In this Monday, Aug. 28, 2017, photo, customers exit a Whole Foods Market, in Oakland, Calif. The splashy price cuts Amazon made as the new owner of Whole Foods attracted some curious customers. But whether shoppers who found cheaper alternatives to Whole Foods will come back, or those who never visited will give them a try, may help determine what kind of effect the deal has on how and where people do their grocery shopping. (AP Photo/Ben Margot) Ben Margot AP
In this Monday, Aug. 28, 2017, photo, customers exit a Whole Foods Market, in Oakland, Calif. The splashy price cuts Amazon made as the new owner of Whole Foods attracted some curious customers. But whether shoppers who found cheaper alternatives to Whole Foods will come back, or those who never visited will give them a try, may help determine what kind of effect the deal has on how and where people do their grocery shopping. (AP Photo/Ben Margot) Ben Margot AP

Business

Amazon lowered prices at Whole Foods. These shoppers say it wasn’t enough.

By Claire Ballentine

cballentine@newsobserver.com

September 11, 2017 03:03 PM

Amazon has announced it plans to slash prices at Whole Foods as the chain’s new owner, but shoppers in the Triangle area are saying they have yet to feel the effects.

The e-commerce giant closed its $13.7 billion deal with Whole Foods on Aug. 26 and has lowered prices on items like avocados, bananas and tilapia. In Triangle locations, new signs feature Amazon’s logo, and the Chapel Hill store advertised the “farm fresh” Amazon Echo and Echo Dot. The moves are just the beginning of Amazon’s plans to shake up the grocery industry by making Amazon Prime the rewards program at Whole Foods and featuring Whole Foods products on Amazon’s website.

However, many Triangle customers say they have not seen a noticeable drop in prices.

“I don’t really see much of a difference,” said Mary Kakefuda, who was shopping at her local Chapel Hill store. “Lunch is still expensive; it’s $10 for one plate.”

The only prices lowered were those of the already overpriced, high-end items, added Jay Schutte, who was shopping at the Whole Foods in Durham. “The cheaper products aren’t cheaper; it’s just the luxury goods, so it doesn’t affect us much.”

But Mary Willard, who visits the fresh food bar at the Raleigh Whole Foods near her home almost daily, said she had seen price decreases in items like produce, meat and bottled water.

On Thursday, signs at area Whole Foods stores advertised that avocado prices had been reduced from $2 each to $1.49 and organic bananas from 89 cents per pound to 69 cents per pound. Boneless rib-eye steaks, New York strip steaks and Atlantic salmon fillets were $3 cheaper per pound. A large sign at the Chapel Hill store advertised a buy two, save $100 deal for the Amazon Echo and a buy three, save $20 deal for the Amazon Echo Dot.

According to Bloomberg, Amazon cut prices by as much as 43 percent on a range of items on the same day it completed the acquisition.

Amazon has also said it will use Whole Foods stores to provide benefits to its Prime members; that will include selling Whole Foods’ private label 365 brand on its site and putting lockers in some stores for pickups and returns.

Despite the price decreases on some items, several customers expressed skepticism about Amazon’s acquisition of the organic foods mainstay.

Amber Zhao, who says she shops at the Durham Whole Foods about every other day for breakfast smoothies, said she was concerned that Amazon would not follow through with Whole Foods’ emphasis on local and organic items.

“I’m worried Whole Foods is going to sacrifice their philosophy,” she said.

Others worried about the impact on local employees.

“They’ve always hired a diverse workforce,” said Kai Ke, who often eats lunch at the Durham store. “I don’t know if that will change.”

However, Rebecca Casey, who was shopping at the Durham store, expressed hope that Amazon would recognize Whole Foods’ unique qualities that make it stand out from other grocery stores.

“I think Amazon is business savvy enough to realize how good its business model is and that they would lose customers if they change that,” she said.

What is changing

Amazon has lowered prices on a range of items at Whole Foods.

It is planning to allow members of its $99-a-year Prime program to receive discounts at Whole Foods.

You’ll be able to buy private label Whole Foods products from Amazon.com.

Lockers are going to be added to some Whole Foods stores so shoppers can pick up and return e-commerce items.