its checkout experience in some way. It’s hard to see that happening anytime soon, though. The company leadership takes a dim view of the technology, and the store’s guiding philosophy emphasizes practices that are about as opposite to self-checkout as it gets.

If you want a checkout experience where a real person bags your groceries, Trader Joe’s looks to be that place for a long time.

About Joshua

Joshua is the Co-founder of Aldi Reviewer. He is also a writer and novelist. You can learn more about him at

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