Of course I like Whole Foods. How can you not? It is like going to a carnival, almost. The cheeses are beautifully displayed with generous samples offered, the prepared food aisles are filled with yummy products you never knew you wanted, the flowers are always blooming. The bakery counter is an adventure in itself (if you are having a birthday, I highly recommend the the vanilla cake with buttercream frosting. Trust me). I do not generally like the amount it costs me to pick up a few items there, but I accept it for what it is: an indulgence and an experience (I realize many people would say it is a way to eat healthier, but given the vanilla cake-type offerings, I think there is room to dispute that).
Whatever going to Whole Foods is about, it is not about saving money, so in a way it does not surprise me that the chain has partnered with Instacart to provide a concierge-type shopping service which allows shoppers to get their groceries done without stepping out of their homes. What is off trend about the whole thing, however, is that it means that customers do not get to step into a Whole Foods, which really is the whole point.
The shopping-as-carnival thing is one of the reasons that Whole Foods can cheerfully bear the whole-paycheque nickname it often gets tagged with. Going to a Whole Foods gets you great products but it is also a nice experience. The stores are not just filled with great food, they are filled with nice people and pretty displays and intriguing products to look at, even if you never buy them. The stores offer cooking classes and health seminars, and cookie decorating for kids, and the newest ones even have things like tap rooms. Just as going into a Starbucks means you pay for the cushy chairs (providing you can snag one, of course), going into a Whole Foods means you are paying for the whole deal. And it can be worth it.
The deal with Instacart is all about getting the food to you at a premium price, no extras included. Instacart, by the way, is a service that provides personal shopping services to a range of supermarkets (including Whole Foods). The new partnership will basically speed things up by having Instacart personnel in Whole Foods stores already.
Presumably the new service is for one segment of the high-end market, those with money but little time. That’s a niche, and presumably Whole Foods has done its homework and knows that it is a lucrative enough one to make the new service worthwhile. Still, I would not say it is a fast growing niche. After all, the fastest growing segment of the population in North America is individuals over 65. As those retiring boomers exit the office, they will have time to go into Whole Foods stores rather than have the groceries delivered, and many will prefer to do so. That’s the market with money and time.
The other market I’d urge Whole Foods to consider is the one with used-to-have-money-and-now-have time. That one is a rapidly growing one, and it composed of newly retired boomers (or those looking at it down the pipe) who like luxury but frankly have less saved and less to spend than they had hoped. They will still like Whole Foods and visit it, but they may spend more time and less money on their visits. It is a market that could still work for Whole Foods. If they continue to offer educational experiences, or any experiences, in store, they can get their newly-frugal shoppers in the doors. They’ll buy carefully, but they will buy nevertheless, savoring each bit of luxury they purchase.