retail news in context, analysis with attitude

by Kevin Coupe

During a recent trip to the west coast, I decided it was time to visit the two "365 by Whole Foods" stores that I had not yet seen.

You may remember that last summer, I visited the Lake Oswego, Oregon, edition of the store, the second to be opened. You can read my impressions here. And so, over the course of a week, I visited the first store opened, in the Silver Lake section of Los Angeles, and the third, in Bellevue, Washington.

And to be honest, I wasn't any more impressed.

Oddly enough, of the three that I've seen, it is the original store, in Los Angeles that I liked the best. It may because it seems to have more natural light, which makes it a brighter, more friendly shopping experience. And it is the last of the three opened, in Washington, that is least impressive; that may be because it essentially in the basement of a mall, in a location that other retailers turned down before Whole Foods decided to take it.

You can see pictures of the Los Angeles store above, and the Washington store below.

My problems with the format remain the same as last year. In talking about the "365" format, Whole Foods has said that it wanted to address its "whole paycheck" image with lower prices, create a store that is more appealing to millennials, and develop a stronger use of technology within the store.

I think they miss on all three counts.

Indeed, if the prices are significantly lower than in a traditional Whole Foods, I don't think they do a good enough job promoting them within the store. I know from talking to millennials that they aren't entirely won over by the format, and I think the technology is cursory at best.

Employees at the Bellevue store told me that things are slow, but that expectations are that they'll pick up.

I am not persuaded.

It is possible that Whole Foods will learn so much from these three stores that the next ones will be a different animal. But I'm not expecting much ... because to this point, "365 by Whole Foods" has not, in my estimation, managed to address the problems that the company identified as the issue.

KC's View: