Wholefoods Atlanta: a retailer’s perspective

Wholefoods Atlanta

As part of his Reward for winning the Scottish Young Local Retailer of the Year at the SLR Rewards, Musselburgh retailer Dan Brown visited the mammoth NACS Conference in Atlanta – but he also found time to spend a few hours studying the stunning Amazon-owned Wholefoods store in the city.

by Dan Brown, Pinkie Farm Convenience Store, Musselburgh

The standards in the store are very consistent with the usual Wholefoods model. Very well presented, with clean with fresh products and impressive displays. This is quite a contrast to the other stores I’ve visited in the surrounding area.

As with previous Wholefoods stores I’ve visited, there are several common themes presented within the store:

  • Sampling out products – Almost every fresh feature display within the store has a sampling station encouraging the customer to try the product. This store has lidded perspex boxes to keep the sample product covered which seemed to work well. Almost every customer was trying the different products while I was in.
  • Pre-prepared – Chopped fruit, veg, marinated meats and other meal accompaniments are all designed to make life simpler for the customer and have a large presence within the store.
  • Package/prepare yourself – There are multiple stations around the store where customers are encouraged to prepare or package products themselves – this included everything from a wide variety of nut butters, cereals, granola, grains, sweets and coffee.
  • Deli and hot food areas – Similar to the ambient package-yourself concepts, the store has a vast array of delis and hot food stations. Customers tub up whatever they want, mixing and matching as they desire. They are then simply charged by weight, with no confusion at the till point. This always seems to be an incredibly popular concept, giving customers quick and easy ready to eat food solutions that they can either take home or consume within the store’s extensive seating area.
  • Local, ethical and healthy are all prominent themes throughout the store – This particular store sits in stark contrast to the surrounding competition, where excessive packaging and highly processed foods are the norm. These themes are particularly strong in the UK at the moment and so there was quite a noticeable difference within Atlanta. Wholefoods however is very much ahead of this trend.
  • Keeping the on-shelf displays interesting – In addition to the stunning floor displays and exceptionally diligent standard of facing-up, Wholefoods has always had an interesting approach to its on-shelf merchandising. Rather than have all of their products meticulously laid out in departments, Wholefoods break these sections up with themes, making the store more interesting and easier to shop. These themes are generally focused around specific dine in occasions and rather than having the traditional ‘don’t forget the…’ POS leading customers to different areas within the store, the customer instead has everything they need in one place.

To me, this last point demonstrates that making the customer walk around the store looking for everything in different locations to try and get them to ‘shop the entire store’ doesn’t work as well. ‘Ease of shopping’ regularly features highly within insight research. Merchandising with an ‘occasions’ approach merged into the store rather than just in strict departments achieves the goal of building a basket rather than simply relying on consumer impulse. This ultimately then increases overall customer spend.

Finally, with Amazon owning the Wholefoods brand, it wouldn’t be right not to mention what role the internet giant plays within the store.

Almost all of the promotional activity was exclusively available to Prime members. With access to an in-store app, delivery options and external collection lockers all available through Prime, membership seems to be a no brainer for the customer.

This of course then gives Amazon a complete picture of just about every customer that walks into Wholefoods and allows it to understand exactly how to influence their buying decisions. Given the scale and power that Amazon have built over the years it’s clear that it will only be a matter of time before they start implementing their learnings on a mass scale, which is likely to completely change the industry as we know it!