Whole Foods’ SWI (Shopping-While-Imbibing) Concept

Discussion
Jan 11, 2013

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.

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 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 another 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?

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15 Comments on "Whole Foods’ SWI (Shopping-While-Imbibing) Concept"


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Dr. Stephen Needel
Guest
8 years 8 months ago

Remember – friends don’t let friends grocery shop drunk.

Gene Detroyer
Guest
8 years 8 months ago

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 what the objective is?

Fabien Tiburce
Guest
Fabien Tiburce
8 years 8 months ago

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….

Mark Burr
Guest
8 years 8 months ago

For me, it would be a reason NOT to shop there. I would think it is about equal to the Starbucks decision to offer beer and wine—not a good one.

Alcohol does not need to be everywhere. In particular, a place where moms and kids or dads and kids are there to shop.

I think it is just odd that we are moving as a society to a place where alcohol seemingly has to be available at all places at all times.

Zel Bianco
Guest
8 years 8 months ago

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.

Ed Dennis
Guest
Ed Dennis
8 years 8 months ago

As long as the store is observing all state and local laws, I don’t see that this is anyone’s business.

Gene Hoffman
Guest
Gene Hoffman
8 years 8 months ago

Whole Foods is getting more good from alcohol than alcohol is taking from it. In the spirit of Ogden Nash we opine, uniqueness and organic foods are dandy, but liquor is quicker.

Paul Sikkema
Guest
Paul Sikkema
8 years 8 months ago

What’s next? A cover band on a revolving stage?

The managers who make these kinds of decisions should be required to work the closing shift for the same wage they pay the clean-up crew.

Sid Raisch
Guest
Sid Raisch
8 years 8 months ago

There is a broad spectrum of mores on alcohol between religious groups and within them as well.

The temptation it gives to alcoholics may be the biggest social problem that this may increase.

Check the strategy of doing it in DC first. All those congress persons’ spouses like it and the idea goes back home to influence state license laws. How many other new things are influenced in DC? Was this a workaround of lobbyists?

Craig Sundstrom
Guest
8 years 8 months ago

The idea is silly, for a variety of sanitary and safety reasons (not from the alcohol, per se, but from spillage and glassware breakage). OTOH, it’s great for keeping WFMI in the news, and perpetuating the trendy rep as well…cheers to the PR dept.

Lee Peterson
Guest
8 years 8 months ago

Love it. There’s bound to be some operational issues involved, like when someone gets a little tipsy (or worse), but I’d assume that WF has thought of that element of Murphy’s Law.

Whole Foods is a leader in the industry and will continue to be because of efforts like this. The philosophy of “don’t talk about it, try it” will beat analysis paralysis every time. Just ask the traditional grocers.

Phil Rubin
Guest
8 years 8 months ago

Having grown up in New Orleans, this is not a new concept. And legalities aside, it makes sense especially given that Whole Foods is also a wine and beer merchant. Shopping and drinking mix much better than drinking and driving, and I would bet they see sales lift in alcohol and other categories from this initiative.

Vahe Katros
Guest
Vahe Katros
8 years 8 months ago

Your first sentence frames the article; you say “A lot of people say they dislike shopping and retailers have found ways to assuage this discomfort.”

You may be correct in the implication that it’s a dislike of shopping that drives folks to want to medicate themselves, but it could also be true that some shoppers, especially Foodies, may have other motivations regarding their relationship to shopping and food.

If I were passionate about food, trusted Wholefoods merchandising, and was single or in a social mood, I might like this. As retail industry experts, we need to read between the lines.

Now, in the out-of-the box category—as pot becomes legal, no doubt you can solve the munchies issue—but I might be a few decades ahead of the curve on that idea.

Anne Bieler
Guest
Anne Bieler
8 years 8 months ago

Could be a another way to make the shopping experience more pleasant—relaxing a little might make it more fun, right? Some shoppers drink coffee or tea while scanning the aisles, so shoppers may be used to handling liquids while on the move. Cheers!

W. Frank Dell II, CMC
Guest
8 years 8 months ago

People who run wine tastings will tell you their sales increase with consumption. Clearly this will not work in every market or with every target market. But if the customer is happy, they may just buy more.

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