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.