Commentary: Whole Foods' 'drink while you shop' plan won't work for most retailers

The following is an excerpt from a recent conversation on RetailWire, reproduced here with kind permission.

A lot of people say they dislike shopping, and retailers have found ways to assuage this discomfort. Hot mulled spice cider while cruising holiday offerings, samples of cookies and sausages in the grocery aisles, and even bars serving alcoholic beverages in stores.

Over the past few years, Whole Foods Market has rolled out bars serving beer, wine, and simple fare in its stores. Now comes a report from WTOP DC News that a Whole Foods in Washington, DC not only has a bar in-store, but is allowing shoppers to carry their beverage of choice with them while they shop.

"We are one of the few stores in this area that is allowing customers to walk around and drink while they shop," Meg McGarry, the marketing team leader, told WTOP. "You can get a glass of wine, get a beer and sit at the bar, or you can actually grab one of those beverages and go walk through the grocery store and enjoy your beverage while you shop."

While it appears that it takes some time for customers to get used to the idea, many regulars now consider it part of the shopping experience. Most drink and push their carts responsibly, according to Ms. McGarry who claims customers typically limit themselves to one drink per shop.

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Whole Foods is planning to add glass holders to its carts in the future.

"Sometimes you need two hands to hold your grocery list and shop. If you have a holder for your pint glass as well, it's going to be more convenient," Ms. McGarry told WTOP.

Supermarkets are not the only retail channel looking to loosen consumers' purses and wallets with alcohol. I was in Los Angeles last year and a friend and I visited Boot Star on Sunset Blvd in West Hollywood. When we walked in, the associate said, "Gentlemen" and gestured toward a small table with a bottle of Patron Silver and plenty of glasses. After a few of those, my friend dropped a half $K on a killer hat and manta ray boots.

I don't think this would work in my, or most, local supermarkets. What works for me is hitting my favorite wine shop for a Friday or Saturday tasting after enduring a routine supermarket shopping trip. I'm in New York State and sampling is left to the tastings in liquor stores.

The alcohol beverage laws state-to-state are labyrinthine, and a quick bit of research didn't reveal how this WFM store in D.C. managed a license to pull this in-store deal off — and in our seat of government at that. But I have to say, the idea may have merit as a palliative measure, so I may hit my purveyor first for a taste before the dreaded grocery shop next time.

What do you think of the shopping-while-imbibing concept at Whole Foods? Can you think of other retailers that might benefit from doing something similar?

(Photo by Alex Ranaldi.)

RetailWire BrainTrust comments:

It is perfect. It is about making the Whole Foods trip a destination rather than a duty. Customers may stay in the store longer. Yes, they may buy more. But isn't that the objective? - Gene Detroyer, Professor, Entrepreneur, Adviser, Consultant, Independent

I will defer to the wisdom of Homer Simpson who cheerfully toasted: "To alcohol! The cause of—and solution to—all of life's problems."

I can't help thinking that product sampling involving alcohol should occur in a controlled environment under the watchful eyes of the person(s) dispensing the alcohol. - Fabien Tiburce, CEO, Compliantia, Retail Audit & Task Management Software

If this is legally allowed at Whole Foods locations, why not? I have seen many retailers in New York City that offer a glass of wine or champagne to customers and I imagine it makes the shopping experience more enjoyable—and probably loosens up the shoppers' wallets as well. But the sale of beer, wine, etc. requires certain licensing that varies state-to-state, so it will not work everywhere. - Zel Bianco, President, founder and CEO, Interactive Edge

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User Comments – Give us your opinion!
  • Harry Fisher
    I don't know what percentage of shoppers buy a product after sampling it in a Costco store. However, something along the lines of 70% of all wine sales in Supermarkets is purchased by women. If you can create a great in-store beer/wine/cocktail tasting experience that captures these customers, then you theoretically have another tool that will: a) differentiate the WF Brand form the rest of the pack b) puts a product in the hand of a customer while shopping c) increases the amount of time that a customer is inside the store To me, this sounds like another tool that WF can leverage to create a REMARKABLE customer experience.
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