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Business Unplugged™
This blog features Carol Roth's tough love on business and entrepreneurship, as well as insights from Carol's community of contributors.

Unsolicited Business Advice: Why I Hate Whole Foods

Written By: Carol Roth | No Comments
And what your business can learn from their mistakes

Last year I did a guest post for Rich Gallagher’s Point of Communication blog on why I love Trader Joe’s and alluded to what they do better than the competition, but now I want to talk about what the competition is doing wrong- specifically Whole Foods.

We take food pretty seriously in my family and since I don’t cook, having our favorite brands of packaged food, as well as pre-prepared meals for my husband to heat up in the microwave, is fairly important to us.

I am in what can be best described as a bad relationship with Whole Foods.  While I have cut way back on the amount of time I spend there, I just haven’t been able to fully quit them.  I shop at Whole Foods about once a month, solely to get those brands I can’t find anywhere else.   They do a really good job at stocking new and interesting “healthy” food brands.  That is where my compliments end.

To say that Whole Foods is sort of expensive is like saying that fire is sort of hot.  A box of Annie’s Bunny Fruit Snacks that I can buy at Target for just over three bucks cost $4.69 at my local Whole Foods (they are pretty tasty, by the way, if you like food made for eight year olds).  For that pricing premium, you would figure the customer service would be outstanding, right?  It isn’t- it actually sucks.

I have been to probably a dozen stores in four states and the floor employees have been generally useless, clueless and sometimes downright rude.  They act as if they are doing you a favor by letting you shop in their store (not quite the premium experience).  Today’s shopping trip including me doing what looked like some weird interpretive dance to reach around an employee blocking off the entire refrigerated fruit section to pick up part of a watermelon, not being able to get through two other aisles because of employees blocking them off and an employee with a large moppy-broom thing (I’m sure that’s not the actual name of the tool, but I am not very domestically inclined) that tried to cut me off as I was headed across the back aisle when he wanted to go across my path towards the front of the store.  There is no “Excuse me” or “After you, miss” or actually any acknowledgement that you even exist as a customer if a Whole Food employee is trying to restock, mop or do some other task.  It is somewhat like an obstacle course of employees, which could be fun in a setting other than a grocery store.

If you need help (like I did when trying to locate a product they had moved for the fourth time this year), you better hope you have some free time on your hands.  And the potentially cool aspect of having samples of different products to try (like cheese or cookies) isn’t that great when all that is out there are crumbs.   

While the checkout girl was fairly cheery, the entire experience every single time is just god awful.  It’s my own fault for going back, so my quest now is to find someplace else to buy my Wallaby Down Under yogurt and end my bad relationship.

So, what can your business learn from my abysmal Whole Foods experience?  Make your customers feel special.  It is easy- Trader Joe’s does it (and they have great value prices) just by having helpful, friendly, knowledgeable employees.  I could be a raving fan and lord knows that I am a customer that spends ridiculous sums on the things I really like (just ask the staff at the BCBG store), so make sure you are treating your customers in a way that makes your entire value proposition enjoyable.  Otherwise, you may just find that your customers ending your relationship.

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Carol Roth is a national media personality, ‘recovering’ investment banker, investor, speaker and author of the New York Times bestselling book, The Entrepreneur Equation. She is a judge on the Mark Burnett (Shark Tank, The Voice, Survivor, The Apprentice) produced technology competition series, America's Greatest Makers, airing on TBS and Host of Microsoft's Office Small Business Academy show. Previously, Carol was the host and co-producer of The Noon Show, a current events talk show on WGN Radio, one of the top stations in the country, and a contributor to CNBC, as well as a frequent guest on Fox News, CNN, Fox Business and other stations. Carol's multimedia commentary covers business and the economy, current events, politics and pop culture topics. Carol has helped her clients complete more than $2 billion in capital raising and M&A transactions. She is a Top 100 Small Business Influencer (2011-2015) and has her own action figure. Twitter: @CarolJSRoth