Are Amazon Prime delivery shoppers disrupting Whole Foods’ stores?

Discussion
Photo: RetailWire
Sep 29, 2020
Tom Ryan

Amazon Prime delivery shoppers are reportedly crowding aisles, emptying shelves, ignoring safety rules and bothering busy associates as they scurry around Whole Foods stores fulfilling online orders.

That’s according to a report from Business Insider based on interviews with seven Whole Foods employees, including three managers, across six states.

A manager at one location called Prime workers “vultures” who “come in and pick every department clean.” The first arrive at 6:00 a.m., well before the 8:00 a.m. opening.

Another charge being made is that is many Prime shoppers often stare down into their phones, neglecting social distancing protocols and one-way aisle rules in their rush to compile orders.

Finally, Prime’s pick and packers were found to be continually pestering Whole Foods’ store staff with questions on item locations. A particular nuisance cited was Amazon.com’s policy of making delivery workers scan a QR code belonging to the Whole Foods associate if an item is out of stock. The stressors for Whole Foods’ associates are said to be exacerbated by under-staffing problems.

The problems may be temporary as Amazon’s grocery sales tripled in the second quarter. Pick-up at Whole Food locations that offer the service also tripled during the period, Amazon officials said on its quarterly conference call.

However, internal pick and pack personnel — as well as those from third-party delivery services such as Instacart — may become an even more common sight in aisles as households have grown more comfortable with online grocery delivery, BOPIS and curbside pickup during COVID-19. A recent study from Mercatus and Incisv predicted online grocery sales in the U.S. will grow more than 60 percent from pre-pandemic levels to 21.5 percent of sales by 2025.

Amazon said it expanded its grocery delivery capacity by more than 160 percent and tripled its number of grocery pickup sites. An Amazon spokesperson to Business Insider cited Amazon’s tests of “dark” stores, including the first Whole Foods-supported one’s recent opening in Brooklyn, among other steps being taken.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Do you see the increased presence of pick and pack shoppers in aisles putting a bigger strain on associates or customers in stores? Do you see the potential for customers’ in-store experiences to suffer as more online order shoppers are deployed to stores?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
Braintrust
"These shoppers do not belong in the store when regular shoppers are there. Either have dark stores or limit these shoppers to after hours."
"Whole Foods is a glimpse into the future of Amazon’s algorithmic commerce. Algorithmic commerce, for now, requires humans to pick and pack."
"Can anyone tell me why grocery pickers can’t simply go to the Amazon/Whole Foods warehouses directly?"

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22 Comments on "Are Amazon Prime delivery shoppers disrupting Whole Foods’ stores?"


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David Naumann
BrainTrust

There is a noticeable increase in online delivery pickers in many grocery chains, as they are easy to spot by watching them look at their phones and trying to pick products as quickly as possible. Picking products for Instacart or other delivery services is a model where the pickers get a fee for each order and the faster they pick, the more money they make. This problem of congestion caused by the combination of regular shoppers and home delivery pickers has propelled many grocers to explore the use of dark stores that are dedicated to online fulfillment.

Michael La Kier
BrainTrust

A new, pandemic-fueled shopper mission (shopping for others) increasingly clutters the store. As e-commerce accelerates, a by-product is that the in-store experience is worsened by pick-and-pack shoppers. At grocers like Whole Foods and Kroger, shoppers in-store must now navigate big carts roving down the aisles and pickers who have little regard except for their own tasks. It’s similar to shopping during re-stocking hours: shoppers understand, but it just gets in the way.

Richard Hernandez
BrainTrust

I see this a lot regardless of what retailer we are talking about. This can get pretty sketchy when there are several order pickers on the floor and it’s 5 p.m. and the store is crowded. This is why dark stores would be a perfect solution for the increased online/curbside options.

Neil Saunders
BrainTrust

In short, yes! In my local store, which is not an exception, the whole entrance lobby has been turned into a mini-fulfillment center. It looks messy and can sometimes make it harder to get in and out of the store. Within the shop, the number of people picking online orders has increased dramatically. Because they need to check against lists, they tend to take much longer than regular shoppers so end up clogging up aisles and counters. I don’t blame them at all as they are just doing their jobs. However the whole thing makes the shopping experience less than satisfactory. Whole Foods is supposed to be a premium grocer so this kind of atmosphere is not really acceptable. It is a great example of how Amazon, great though it is, does not get everything right!

Suresh Chaganti
BrainTrust

There are definitely teething troubles and these are early days. Bulk picking/multi-order picking with dozens of items in the cart slows down checkouts for regular customers. As things evolve, expect separate lines for third-party picker checkout and more automated/app based checkouts. As stores gain intelligence, there may be separate pickup areas to support bulk pickups.

Mohamed Amer
BrainTrust

Indeed. The physical store layout needs to evolve with today’s shopping reality.

Lee Peterson
BrainTrust
This is so timely as I just came from my local Whole Foods! And I’m not pleased. This has been building for a while now as Amazon literally took the entire front of the store formerly used for casual dining and made a warehouse out of it. I can go on and on here but basically, Prime Delivery has taken priority over the in-store customer experience and it REALLY shows. Let me describe my experience today (which is duplicate to many others recently): First, I arrived at 7:58 a.m. and they wouldn’t let me in (they open at 8 a.m.), which didn’t used to happen, BUT, the store is jammed with pickers, I’d say at least 50, which made the store look like it used to — jammed with customers, but the pickers are NOT customers, they’re in a tremendous hurry and could care less about distancing or common courtesy. Then, another common feature of late: the store was out of strawberries (for the fourth day in a row), out of pan spray, out of… Read more »
Bob Phibbs
BrainTrust

Can anyone tell me why grocery pickers can’t simply go to the Amazon/Whole Foods warehouses directly? Why do I have to endure this “make it work” moment that robs me of the elegance of shopping Whole Foods – and paying a premium to do so?

Gene Detroyer
BrainTrust

I am with you on this one, Bob. It is like the objective is to make the system as dysfunctional as possible.

Peter Charness
BrainTrust

Well if the warehouse is designed to supply stores, then it is not set up at all to support customer pick and pack. It’s either going to process a pallet or, at a minimum, process boxes full of product needed for store sized consumption. This is one of the challenges retailers have, given the past priority of lowest cost, scale processing, vs. agility. The right arrangement for online order picking hasn’t been set up yet so the store shelf is the default.

Brandon Rael
BrainTrust

The increased presence of pick and pack shoppers is a grocery industry-wide challenge that has to be addressed. There is an emerging segment of digital-first customers who have shifted over to online shopping during the pandemic and are dependent on both the grocery associates and third-party fulfillment companies such as Instacart to fulfill online orders.

While this has provided an additional revenue stream for grocers such as Whole Foods, Kroger, Target, etc., it adds far more complexity to an already congested grocery shopping experience. An average shopper has to navigate the social distancing rules and compete with pick and pack shoppers for key items.

An encouraging development out of all of this has been the emergence of the “dark store” for grocery. Amazon and Whole Foods have established the company’s first purpose-built online-only store dedicated solely to fulfilling online orders. These are the kind of strategies that have to be put into place to respond to the great digital acceleration.

Gene Detroyer
BrainTrust

“Amazon Prime delivery shoppers are reportedly crowding aisles, emptying shelves, ignoring safety rules and bothering busy associates as they scurry around Whole Foods stores fulfilling online orders.” Well, that is an understatement. My Whole Foods had this problem solved with their dark store at Bryant Park. I don’t know what happened.

And it isn’t just for delivery, it is also for BOPIS. And it isn’t just Amazon Prime delivery shoppers. They are also present from other shop and deliver companies.

These shoppers do not belong in the store when regular shoppers are there. Either have dark stores or limit these shoppers to after hours. Why can’t grocery retailers think beyond the same old way of shopping?

Gary Sankary
BrainTrust

It’s not just Amazon and Whole Foods. On a recent weekday morning trip to my local Target I noticed the ratio of pickers to shoppers was about 1:1. Which always makes me question when the picker and I are both reaching for the last jar of peanut butter, who wins that contest?

For the short term this works, but long term I think retailers who are experiencing heavy demand for online shopping will need to look at different tactics to maintain the store experience for their loyal (and more valuable) shoppers while finding ways to make online fulfillment more efficient.

Gene Detroyer
BrainTrust

Yes, the whole idea of pick and pack in the store is bizarre.

Michael Terpkosh
BrainTrust

I am absolutely seeing an increase in pick and pack shoppers. It does strain the Whole Foods store format. Whole Foods aisles are already somewhat narrow and this does not help shoppers trying to navigate the stores. I have also noticed fewer cashiers when there are more pick and pack shopper. This causes shoppers to wait longer to check out. In-store experience is definitely suffering.

George Anderson
Staff

I counted four customers including myself and six Prime shoppers in the produce section on a recent early trip to the local Whole Foods. I have found myself on more than once occasion, even before the pandemic, having to ask a shopper reading a list off their phone if I can get past them to grab a product off of a store shelf. It’s not a super big deal understanding that they are only doing their jobs, but what happens when there are as many people shopping for other people’s orders as those of us shopping for ourselves? Dark stores or micro fulfillment centers separate from the main sales floor seem the best way, at least currently, for retailers to address this issue.

Mohamed Amer
BrainTrust

Let’s not misplace the blame here. Internal and third-party pick and pack personnel reflect an actual shopper that would have been in the store anyways but has chosen to order online. In actuality, these personnel reduce the potential number of physical shoppers that could have been in those aisles since they are picking multiple orders.

Grocery retailers need to rethink their stores and consider dark stores, access to warehouses, and so on. As Suresh mentioned, we can expect store layout and process changes to support these new purchase behaviors.

Cynthia Holcomb
BrainTrust

Whole Foods is a glimpse into the future of Amazon’s algorithmic commerce. Algorithmic commerce, for now, requires humans to pick and pack. Requiring Whole Foods’ in-store customers to navigate pickers and store associates to act as stressed out store guides. Possibly this is all on purpose? After all, is not Amazon the great disrupter of many of the small, incremental elements of our day to day traditional human ways of living? Shopping, Alexa, in-home drones — the list is long. The Amazon end game? A great question for those interested to ponder.

Patricia Vekich Waldron
Staff

This perfectly describes my own experience at Whole Foods. They will lose customers and associates if they cannot find ways to balance online fulfillment and in-store shopping through use of dark stores, limited hours and better stock control.

Craig Sundstrom
Guest

“Pestering staff with questions on item location” Questions: the nerve! Honestly this sounds like a non-story that needs to go back into someone’s imagination. I don’t doubt there are rude “pick and pack” shoppers, just as there are (plenty) of rude customers overall, but to make sweeping generalizations based on a half-score of interviews is click-bait.

That someone thinks answering an inquiry amounts to “pestering” says more about the staff than the customers. Or maybe the real point of this story is the one that got (quietly) slipped in — “understaffing problems.”

Kenneth Leung
BrainTrust

I have noticed in any supermarket I visit there are increased number of Pick and Pack shoppers. I think it is a general phenomena and not just whole foods and Amazon Prime delivery shoppers. Given the number of increased orders and the size of some of the Whole food stores, it is certainly most noticeable. In the store near me, they have reduced the shopping hours to 9:00 a.m. to 1 p.m. and after 1 p.m. it is an online fulfillment center only, and they have the checkin desk for pick and pack shoppers in a separate area of the garage.

Doug Garnett
BrainTrust

No surprises that it’s a problem at Whole Foods — where shopping environment is even more critical than most stores.

The problem has hurt the shopping experience at our local Kroger’s owned stores — especially because the Kroger employees doing the shopping have huge carts which block aisles and shelves.

Were this shopping behavior to continue in high quantities past the pandemic, stores would have to sort out some way to create a peaceful co-existence. And I certainly haven’t seen anyone who has figured it out entirely within their employees — much less with Instacart or other deliver services.

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"These shoppers do not belong in the store when regular shoppers are there. Either have dark stores or limit these shoppers to after hours."
"Whole Foods is a glimpse into the future of Amazon’s algorithmic commerce. Algorithmic commerce, for now, requires humans to pick and pack."
"Can anyone tell me why grocery pickers can’t simply go to the Amazon/Whole Foods warehouses directly?"

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