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Whole Foods Expands the In-Store Experience

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Whole Foods has always marched to their own drum. As a chain retailer of natural and organic foods, they have created a niche and story line that their loyal shoppers have embraced.

With ecommerce gaining such a foothold, brick-and-mortar stores are meeting the challenges of communicating with consumers across multiple channels.

Wall Street hasn’t exactly seen Whole Foods in a favorable light, as their stock has continued to decline this year, yet their earnings per share has grown over the last two years and the net income growth from the same quarter one year ago has exceeded that of the S&P 500 and the Food & Staples Retailing industry average.

The retailer has seen competition from mainstream supermarkets, as those stores have expanded their natural and organic shelves and aisles, and manufacturers themselves are catering to the growing national consciousness of healthier eating, by incorporating “natural” and organic ingredients into their products.

When Whole Foods first started personalizing products and telling the stories behind them, sales of the corresponding products increased.

While consumers in general have become more environmentally and socially conscious, this foray into digital story-telling plays into Whole Foods wheelhouse perfectly.

Whole Foods has installed several digital and video displays in their stores in Georgia and North Carolina, with the purpose of detailing the stories behind the products. Videos and interactive touch screens occupy different stations: “Perfect Pairings” allows shoppers to discover products they might like based on their individual taste preferences, like what coffee, wine, or beer goes with a particular food they like.

“Farm, Meet Table” allows customers to connect to suppliers in real time so they can see the actual growers of food planting and picking, tying in their personal experience. “Wise Wood” is a 12 x 2.5 wooden tower, which tells the story of Whole Foods' new "Responsibly Grown" produce rating system. Customers pull a series of wooden knobs to transform a farm landscape for information on specific sustainable farming practices that are part of the program.

“Whole Body Mirror” is designed to help shoppers discover the chain's Whole Body products that match specific needs, customers see their forms reflected in a "magic mirror" as one of three auras: Refresh, Energize, Relieve.

Beyond the natural and organic foods push, there is a growing demand for sustainable products and with that comes an educational component, which Whole Foods is providing digitally. Stories are the ideal way to communicate, since the information becomes more understandable in such an entertaining format.

Whole Foods demonstrates that brick-and-mortar stores need to shift their physical environment to provide consumers with a more immersive shopping experience of the brand. It also gives them the chance to create educational opportunities and a sense of community. And that’s the beauty of the store—their physicality. With a store’s use of space, the tactile nature of physical products and a sales staff ability to personalize, customers experience something not offered online.

Whether this approach keeps people coming back or attracts new customers remains to be seen. Since many shoppers are strapped for time, it will be interesting to see whether stopping to review Whole Foods’ produce rating system or checking out videos of local providers will be enticing enough to make them linger. The most useful of these displays seems to be “Perfect Pairings,” as it also provides the retailer with a chance to advertise and market their products. This kind of merchandising seems to beckon success.

 Other retailers have an opportunity to create experiences that are relevant to their shoppers and connect with their store's products and values. Using interactive videos and touch screens offer a great opportunity to convey a desired message and reinforce a positive relationship between retailer and shopper.

TAGS: retail, retail trends, retailers, customer service,
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