Brands I Love

Brands I Love

Here’s my short list of brands that never disappoint. I follow and learn from them. I buy their products as a loyal customer and advocate. I truly enjoy doing business with these brands because of their exceptional experiences, and how well they deliver on their brand promise.


Trader Joe’s

Trader Joes

Source: Flickr

I actually enjoy grocery shopping, opposed to most people I think. I always volunteer to be in charge of keeping our fridge and fruit bowl stocked because I like to see what’s new or on sale in the meats or produce section. It’s like a little adventure for me.


trip to the grocery store usually isn’t the most desirable experience for most people. Grocery sections are infamous for making shoppers go to the back for everyday things like meat and milk. And I always have a hard time time finding what I need when I go into an unfamiliar store. Where are the canned beans, and those new crackers I like? Then there’s the long checkout lines, where most people are buried in their phone screens, and can’t wait to get out of there.


That’s why I love shopping at Trader Joe’s. Visiting a Trader Joe’s, no matter the location, or city I’m in, is always a special treat. As a frequent grocery consumer, marketer and aficionado of customer experiences, I’m always impressed by how pleasantly different the Trader Joe’s experience is, compared to all the rest.


Of all the brands in my list, Trader Joe’s is probably the least dependent on having a ‘digital’ relationship with me, which I find really interesting. I rarely visit their website, or use their app, and I’ve never been asked for my email during checkout (unlike many other retailers). I’m not even sure if they have a loyalty program or shopper club of any kind. It’s almost like Trader Joe’s is intentionally ‘low-tech’, with their old school, smartly written ‘Frequent Flyer’ newsletter (which I love reading, btw.)


But, all of that doesn’t even matter, because Trader Joe’s focuses on what seems to matter most to me and other grocery customers – the in-store experience, and offering great products at a good value. Trader Joe’s is known for their smart, affordable curation of organic and private-label products that flow through a direct sourced supply chain. Keeping costs low, the brand is able to pass on a lot of ‘premium value’ as compared to most grocery chains. This is reflected in their slogan: “…every penny we save is a penny you save.” That plus small, easy to navigate store footprints and locally-oriented neighborhood connections makes for a very satisfying grocery shopping experience.


And it seems their approach has paid off: Trader Joe’s ranked first in Forrester Research’s latest CX Index for multichannel retailers, based on the opinion of over 110k shoppers. They beat out the list of several leading grocery providers including Aldi, Kroger, Walmart, Save-A-Lot and Whole Foods.


Here are a few more interesting facts about Trader Joe’s:

  • The company has only had 3 CEO’s in its 60 year history.
  • Their biggest marketing expense is actually free samples (I love visiting my neighborhood store on Friday’s around 5pm for wine and cheese tastings.)
  • In an era where most brands want to gather customer data, Trader Joe’s knows very little about me.
  • The chain chooses to stay small; they only add 30 or so stores each year.

Read more: Six Surprising Facts that Explain Trader Joe’s Secret to Success


recent study from global customer agency C Space shows how important customer experience is for success in retail and other consumer businesses. The report provides valuable insight into the emotional cues that drive loyalty and long-term success in grocery chains (and other retailers) —such as “making customers feel smart and proud, noticing and appreciating loyalty, being interested in ongoing dialogue and sharing customers’ values.”


Trader Joe’s excels on all of these points in my observations. For instance, the check-out experience at Trader Joe’s is notably different from most grocery or stores of any kind. Store associates always smile with eye contact and offer me a friendly greeting and conversation. And, they are very crisp and professional in their tasks.


Trader Joe’s employees always seem chipper and are moving with purpose. Every Trader Joe’s store employee I’ve had the pleasure to encounter exhibits behaviors that reflect a true belief in Trader Joe’s values, and it makes me feel better about being in their store, even though I have lots of options to get groceries elsewhere. That to me, is the highest mark any brand can strive to achieve.



I’ve been a happy Amazon Prime member for over 2 years, and had used Amazon for several years before that. I’ve always enjoyed buying from Amazon, first from the website, then the app. Amazon offers one of the best overall e-commerce value propositions out there. By ‘overall’, I don’t just mean their digital user experience (which I’m a big fan of). But the total package of value Amazon offers, from the infinite universe of products, to the speed and ease of delivery, and no-hassle returns. One way to find out, is to try to do something out of the ordinary, like return an item, or change a stored credit card. I rarely have problems with shipments. Finding and purchasing items is super simple with one-click ordering. Amazon’s digital experience is truly as good (if not better) as dealing with a live person for doing most things.


And, the Amazon experience seems to get better over time, even as the company grows and grows. How are they able to do this? A review of Amazon’s 14 Leadership Principles, as told by Jeff Bezos offers some clues, of which “Customer Obsession” is at the top of the list.


Amazon infographic

Amazon’s Amazing Growth


One of the most amazing things about Amazon is how it has consistently stuck to its core mission of being “Earth’s most customer-centric company” over many years of divergent growth. What an audacious mission for any company to have. Yet, Amazon has managed to prove itself in many ways to be truly delivering on this mission, day after day, no matter how many new business arenas they enter.


Most companies that grow and become increasingly complex will invariably become less ‘customer centric‘, even though they never intend to. It just seems to be an unfortunate side-effect of growth and success. But not Amazon – they embody the counter-intuitive ability to grow fast, and yet remain true to their ‘Day 1’ start-up mentality, which leads with ‘True Customer Obsession.’


Amazon has a repeatable ability to deliver outstanding customer experience (and value) in a number of different businesses (e-commerce, IT business services, logistics, entertainment, retail grocery). The company also serves as a benchmark for how to remain ‘customer-centric’ despite the usual challenges that make it hard to do. According to Harvard Business Review, the greatest barrier to customer centricity is usually the lack of a customer-centric organizational culture. Amazon seems able to not only talk the talk, but also walk the walk in being Earth’s most customer-centric company.


Southwest Airlines

Thank goodness there are still airlines out there that actually care about the passenger experience. And given all the competition, regulatory constraints and high fixed costs, it makes perfect sense that an airline would structure itself to be customer-centric as well as operationally efficient. Southwest has definitely shown that it’s a win-win model.


My favorite thing about Southwest is how sensible and simplified their operations are, from a passenger point of view. Some people may not prefer the open seating approach, but I think’s brilliant. Every time I’m forced to fly any other airline these days, I definitely miss Southwest’s logical passenger queuing system at airport gates. I just can’t stand the pushiness and confusion associated with all the other airline boarding processes. Why doesn’t every airline adopt Southwest’s approach? Not only is it operationally efficient, but it’s a much more pleasant and orderly process for passengers. One could even argue it’s more fun – it’s sort of a little challenge to find the best seat you can (you just have to remember to check-in on time.)

Southwest airlines

Another example is their choice to fly only one aircraft type, Boeing 737s. Aside from the flight operation advantages (which are many), it’s also better for passengers. Every time I step onto a Southwest aircraft, I’m immediately familiar with the interior layout. And if you think about it, why would passengers want to fly different aircrafts anyway?


Then there’s the pricing. Hidden fees seem to be pretty much the norm with airline fair shopping. But, not with Southwest. It should be no surprise that they have earned the best rating for price transparency, according to Consumer Reports’ Summer of 2017 survey. A big reason is their long standing ‘bags fly free’ policy, no flight change fees, as well as a very clear approach to pricing overall, with few gotcha’s at the airport.


Heads up airlines: you can in fact be profitable, and deliver outstanding customer experiences, without slapping us with fees left and right. Learn from Southwest, please.


And, of course, Southwest’s in-flight experience is legendary. A big part of this is how well Southwest treats their employees. It’s a proven maxim: happy employees lead to happy customers. Unlike many airlines, Southwest has never laid off or furloughed an employee.


My last flight on Southwest was on Christmas Day. I was really impressed at how the crew seems to be really enjoying their work, even on a holiday. Over the intercom one said, “thanks Richard for the chocolates!” (apparently the crew had exchanged holiday gifts beforehand). Upon arriving at the gate, after the very genuine ‘thank you for flying Southwest’ announcement, the whole aircraft responded in cheers and clapping.


When was the last time a brand experience deservedly received your cheers? Maybe that should be a new KPI for executive dashboards.



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