And Whole Foods Didn’t Even Know I am a Blogger

Some of my out-of-town co-workers are in town for our HR Summit and yesterday afternoon, we planned a little impromptu barbecue at my house. I would never agree to something like that (let alone offer it) with only 2 hours notice were it not for my Roomba (here, you vacuum while I do other stuff), the fact that my house is generally clean and that they opened a new Whole Foods close-by. Oh, and also my friend Brian who has earned a reputation as the Burger Master.

Anyway, I dashed to Whole Foods, filled my cart to the rim and jumped into the check out line, possibly with a slightly crazed look on my face. Someone brought ice up for me, we filled up my two carts with the goods and a really nice gal helped me out to my car (she told me about sampling all the food as a new employee and the five pounds she has gained in the month the store has been open…cute!). I get home and unload the car and realize the box of wine…let me say that again, the bottles of wine loaded into a box, were still sitting on the counter of the check-out lane. D’Oh! I asked a friend to pick it up on the way over and then I got on the phone with Whole Foods. They were waiting for my call.

This is where it gets good. When I let them know a friend was on the way to get the box, they offered to deliver it. When I said no, they wanted to know if I was sure because they would be happy to because they were really sorry. My friend picked it up and Kelsey, the gal at the check out line (who looked wistfully at the wine anticipating the end of her pregnancy) told him how badly she felt (I was telling her how I had 2 hours to get my barbecue mojo together) and they gave us 5 bags of ice for free. And a bouquet of roses (beautiful!) AND a $25 gift card. Wow!

I didn’t really think that them forgetting to put the wine in one of the carts was a big deal (and I could have realized that the wine was missing when loading the stuff into the car). What I will remember from that shopping trip is everything Whole Foods did to make it right…better then right. I don’t think that they would ever want someone to have the experience of getting home and finding that something is missing. But I think that this type of event presents an opportunity. They can either allow the situation to stick in the customers mind as mildly unfortunate or they can use the opportunity to show how awesome they are and build some customer loyalty. In my situation, they excelled at the latter.

Here’s where Whole Foods differentiates themselves in a major way. They empower their employees to make it right. They were willing to have an employee driving around greater Redmond to make me happy (it’s not about one transaction, it’s about lifetime customer loyalty). They got creative about how to make it better (the roses hit the spot…it’s like they actually know me). Would another store do that? I doubt it.

Juxtapose that with a recent situation that I had at Safeway about 3 weeks ago (Safeway is another food chain here for those that don’t know). The check-out person lost track of what she was scanning and when I asked her if my card had scanned properly, she barked at me” “God, stop asking questions!”. I kid you not. You should have seen the look on the face of the nice man behind me (and incidentally, my friendly attitude changes at that point because nobody talks to me like that…it’s just not necessary…nobody). Am I going to remember that situation? Oh yes, I will. And ever since, I have been driving out of my way to Whole Foods. 

Whole Foods, you had me at “I’m sorry”. And my moderate obsession with the grocery shopping experience continues.


Edit: changed QFC to Safeway (it was the one on Woodinville-Duvall road and Avondale…..double checked)

Comments (24)

  1. Mark Brown says:

    Nice story. They obviously get it. Being at the top in a business like grocery chain is tough. You definitely don’t compete on price. What’s left? SERVICE.

    Sounds to me like they got it right and took a page right out of Nordstom’s book.

    Thanks for sharing.

  2. Max Battcher says:

    Nice.  I’ll have to remember to give a chance at Whole Foods.  There are several interesting things here.  When Kroger (parent company of QFC, incidentally) first moved into my hometown they won a lot of early loyalty by doing all they could to meet some of those "loyalty points" deals.  Then once they became entrenched as the #1 supermarket in the city things changed…  It makes me wonder if this is a "new store just opened loyalty buy" or a corporate-life-long policy.  Ideology like that can be hard for a company to protect long term.

    Personally I got so sick and impatient with traditional grocery shopping experiences.  I’m a guy, so more often than not I’m in a "get in, get the goods, get out" mind set.  I tend to prefer/favor self scan (U-Scan in the Kroger family vernacular) and not deal with cashiers and baggers.  (I also tend to try to maximize bag efficiency for my personal needs, and baggers just get in the way of that.)  I lose the human experience, but I feel like there are less mistakes to be made and less time wasted…

    Balancing service industries to meet the expectations and experience needs of customers is an interesting problem space.  It’s one that I don’t think enough service industry companies spend time on.  My own experience in the food service industry shocked me at how much "off the bookshelf" experience they could draw from was simply ignored or the higher ups were oblivious to or the higher ups didn’t understand, couldn’t internalize and then implemented poorly…

    It’s about time the American consumer focused on services and forced the service industries to compete harder on the actual service experience.

  3. Reg says:

    It takes a lady to buy a bottle of wine, but it takes a WOMAN to buy a case. *golf clap*

  4. HeatherLeigh says:

    Mark- Yeah, they get it alright. They have turned it into a shopping experience and a place where you are happy to pay more. Lately, I’ve been going every few days and buying enough prepared food to last me until my next trip in (guess things have been busy for me).  I really like going into the store (though I am still trying to get accustomed to the order of the rows). They also have a motorized sushi bar (you know where the little plates go around and you pull off whatyou want). It’s a thing of beauty. Note to self: make a trip at lunch sometime.  My only complaint is that they don’t have sugar free anything….sigh.

    Max-good point/question. Even if it’s just a "new store" kind of policy (though with their corporate culture it seems to be a bit engrained), it’s smart. The whole thing about grocery stores being a service industry…I wonder how many of the chains think about it that way. I suspect that most are working out the weekly specials to get you in the door so they can sell you other stuff (impulse buy? Anyone?). It’s about moving volume. When I think about grocery shopping as a pleasurable experience and how Whole Foods’ decor and food options make you want to actually spend time there (not to mention the lighting and displays), it’s like they are a completely different league. I never go to the QFC expecting an experience. I, like you, just want to get in and out. I think I shared about my recent PCC cooking class as well (PCC is a cooperative and has more in common with Whole Foods than the random chains). I think they also do a good job of getting people to spend time in the store.

    Reg- haha! It takes a cheap woman (I mean that in the thrifty way), is what it takes. Of course, when entertaining, I think about things like "what if everyone wants white?". Anyway, most of it belongs to Microsoft, anyway. I mark the bottles I have purchased for work events so they can be leveraged for future events ; ) Plus everyone loves a case discount. Love the golf clap : )

  5. Tim says:

    Heather, I’m with you and I am all about the shopping experience. Not being a "shopper" per se, a pleasurable experience to me is the better one. I’ll go to smaller hardware store, even where the guys are kind of surly, because I prefer it to the Home Depots where it’s really about stuffing my house with items at the cheapest price point. Can’t stand Wal*Mart and Costco for the same reasons.

    I don’t understand cheaping out by using the reasoning, "I’m just trying to make it as another middle class American". I spend a lot of money on stuff I don’t need all the time (turns out bars aren’t exactly giving beer and wine away, there’s a 500% mark-up), so I might as well enjoy the experience while I’m at it.

    It’s not for everyone, true, but I like your Whole Foods story, and it’s enough to make me test it out.

    BTW, save me a glass of red?

  6. Christian says:

    Wow Heather, you had yourself a Seth Godin moment!

  7. HeatherLeigh says:

    Tim-you got it buddy. : ) We opened my mammoth (3L) bottle of Stonestreet Cab (2001) and only half is gone. It’s going to kill me but I am going tohave to dump the other half.  Don’t cry. I have more.

    Christian-I’m sure I’ll know what you are talking about when I have some time to read : )

  8. eR0CK says:

    Wow, I wish all stores had similar customer service.  I’m curious if the Roomba actually works for you?  Maybe you could give it a review in a future post?  I’m still skeptical about the device.

  9. HeatherLeigh says:

    Yeah, I like it/ I was skeptical but my dad got one. SO I saw it in action. It doensn’t replace a regular vacuum, but it does work very well (especially because it gets under stuff regular vacuum’s can’t). It’s for the vacuum adicted like me. Good for regular maintenance vacuuming and then every once in a while you get out the big vacuum.

  10. Andy says:

    Cool that they did right by you. On the Roomba thing I think they are cool but I work from home so I am the Roomba 🙂 If my employer ever buys an office out here though so I actually have a place to go to for work I’d like to get a Roomba.

  11. patblue says:

    A – my Roomba battery died a while ago, I am jealous. Now I am movtivatied to search out a replacement.

    B – I am glad you like the service at WF.  I have found that I can’t shop there due to the crowds (one of my many quirks, crowded grocery stores freak me way out).  The WF on 65th in Seattle has come close to putting me in the psych ward on more than one occasion, so I vowed out of being a WF fanatic for my mental health.   That being said, other WF sites may be less crowded but the image of my mind of the WF near me will stick for a long time.  I am a Trader Joe and Safeway kind of guy, and I dont’ think either chain would be as kind as WF was to you.

  12. HeatherLeigh says:

    Andy-see what that says about me. I works from home AND have a Roomba. Vacuuming is not my favorite activity and I found that I was spending too much of my weekend time on my cleaning rituals. Roomba lets me take back some of that time.

    Patblue-there’s a website for appliance replacement parts. I have it written down somewhere. I’ll find it. You should try the WF on Fall Creek….it’s just down the road from your office. Hey, maybe we can meet there for lunch sometime…do the little sushi bar thing. I’m with you on TJs though. Love it! It’s less of a grocery store to me though and more of a speciality store (meaning I need to go there every once in a while but their selection isn ‘t broad enough to meet all my grivery needs). I’m addicted to their Tamari almonds.

  13. Wine-Oh says:

    I love my roomba. My dog, not so much….

  14. Patblue says:

    I just have to say Heather in reference to all the vacuum talk.

    ‘Remember, House work, when done properly, can kill ya!’

  15. HeatherLeigh says:

    Hmm, that makes me want to say something about dinosaurs thinking humans taste good with ketchup but I can’t quite find the right words.

    Have you seen the internal group that is all about bad autosigs? It’s in the public groups directory. Man, people can be harsh but I have to agree that I’m not a big fan of the quotes in signatures. I feel like saying "thanks for the inspiration but I was really just looking for your contact information". Maybe that’s just me.

  16. HeatherLeigh says:

    Oh, and also, Pat…sorry for the incontinence.

  17. Margo says:

    Whole foods has been the lifesavor of my dietary needs.  Once their head chef of the bakehouse was diagnosed with my disease (Celiac) they built a dedicated bakehouse for my food.    Now I can enjoy cookies, brownies, scones, and most of all, FANTASTIC bread.

    The whole foods near me does everything possible to make sure we are happy.  I received a survey from my area for housing, and in receipt of turning in the survey received a 10 dollar gift card to Whole Foods.  When I went in to spend it on some Gluten-free goodies, they asked me if I would participate in a survey for the store.

    During a recent renovation, they used my survey answers and other Gluten-free customers to revamp the organization of their celiac-friendly bakery department and where in the store we could find our food.

    I must say, it really made me feel special that they listened to our feedback and tailored our store to how we shopped.  It also feels good when the cashiers know what celiac disease is and can readily help me when I have questions about ingredients or when something they know is popular for us goes on sale.

    One particular instance, I was very bummed when my favorite chicken nuggets were nowhere to be found.  One of the freezer staff took my number and called me when they came back in stock.  Fantastic service!!!

  18. mrscrooge says:

    I love whole foods – but isn’t the comparison with service at QFC a bit unfair? I’ll throw this out there and guess that you get overall better perks as a check-out person at Whole Foods rather than at QFC (I could be totally wrong). Not defending the check-out person’s crappy attitude but I just don’t get very surprised about stuff like that happening at QFC…

  19. HeatherLeigh says:

    Margo, I guess they really know how to use customer research. I always love the feeling that my feedback is listened to. They must do some significant training with all their employees on food allergies, ingredients, etc.

    mrscrooge- I am surprised by anyone snapping at a customer regardless of what they are paid. I think basic courtesy (or at least lack of snottiness) is a minimum expectation, regardless. It’s a service industry, for crying out loud. I’m not expecting that QFC would have done all the extra stuff to keep my business, but I also don’t expect them to be nasty to me.

    Also, I gotta say, business is not fair. Nobody guarantees a level playing field in retail because the whole point is to develop a competitive advantage. Both QFC and WF are competing for my grocery dollars. QFC still would be getting some of them if it were not for that snotty lady (she may as well have said "I don’t care about customers, please go spend your money somewhere else", because that was the result). For the lower-price retailers, I believe the point is that you make your money in volume (and your competitive advantage is supply chain). It doesn’t work if you tick off customers. You don’t have to delight me every time (because the lower prices can make me pretty happy), but you can’t be nasty. That just isn’t going to work. Look at Wal-mart. They are a low price retailer but they still have that person at the door saying "hello" when you walk in.

  20. Wine-Oh says:

    For those looking for replacement parts for household equipment such as batteries, remote controls, adapters, check out:

    Full disclosure: I do not own the company, nor do I work there. But they have most everything someone needs when it comes to replacement parts.

  21. HeatherLeigh says:

    Hmm, there aren’t Roomba parts on that site, but the iRobot site ( has acessories and internals.

  22. Vicki says:

    Geez… something like this story would never happen at the Piggly Wiggly.

    Trust me… you probably wouldn’t even be able to buy the alcohol there… (Does anyone know what a dry county is?!)

    Some people are just soooo lucky!

  23. HeatherLeigh says:

    It’s not lucky…you can always move : ) Not that alcohol would be something that is important enough to move for, but still…

  24. Gavrielah says:

    Wow, what a way to make it right!