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Whole Foods exec: Mobile should not inhibit in-store experiences

The executive’s “Understanding Mobile As A Lifestyle Experience To Create Features Based On Customer Intent” discussion panel looked at the best ways for participating brands to implement mobile to create long-lasting impressions. Since the in-store experience is of great value to Whole Foods shoppers, the brand’s approach to mobile should not combat the prior.

“Whole Foods is really taking a huge step forward with mobility,” said Jeff Wilson, senior product manager of mobile at Whole Foods, Austin, TX. “We are emerging as we speak and are planning to roll out an entire new mobile platform in 2015.”

The Mobile Shopping Summit was organized by Worldwide Business Research.

Mobile accompanying in-store
The first step to successful mobile execution is knowing one’s audience, which is something that Whole Foods is still working through.

“We’re still figuring out our customer base,” Mr. Wilson said. “We have a decent idea of who shops at our stores, but stereotypes are often wrong.

“The way we view our own customers isn’t entirely accurate. I took about six weeks off before starting my job at Whole Foods. I frequently visited the five stores around Austin and took notes while watching behavior of in-store customers.”

The Whole Foods brand has been hesitant toward mobile in the past, so making the choice to trek down the mobile road is causing executives to compile extensive research beforehand.

The brand is also making attempts to revolutionize the mobile experience.

“Lifestyle in terms of the mobile space is really a merit of the lifestyle of the customer with the brand,” Mr. Wilson said. “The mantra I have is mobile is a physical experience.

“The blend of physical and digital has been done to death,” he said. “If there is a digital plus physical 2.0, it’s just physical. Everything physical is inherently supported by digital.

“That’s what we’re trying to figure out, which is how to bring mobile into the brand experience without letting it necessarily take over. It’s got to be about that physical experience.”

A brand with strong bricks-and-mortar structure, the physical experience is crucial and an aspect that Whole Foods’ customers already appreciate about the brand.

“During the last six months, we have been trying to build a platform that allows us to be able to expand our mobile presence,” Mr. Wilson said. “Being able to supply the right solution at the right moment and pulling context into that experience is fundamental.”

Slow to start
Whole Foods Market has recently attempted to make grocery shopping more convenient by allowing customers in 15 United States cities to use a mobile application to have groceries delivered to their door within an hour.

In a move toward the growing mobile grocery-delivery space, Whole Foods customers selected their ZIP code, add items to a virtual cart, choose delivery within one or two hours or at a scheduled time and then check out, which can be done by ordering at or through San Francisco-based Instacart’s mobile app. The efforts highlight how while grocery-delivery services have been established abroad, the service has been slow to catch on in the United States (see story).

In 2013, Whole Foods built up its email database while also driving in-store traffic with a mobile advertising campaign. Banner ads ran in Pandora’s iPhone application. Using mobile to encourage users to sign up for an email program was a great way for Whole Foods to add some longevity to its advertising campaign (see story).

Whole Foods’ anticipated move is expected to be totally different from previous efforts.

“I want to make sure mobile doesn’t get in the way of the in-store experience but serves as a companion during that experience,” Mr. Wilson said. “While our current app hasn’t been the best, I believe if you give a reason for customer to come back, they will usually forgive and forget and give the brand they love a second chance.”

Final Take
Caitlyn Bohannon is an editorial assistant on Mobile Commerce Daily, New York