“By putting the employee first, the customer effectively comes first by default, and in the end, the shareholder comes first by default as well.”
Richard Branson

As I am sure everyone has noticed, recent headlines regarding Amazon’s offer to acquire Whole Foods have led to rampant speculation on the future demise of traditional food retailers and national branded products. Today’s Wall Street Journal continues to report on this topic with an article entitled “For Amazon, Now Comes The Hard Part” in which the following observation, in my view, gets to the heart of the matter of differentiating yourself from the competition…”The challenges for grocers today include a new reality: The days of shoppers filling carts during a big weekly trip to their neighborhood supermarket appear over for now. Consumers are more targeted in their shopping habits. They are less loyal to retailers and more willing to buy groceries online. And they are buying more from stores at two poles: ones with cheap prices, and ones that offer high-quality fresh food, often at a premium.”

These two opposite poles of customer preference will lead to further significant investment in on-line technology and innovations in the supply chain and distribution of fresh food. However, a rather disturbing quote from John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods, could limit the success of this venture.

When asked what will change the most in his business model, and I paraphrase, he stated that there will be more focus on the customer, meaning segmentation based on mega-data, and less focus on employees.

Well, John, go ahead and forget your roots of maximizing the customer experience in a unique way. Why? Because in the future, you will still need the human, intuitive approach to maximize the customer experience. It will be humans who are already programed in an experiential way to worry about and recognize the customer’s needs through building one on one relationships based on a shared passion for food.

The above quote, by Richard Branson, will remain true throughout the future, and is one that should be heeded by John Mackey and Jeff Bezos if they truly want to understand the needs of customers that love food, not process.