Part of Whole Foods’ appeal has always been that it’s a different kind of grocery store. Typical supermarket mainstays like a silly card you swipe when you check out to earn rewards seemed beneath the upmarket brand. But as the company has seen its sales begin to struggle, Whole Foods is now hoping jumping on board the loyalty program bandwagon will help it compete with stores that have been using these sorts of incentives all along.
Whole Foods has actually been testing out a rewards program dating all the way back to 2014, initially focused entirely in the Philadelphia area. This past July, the brand announced Dallas-Fort Worth would be the program’s second testing grounds. Things have apparently gone well – the company says nearly 50,000 people have signed up for rewards in the Dallas-Fort Worth area – and during an earnings call yesterday, CEO John Mackey said the grocery chain would be rolling out the program nationwide in 2017.
So what does a Whole Foods rewards program look like? When the company launched the Texas iteration, a press release billed it as offering “a number of rewards, including 10 percent off your first purchase as a new rewards member, a one-time offer for 15 percent off the department of your choice, and select free products. The more customers shop at Whole Foods Market stores, the more rewards are unlocked.” The program is reportedly tied to a mobile app meaning customers don’t even have to carry around a physical rewards card if they still feel such activities are beneath them.
The rewards program is just the latest step from Whole Foods as the retailer battles what it has called a “tectonic shift” in the food biz with demand for organic, sustainable and other higher end products reaching the mainstream. Whole Foods, once somewhat of a specialty retailer, is now being forced to compete against stores like Costco and Kroger who have started carrying these kinds of products. At this point, you almost want to root for Whole Foods a bit. The store is a bit like the rich jerk in a clichéd comedy movie who gets his comeuppance in the second act but learns his lesson and goes on to help save the day.