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How Trader Joe’s taught me about consent

publishedover 1 year ago
4 min read

Reader,

I’m a Trader Joe’s fangirl.

I know, I know, who doesn’t like TJ’s? But I truly believe my love of this grocery store is next-level. It’s not just their snacks I love, it’s the way their business reflects consent values.

Here’s what I mean:

In most stores, I’m on high alert. Are they gonna overcharge for blueberries? Is the price on the bright yellow sales tag just 10 cents lower than the original? Does “5/$5” mean I have to buy five or are they just trying to get me to spend more?

I feel like I’m constantly trying to dodge, duck, dip, dive, and dodge their marketing ploys.

At TJ’s though, I feel like I’m in a safe, mutually respectful, relationship.

Why do I feel this way?

  1. Nothing goes on sale. The price is the price.
  2. They let you taste the product before you take it home (pre-covid).
  3. If you don’t like something, you can return it. No questions asked. You don’t need a receipt or the product.

I can’t know why they run things this way but my guess is that they don’t just want your money, they want your money in exchange for something that you actually want.

Allow me to further speculate on their “why”:

1. Why doesn’t anything go on sale?

They feel confident about their prices and they’re not trying to pressure you. “TODAY’S DEAL,” tells your brain that you’re gonna miss out so you better say “yes,” now. Humans are wired to notice urgency and it can pressure us into choices we don’t want to make.

Imagine that your daughter is deciding whether she wanted to make-out with her boyfriend. He says to her, “It’s now or never. If we don’t make-out today, there won’t be another chance.” The scary truth is, that might say yes because she doesn’t want to miss out on an “opportunity.”

Call it a marketing tactic or call it coercion, in my opinion, it’s not super ethical.

2. Why do they let you taste the product before you take it home? (Pre-covid)

You can’t know if you’ll like how something tastes just by looking at the packaging. I might think that TJ’s Creamy Pumpkin Soup sounds delish but then I get home and realize it’s entirely too sweet for my taste.

When it comes to consent, your answer doesn’t have to be “yes” or “no” – your answer can be, “let’s try it” with no consequences if you don’t like it.

This is the same reason why things like trial yoga classes, a free month of Hulu, and samples at Costco exist. I believe that companies that do this realize that sometimes you just want to dip your toe in the water and that’s ok. They don’t want you to buy something you’re not confident in. They want you to know what you’re getting before you put money down. They value your trust and don’t want to abuse it.

3. If you don’t like something, you can return it – even if you don’t have a receipt and even if you don’t have the product.

Let’s say you give an enthusiastic “yes” (to a product or to sex). According to TJ’s and according to consent, you're still allowed to change your mind! You'll be met with a kind, “Alrighty, thanks for me letting me know” and you’ll be on your way. Maybe you’ll be asked for feedback, but you don’t have to answer.

The exchange is based on a relationship of trust and mutual respect. They don’t want you to invest (your time, money, body) in something you don’t want, even if you said “yes” already.

I want to — and will work to — run my business (and practice consent) like Trader Joe's.


I recently ended a coaching relationship that goes against many consent principles. In an effort to not let this happen again, I’ve created a checklist for the next time I hire someone. I encourage you to use this, too.

✔︎ Make sure the consent is informed.

This coach said working with her would be “like I had her on speed dial.” Question: What does that mean? I think it means that I can reach her anytime. But honestly, I’m not sure. I wish I clarified the language before I said yes. I’m reminded of the word “hookup.” It has so many interpretations that it’s kind of meaningless. It’s not consent unless the person knows what they’re agreeing to. Learn from me, be sure you know what you’re agreeing to.

✔︎ Ask for contract adjustments, if needed.

If they want you on top but that’s not comfortable for you, you’re allowed (and encouraged to speak up. Both people need to be comfortable with the terms for any relationship to be successful. If one of you is not willing to budge, it’s a sign that the partnership isn’t a good idea. Neither person is “right” or “wrong,” it’s just not a compatible match. An Instagram follower told me they didn’t realize they could ask for adjustment or amendments. As a business owner, let me tell you, you can.

✔︎ Define your safe word.

Oh yes, a business safe word. In sexual encounters, a safe word is typically used to quickly and clearly say to a partner, “Hey, we need to stop.” What I love about safe words is that this doesn’t mean that everyone leaves and goes home. It means that something isn’t right and we need to talk about it. After some discussion, this could mean the date is over, but in healthy relationships, more often than not, it means that we can keep going, we just need to shift direction.

So why not do the same in business? Have a word like “red” or “avocado” that means, “Hey, this wasn’t what I was expecting” or “we need to talk about what’s happening.” It doesn’t mean the partnership is over, it just means adjustments need to be made before we can move on. If your provider is not willing to make adjustments along the way, be sure that you know that ahead of time.


Consent isn’t a box you check and move on. It’s not about getting someone to say “yes” so that you get what you want. Consent is a value system based on trust, mutual respect, and a commitment to honoring your boundaries and theirs. If you want your child to embody consent, it must be more than just about “yes” and “no.” It must also be about how the yes is granted and how the person is treated after.

I would love for you to flood my inbox with Trader Joe's suggestion.

What's you fav TJ's product??

To mutually respectful consumerism 🥂,

Sarah

PS: Trader Joe’s Coffee Bean Blast Ice Cream is the way to my heart.

PPS: Always read the fine (and not-so-fine) print. These are not chocolate-covered pringles. These are just pringled-shaped chocolates.