It hit the headlines this past Friday that Amazon has acquired Whole Foods for 13.7 billion dollars. A high price indeed for a company that has reported a loss in earnings for the past 6 consecutive quarters. The buzz about the acquisition has stirred up rumors of cashier-less stands, junk food in stock, and dropping the higher end specialty products that made Whole Foods unique in the Grocery Game. Opinions have been voiced from onlookers, reporters, and twitter users, most in a very negative light over the entire ideal.
I felt myself being caught up in the drama when I stepped back and decided to pull out my little black book and contact one of my old peers from my retail years Michelle. She has been working at Whole Foods for the past year and a half, and I asked her, as an actual employee that will be effected by any changes to come, just what she thought.
Her answers may surprise you. I know they did me.
What’s to Love About Working At Whole Foods?
Whole Foods has been listed in Fortunes top 100 best employers since 1998. I asked Michelle to tell me what aspects of Whole Foods made it a special place to work?
Whenever I first started I really liked everything the company stood for because it felt like I was doing some good in the world just by working somewhere or being a part of something bigger that was doing something good. When you start they tell you about all the different things they do in the world, where they get their food why they have standards.
Michelle went on to explain that she appreciates all the outreach the company does. Such as helping out small businesses overseas, and even offering opportunities for their own employees to trek over oceans to be a part of world change. And they go the extra mile to care for their employees, allowing employees to contribute to causes from their pay check, and providing financial assistance when their employees find themselves in dire circumstances.
I really like working there for lots of different reasons. I like being able to shop there and not worry about where the money was going, I knewI was I paying higher prices even with my discount and so whenever I shop there at least I knew I didn’t have to worry about what I was buying or anything like that.
As A Whole Foods Employee do you shop on Amazon?
Michelle let out a quick chuckle, which was quickly followed by her answer.
I shop at amazon a lot for…things that are cheaper and I can find a wide variety of brands.
But for groceries I go to Whole Foods or Kroger. But Kroger doesn’t have the strict standards of Whole foods; organic in your grocery store is not always fully organic.
The Initial Shock
The CEO/founder, John Mackey, was reported as calling the company’s investors, “Greedy Assholes” as they tried to push this sell. His outburst understandable after spending nearly 4 decades building this company from the ground up. Michelle’s says her initial response was similar in nature.
We both laughed again before she went on to explain her initial concerns.
You know it’s the difference between someone who has a mission and fights for a company, and then they are like oh no this isn’t working. So they sell it to someone who doesn’t have that same vision, for them it’s not about values, it’s more about how can I make money.
I wondered if perhaps Mackey was the type of man to look at the missteps he may have taken with Whole Foods and try again, and build a new brand from the ground up.
I mean, I hope so, I really hope so. It makes me so sad, All the things he was really doing, it’s like a knife in my heart…I do think that he got frustrated because when your company gets as big as Whole Foods then you do have an investors. And then when they own more of the company than you do, then you don’t have a say in your own creative vision any longer.
This past fall Amazon opened their first brick and mortar store in Seattle. This store is 100% cashier-less with a technology so advance that shopping is effortless for their customers. A large piece of the recent controversy is the rumor that Amazon will cut down on overhead costs by eliminating the front end, or cashiers, thus eliminating jobs. While explaining this new technology Michelle could see which direction I was heading and cut me off and spoke with great confidence.
I don’t think they will lay anyone off they will just transfer to different departments. I don’t think those [Cashier-less Technology] are such a bad thing.
…We actually need more people so if they want to bring more people over, that would be great. If we got rid of the front end, and we had more hours, and they put more money in other departments then that would be really helpful.
Dropping The High Dollar
The biggest complaint heard on social media about Whole Foods is how expensive their product is, earning the nick name “Whole Paycheck”. Michelle laughed as I said this, apparently incredibly familiar with this term.
An obvious plan for Amazon would be to take away the top shelf product and in turn replace it with equal yet more affordable substitutes. I asked Michell how often her customers complained about the price, her answer was spoken from the wisdom of someone with well over a decade of the retail experience she has under her belt.
All The time. Literally all the time. But when are people not complaining?
If it’s cheaper and they take away all this stuff, then they are going to be complaining about how we got rid of all this stuff.
So then I asked, if taking away the high priced items that made customers unhappy would be beneficial to the company. Her answer was surprising, and revealed the factors that created the price beyond the products themselves.
It’s not that the brands that are expensive, it’s that they are having to increase the price to pay for everything else. Allot of the brands are a really good value, some are even local…
I think it’s really cool because it’s encouraging small businesses, but I don’t know about getting rid of brands because they are expensive. Allot of the times the brands we have, their value is good. So you are paying for the fact that you are getting a really good value, a really good product. So I don’t necessarily think that’s a bad idea. Maybe instead lessen the amount of the things [inventory levels]. I mean you can’t possibly sell that much of it.
I think people should care more about where their food comes from, and they need to care more about the company that’s selling them their food. You don’t really know what their intention is. Some people deserve your money and some companies deserve your money, and some people really don’t.
Michelle later clarified that she is optimistic to see what Amazon will bring to the table. Extending her thoughts to the craze over this acquisition:
You don’t know what is going to happen until it happens. I won’t really know the effects until they start to take place. All I can do is say well I guess we’ll see how it goes.
I wondered if perhaps she thought eliminating higher priced items would bring in more customers.
Only at first. People will want to know how things changed.
Michelle went on to explain that someone who was not interested in investing in their health, most likely won’t prioritize a trip to Whole Foods to maintain their health once it is more affordable.
A surprising addition to her answer was her thoughts on the actual prices of the product.
There are some things that are greatly more expensive, for instance, I got a big bag of rolled oats at Whole Foods for 5.69 at Kroger it’s 4.99 for the same bag. That’s a little bit hard to swallow. But when you know I’m getting paid more than the average Kroger person, starting out you only get paid $11.50…but at least you get paid a livable amount, I could not live on 7.75. So I mean I get all the factors that go into us having higher prices.
At the end of the day though Michelle’s main concern was not the price of the product but instead the quality. She came off very open to change and new ideas, but it seemed the conversation kept coming back to the organic purity of the food, and her concern that with Whole Foods quality dropped she may be confined once again to a single aisle at any given grocery, rather than the freedom and variety provided by Whole Foods and expanded on an idea I presented this past Christmas on the entire Amazon struggle to find a produce expert and shipment hub.
I get the 365 brand, and I’m totally behind that. But don’t bring us down…If you want to bring us down to Wal-Mart level then you should have bought Kmart; we are supposed to be different.
I wondered what Michelle thought would be some great target points within the Whole Foods structure that Amazon should focus on first and foremost.
A huge loss happens with food and produce when return policies are lax. The customer is always right is a motto developed by the great Selfridge, but should have its limitations. Instead accommodate your customers with common sense.
They give away stuff all the time…I have seen people bring in a 2 week old moldy rotisserie chicken and take the return because they won’t tell their customers no.
So people will come up and steal stuff all the time, go and grab a sandwich, grab a slice of pizza, and the cashiers weren’t allowed to say anything.
If there isn’t a barcode or if the barcode doesn’t work they get it for free.
They are hemorrhaging money that way, I mean, If someone can get a pizza eat half of it, keep it in their fridge for three days and then return it, that’s B.S.
It’s like, of course your losing money; that’s dumb.
One of Michelle’s prime concerns was that she wanted a standard training protocol that was blanketed across the company. Retail is a trade that is no stranger to impromptu training, and a big part of the drop in customer service is not all employees are offered the same chances at opportunity when training is so incredibly inconsistent.
Invest more in training. Protocol, there is no training system, instead you have a mentor. And the mentors vary based on the individual. They aren’t about correcting people, but instead working with the individual and changing their department until they find their best fit.
If they were just trained correctly perhaps we would be more productive and successful.
Over all Michelle said the entire structure of the company and management system needs to be revisited. “Team Leaders” need to be managers,
It’s like everyone is Team members and Team Leaders and it’s like everyone is supposed to be nice to everyone and that doesn’t make sense to me because that’s not how people function. If you give people an inch they are probably going to take a mile.
What is expected in other departments are different than what are expected in mine, and there just needs to be more consistency.
I wondered if Michelle’s opinions might be just be her own, and so I asked if she felt her co workers shared her opinions on the structure and leadership of Whole Foods.
To make the work environment they would have to make the structure better. Anyone that has been in management would think the same thing. I think normal people that don’t know what it is supposed to be like and how it could function properly wouldn’t know the difference.
‘A special thanks to Michelle for being a sport and offering such a fresh perspective on the situation as an employee who will be facing the upcoming Amazon changes.
Until next time fan boys and girls—>
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