Whole Foods tells digital stories

Nov 26, 2014

At its flagship store in Alpharetta, GA, Whole Foods has introduced a series of digital signage installations to provide shoppers with information and inspiration.

The store features four interactive experiences:

1) Farm, Meet Table: An interactive wall of window panes in the store’s café displays real-time images of local suppliers to connect "customers more closely to the real people that provide the food they eat." The installation includes "a peek into authentic moments — such as hands patting down freshly planted herbs or shots of the farmer’s daughter blowing out candles at her birthday party." Additional content includes Q&As, maps, and video profiles for each supplier.

[Image: Whole Foods SapientNitro]

2) Wise Wood: A 12-foot tall x 2.5-foot wide wooden tower tells the story of Whole Foods’ new "Responsibly Grown" produce rating system. Customers pull a series of wooden knobs to transform a farm landscape for information on specific sustainable farming practice that are part of the program. For example, pulling the "Energy Conservation" knob causes a set of wooden windmills to appear out of the ground and start spinning.

[Image: Whole Foods SapientNitro]

3) Whole Body Mirror: Designed to help shoppers discover the chain’s Whole Body products that match specific needs, customers see their forms reflected in a "magic mirror" as one of three auras: Refresh, Energize, Relieve. They are prompted to align their whole body by mimicking a pose, such as becoming "zen", flexing their muscles, or hugging themselves. The press release states, "Achieving a pose activates a burst of the shopper’s aura and reveals a product within Whole Body related to the pose just completed."

[Image: Whole Foods SapientNitro]

4) Perfect Pairings: At the cross-section of the of wine, beer and cheese departments, an in-the-round installation of stacked crates helps shoppers discover products. On each of the three faces of the installation there is an open crate, revealing one of three interactive touchscreens:

  • "Expand Your Palate" allows shoppers to discover products they might like based on their individual taste preferences. For example, tapping "tastes like dark chocolate" reveals a coffee and wine product recommendation. Tapping the "I like" tile for curry or BBQ ribs, reveals a relevant beer pairing for each.
  • "Celebrate Your Passion" is an Instagram feed of photos of favorite pairings from the Avalon, GA community using #WFMAvalon.
  • "Become a Connoisseur" educates and assists customers by answering questions such as, "I’m having a party, how much wine should I buy?" or "How do I make a cheese plate?"

[Image: Whole Foods SapientNitro]

"We wanted to bring in some cool digital elements, but we didn’t want that to detract from the shopping experience," Whole Foods’ Social and Digital Media Specialist Matt Courtoy told Adweek.

Do the digital signage installations at Whole Foods’ Alpharetta store offer a glimpse of the future of storytelling in grocery stores? What do you like most and least about the four installations?

Join the Discussion!

13 Comments on "Whole Foods tells digital stories"

Notify of

Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
Tom Redd

These installations are neat—but if you have time to wander around a store and read stories then your time management is a bit off. It is surprising that so many Baby Boomers are still alive after the years that we were fed and we ate just regular normal groceries. We did not research the food online and listen to stories in the store.

Today’s Millennials and food content freaks would have survived too—physically. Mentally, they would have been a mess, thinking that they just ate VELVEETA Cheese!

Shop as you wish but remember: the retailer, no matter who it is or how much they are natural or tell stories, just wants your wallet!

Ryan Mathews

Storytelling is a potentially powerful tool at retail and one that is chronically under-leveraged.

[Full disclosure: My third book is about the role of storytelling in business, so I’m not totally non-partisan.]

Early pioneers of this technique included Ireland’s Superquinn, which posted pictures of farmers, their bios and directions to the farm where produce was grown over produce items. Digital media provides the opportunity for more robust storytelling across multiple platforms.

That said, the approach seems a tad unsophisticated at best (pulling knobs on a 12-foot display) and downright silly at worst (“Achieving a pose activates a burst of the shopper’s aura … “).

In a world of sophisticated graphic and communication technologies Whole Foods seems to have gone retro—maybe the approach they were aiming for, but, to me, far less impactful than it could, or should, be.

Chris Petersen, PhD.

The best part of Whole Foods’ digital execution is the focus on telling engaging stories that are not traditional advertising content.

The other key is that the digital interface is designed to actively engage the consumer through touch, not just deliver content.

The challenge with these kinds of digital implementations is the need to REFRESH. Any kind of display gets old and ignored real fast if the content is not updated.

An interesting opportunity for Whole Foods will be to migrate this storytelling beyond the store kiosk to consumer’s mobile devices.

Ken Lonyai

It’s truly amazing that everything old is new again. Yes these installations are a little different than previous work and yes, they’re not so prevalent in supermarkets, but there is nothing new here. For those of us that have been doing in-store interactive, this is a 2014 rehash of old work. The wine pairing signage (kiosk) concept is well over a decade old. So there are a few points to consider:

Beautiful videos aside, there’s some entertainment value with these systems, but not much that will change purchase habits or increase basket size. Existing Whole Foods shoppers don’t need feel-good video about farmers—they get it, that’s why they shop there. Wine pairing may be helpful to some consumers, but the Whole Body Mirror is masking canned sales messages that are not personalized to the user. Ultimately, I do not see Whole Foods rolling this out to every store (but who knows), and feel good storytelling is an expensive investment for most supermarkets, so it clearly will not be an industry trend.

Zel Bianco
It’s interesting that this question is talking about the future of storytelling because the first three of these installations instantly made me think of the signage and displays that have been at Stew Leonard’s since my (now adult) children were young. I think this is absolutely a good move for Whole Foods because turning food shopping into a family experience is a great way to convince shoppers to spend more time in the store (and children are great at convincing their parents to buy more than what was on the list). However, it seems less about story telling and more about creating activities and fun within the store. I am very interested in the “perfect pairings” installation. While many supermarkets have signage and displays to suggest pairings, the ability to offer so many pairings and so much information, tailored to the consumer, is new and exciting. There are many people who go into a store to get the basics for the week and hope that they will be inspired by something so they can decide what to make for dinner that night—this would be very useful to the consumer while also providing the retailer with a chance to advertise and… Read more »
Joan Treistman
The Whole Foods digital signage installations enhance the customer experience in several ways. Most importantly they offer a rationale, both intellectual and emotional, for shopping at Whole Foods. I think the installations can influence more frequent visits as well. The Perfect Pairings seems to be quick, easy, engaging and fun for the person who is about to entertain guests, the family or herself. Rather than read a detailed description in a book or magazine or on recipe card, the shoppers can pick up ideas and the products within a short period of time and just a few feet from where they are standing (at the digital installation). And importantly customers can do this over and over again, for many occasions, to try many combinations of foods and wine. The Whole Body Mirror reminds me of a fun house attraction, but with an outcome that can be educational and rewarding, for Whole Foods and the shopper. As depicted in the video I can see where adults and kids will want to participate in the activity. And it looks like something that kids will want to do each time they’re in the store—maybe the adults as well. This installation reinforces the positive… Read more »
Mohamed Amer

First of all, kudos to Whole Foods for continuously working to redefine the in-store experience. Interactive digital signage is another medium to engage shoppers and give the store an educational-entertainment feel. Differentiating the Whole Foods brand requires the company to add elements that are unique to their stores while enhancing their own narrative.

I don’t see storytelling being restricted to the organic segment or other experiential stores like HEB’s Central Market. Yet how many conventional stores are prepared to give up end cap space for an interactive display? To compete on other than price point? To make bold moves in executing their visual and merchandising strategies?

Whole Foods’ four installations may not be perfect (Whole Body Mirror), but one is almost kid’s museum-like instructional (Wise Wood). They may be preaching to the converted, but that keeps customers ever-more-loyal in the face of increasing competition while further differentiating the brand from other natural and organic stores. The battleground is shifting from product-centric to providing lifestyle answers and rich experiences that speak to the segment of one.

Christina Ellwood
Christina Ellwood
2 years 10 months ago

Digital touch-screen signage is a powerful tool to engage the buyer. Yes, more digital signage will be one means of storytelling in stores of the future. In this example, Whole Foods made the content fun, educational and helpful. The mirror is intriguing and a bit odd. The wine section does a great job of helping the shopper select a wine, which many find challenging, as well as extending the consideration to what to serve with wine, how much to buy, etc. All areas in which many shoppers are unsure of themselves.

richard freund
richard freund
2 years 10 months ago

I know that when I’m at a grocery store, I want to shop and get out. Listening to stories is not my priority. If they pointed out bargains or savings, I might look. At Whole Foods, you have to be a PIC (product informed consumer) or else they will take advantage.

Dimitris Tsioutsias
Dimitris Tsioutsias
2 years 10 months ago

Information offered to consumers in grocery stores should serve one primary purpose first and foremost: allow buyers to assess the quality (or not) of the ingredients in the products they buy. I wish this would be the basis of all “storytelling” across all departments and product categories. Help consumers make the RIGHT choices for THEM (healthy and unhealthy ones).

Beyond this purpose, any additional information that can enhance the efficiency or effectiveness of the buying process by offering product-matching suggestions would only add to the overall consumer experience (and satisfaction/advocacy).

I see “storytelling” itself functioning in a fully separate area, namely, in educating consumers about the ecological or ethical priorities that the grocer brand aspires to and/or already has adopted in its sourcing practices.

As other readers have commented, I go to the grocer typically with a list in mind about the things I need, not to peruse the corridors reading interesting stories. Subliminal messages in digital displays can go a long way towards increasing brand loyalty, of course.

Lee Kent

Each of these installations may be fun to interact with, once, except maybe the Perfect Pairing. It is the only one that is a true value add.

Some of the concepts, like meeting your local farmers, could have some real value however this particular installation is just not quite there.

For my 2 cents….

Gajendra Ratnavel
Digital Signage is absolutely valuable in retail. However, the application of digital media in grocery stores and retail in general seems like an afterthought in most cases, and it is no different here. Although what Whole Foods has done is “cool” and has a little bit of “wow” factor for some shoppers, it adds very little long-term value. It is unfortunate that many retailers follow this route with digital media and find that after a few months it is adding no value then blame the technology. When deploying digital or interactive technology in retail, invest in the company that you will be working with. Make sure they understand your long term goals and how you can work together to achieve them. Put more focus on what you will be displaying and how you will be procuring content on a regular basis and how you can verify if the content is working and if not have a plan to change it. Think about how much time and effort you put into creating your website. Digital media in your store is as powerful if not more. Often times, the best deployment of digital media we’ve done has most of the content driven… Read more »
James Tenser

Welcome to the Disney-fication of Whole Foods. (Are you taking note of this, Stew Leonard, Jr.?)

Their creative use of in-store digital media is commendable, although the four iterations may be judged separately as matters of personal taste. I, for one, am far more interested in information about the origins of locally-sourced foods than in posing in front of a digital mirror.

Storytelling details aside, Whole Foods is on the right track in its pursuit of a compelling customer experience that focuses on the functional and emotional benefits of its products. I’d anticipate more experimentation and evolution to come.


Take Our Instant Poll

Which of the four digital signage installations at Whole Foods’ Alpharetta store will offer the greatest appeal to shoppers?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...