3 Reasons HR Should Pay Attention to the Amazon-Whole Foods Deal

$13.7 billion buys a lot of organic quinoa.

Lots of talk around Amazon’s purchase of Whole Foods and what it means for the grocery business, farmers, those whose jobs will be lost to automation, and the retail industry as a whole.  It’s a cocktail of doom and gloom mixed with the reality of capitalism and a twist of efficiency.

So it’s drinkable (unlike some of the stuff from the Whole Foods juice bar).

And if you peel back the exotic onion even more, there are 3 reasons HR pros should watch this deal.

  • How you sell is just as important as what you sell.  From a retail view, there’s a belief that independents and specialty shops will grow because of this transaction—that multi-generational shoppers will rebel against the sameness of mass and online retail.  Those that focus on the personal connection and experience will then prosper.

Isn’t that true for recruiting in general?  The way you attract, engage, respond to talent you are pursuing has to be personal.  And your candidate experience has to be top-shelf.  You have to welcome candidates into your organization vs. attack them with a sales pitch as to why they should join. It’s why boutique and specialty recruiting firms win business over the one-size fits all giants. It’s why you should be reviewing your talent acquisition strategy more than just once a year to ensure even with automation and efficient processes – it still feels personal.

  • We ARE in the people business.  “The most successful specialty independent retailers understand that they are in a people business, where satisfying their customers’ needs and interests holistically is the key.”

    Our employees are our customers.  In addition to a fair wage, they are craving an environment where they can bring their whole selves.  So your values do matter; support of community and broader social issues matters; and engagement at the individual level matters.  It’s not about creating affinity groups or promoting your diversity stats.  It’s about wanting to know what drives Jack and crafting the right path at the right time for him.

  • Service matters more than ever.  Efficiency cannot trump service.   I ordered a service off of Amazon recently.  Figured I’d support/try out a local business with the ease/efficiency of Amazon’s online ordering.  I received emails and texts confirming the service appointment.  I even spoke to the local provider two days prior.  20 minutes after the scheduled arrival time, I called the local provider to inquire and was told they cancelled their contract with Amazon….2 weeks ago!  My next call to Amazon resulted in nothing but – “sorry, we’ll make sure you aren’t billed for the service”.

I was left with a need not being met and feeling cranky about the lack of service of both companies.

Whether you’re big or small, how you train and measure employees on service will only enhance your bottom line.  Both of the companies in my example could have made me really happy – a raving fan in fact – but neither employee I spoke with either had the authority or critical thinking skills to solve the problem.

If we can focus on the how, the whole person and have a service mindset, HR leaders will impact the main street organizations AND the Amazon-Whole Foods of the world.  Nothing artificial about that!

FOT Background Check

Kathy Rapp
Kathy Rapp is the President of hrQ, where she helps companies find groovy HR Talent or HR Consultants to drive business results.  Prior to joining hrQ, Kathy booked more than 15 years of human resources leadership experience working for such companies as Morgan Stanley and First Data Corporation.  A connoisseur of the intersection between pop culture and business, Kathy believes many talent issues can be addressed via the succession planning lessons experienced by Van Halen  (David Lee/Sammy and sadly, Gary Cherone).


  1. scott says:

    Kathy – not the point of your post, but e-mail Amazon. Seriously. Bezos does personally review many of the e-mails sent to jeff@amazon.com and they get quick action. I’m not sure the culture is the most employee-friendly in the world (the Whole Foods’ employee-first mentality is likely subject to a very rude awakening), but I’ve never encountered a group of people who are more intent on ensuring customers are never given a reason to say bad things about them.

    • Kathy says:

      Thanks, Scott. I’m a loyal Amazon customer and this was such an out-of-bounds experience with them. You’re right….I need to let my buddy Jeff know!

  2. Chris O'Connor says:

    Service is very important. I don’t see a lot of big or complete picture thinkers. Someone who cares or trained enough to say if this happens then this will happen or we should do this. Just like this company that agreed to provide the service through Amazon, but canceled their contract. Someone at Amazon should have followed through and notified customers. These situations are not really part of training as actionable only as a reaction upon inquiry.

    • Kathy says:

      Thanks for the comment Chris. I’m a service snob for sure – and you’re right – training is just part of the solution. The importance of critical thinking skills in this particular scenario is paramount – along with situational training that can at least prep people on how they should respond.

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