retail news in context, analysis with attitude

by Kevin Coupe

There's been a fair amount of discussion recently about the synergies that may be realized if Amazon is able to go through with its proposed $13.7 billion acquisition of Whole Foods. One of the assumptions has been that Amazon can help Whole Foods be more relevant in terms of e-commerce and the use of customer data, while Whole Foods brings more bricks-and-mortar expertise to the table.

I may want to quibble with this last premise.

I recently was in Seattle, and had a chance to visit both the Amazon Books store and the 365 by Whole Foods format. I've been to both before, but it always is worth another visit to see how they might be evolving. Or devolving.

At Amazon Books, one of the things that most impressed me was a display focusing on sous vide cooking technology. (You can see two pictures below.) There were a couple of cookbooks, the bags used for sous vide cooking, and a sous vide machine that can be controlled via Amazon's Echo/Alexa technology. The display was not just clever and coordinated, but it also managed to bring the entire concept within the Amazon ecosystem.

Very smart.

When I went to 365 by Whole Foods, I noticed that in one corner of the store there was a massive display of La Croix water - in a place where, I'm pretty sure, there used to be chilled wine. The cases were piled high in a cooler - but the cooler wasn't even turned on.

It seemed pretty clear to me that the folks at 365 were trying to fill in a gap created by something that didn't work, but doing so in a way that seemed half-hearted. For a display that big, you'd think there would be a pretty big sign. But you can see how small the sign was in the picture, bottom right. Underwhelming, at best. (This seemed consistent, though, will all the out-of-stocks that plagued 365.)

I know that these are just two examples. But when I visited these stores, I found an Amazon Books where they seemed to be completely on their game, and a 365 by Whole Foods that impresses me less and less every time I visit it.

The synergies may not be where a lot of people expect them to be. The results from the acquisition may be an Eye-Opener.

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