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Whole Foods' technology play: Is it the grass fed steak or the sizzle?

Whole Foods' technology play: Is it the grass fed steak or the sizzle?

This Whole Foods store in Alpharetta, Ga., has a click-and-collect station for Instacart.
This Whole Foods store has a click-and-collect station for Instacart.

Whole Foods’ “technology prototype” sits in a new community called Avalon in Alpharetta, Ga. It is being called their technology store of the future by some, a nod to the tests they have underway in a number of different areas in the store to use digital tools to engage more with consumers.

While some of what I saw does have some promise, my overriding impression is that this is a great food store first with technology a distant second. I am always a bit cautious of technology for technology’s sake versus ideas that significantly improve the customer or associate experience.

The Whole Body "magic mirror" recommends products based on your aura.
The Whole Body "magic mirror" recommends products based on your aura.

To begin there were a number of digital experiences available in the store:
• In the Whole Body section, there is a magic mirror type device that reads your aura and recommends the right product. Definitely gimmicky though it did correctly identify my need for an energy boost at that moment!
• More digital signage sitting in the deli and meat departments
• Interactive digital technology appeared in multiple places: To help do the right wine pairings, to educate and inform on cheese, to help select and rate craft beer, and in many places, to get to better understand their social mission or meet local growers. On the more gimmicky side, customers were encouraged to share pictures on Instagram that would then show up in the store. Whole Foods is already best in class at customer communications — these higher tech tools were one more way to do it.

Next generation electronic shelf tags are prevalent throughout the store that appear to be using an e-ink type system. These types of tags are greener and now have capabilities to monitor stock conditions and work with iBeacons. All that said, they still have work to do in communicating pricing and promotions more effectively.

Finally, the store has an Instacart installation that allows for in-store click-and-collect. While Instacart is growing fast, this is the first in-store example we’ve seen.

I suspect the typical shopper will be wowed by the experience (the food, the people, the merchandising) and may not really be that engaged by the technology. It will become more commonplace in supermarket retail but the best technology is always an enabler to something better not the end solution itself.

What new technology for improving the in-store experience would you like to see?

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