What happened to whole foods?

What happened to whole foods?

Have you seen those new commercials for Whole Foods? The “now, more affordable than ever” message caught my eye. Since the company was taken over by Amazon we probably were all wondering how the brands would blend and whether we would see sweeping or subtle changes. I guess I would propose we are seeing a little of both. Skeptics worried early on about the Whole Foods brand being diminished and cheapened as a result of the acquisition but it would now appear that hasn’t been the approach Amazon was as keen to follow as so many people predicted.

We do know that Amazon knows its customers as well as anyone and that this attention to detail has allowed them to grow and dominate retail-like nobody else. Jeff Bezos is famous for a quote about having an empty chair in every meeting that represents the voice of the customer. Of course in order to do that you really need to know what your customers are saying, feeling and thinking. The data that Amazon has been able to collect over the years certainly helps with that. I believe what we are seeing as Whole Foods changes strategy is a reflection of this same philosophy, and I base that assumption solely on my feelings about Whole Foods and perhaps why the new messaging caught my attention.

First of all, I love the product – I am a foodie and I love to cook and therefore having access to top-quality ingredients and a variety of often hard to locate sundries is awesome. I have never had an issue with anything I purchased, the help has always been great and the atmosphere is pleasant. Basically the kind of place someone like me should default to and shop at all of the time, but I don’t.

Basically, although I am far from being cheap I must admit that I was tired of every visit to whole foods costing $100. Now that’s my fault right, I bought too much and I purchased items I didn’t go there to buy. But that is what grocery shopping is when I make a quick stop at Publix on the way home the same thing happens but it’s not always $100. Now to be truthful that’s probably something I could live with but the point that really pushed me away was that there always seemed to be one item, that one item that when I checked the receipt just didn’t make sense, the one item that always made me feel gouged and taken advantage of, that item.

So the message of “more affordable than ever” resonated and my recent visits to Whole Foods have validated that promise, I now save 10% with my Prime membership and of course provide Amazon with even more data about myself – but like most people I am ok with that if that data is used to listen to me and take care of me.

I am guessing that financially Whole Foods was doing fine prior to the Amazon move, but financials don’t measure everything. If they were losing people like me, people that should be their most loyal customers, then that was a problem time millions of Franks. If people talking casually always finished the sentence that started with “Whole Foods has great products” with “but they are too expensive” then your most powerful advertising via word of mouth was negative for your brand. If people were leaving and feeling “gouged” or “taken advantage of” that erodes even visits from the most casual and prodigal customer.

In addition to working and winning me back, I actually love the subtle honesty of the new message. It has a candor that too many companies won’t swallow their pride to admit – “hey we got a little too focused on huge profits and not sustained growth, we are sorry for that, please come back”. I wouldn’t go so far to say it’s an apology but what is important here is that to me it felt like one and I appreciated it. I am back, I am cooking and I am enjoying the great produce and selection available at Whole Foods and now I don’t have to wince every time I check out.

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