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The Wall Street Journal reports that while Amazon has begun replacing Instacart as the delivery service for some Whole Foods stores that it owns, “some early users say Amazon has work to do before it gets the offering right.”

A major problem is said to be substitutions for items ordered, which sometimes are “downright bizarre.” (Kale instead of celery? Really?)

The Journal writes that some problems are “amplified because daily operations at the two companies are still largely separate. Whole Foods employees said Amazon workers routinely ask for help finding items on shelves or elsewhere, distracting them from their own duties. Technology that tracks Whole Foods’s inventory is old, and officials have discussed updating it for years.”

It isn’t a problem unique to Amazon/Whole Foods, the story points out: “There are a number of reasons why many online grocery services struggle to offer substitutions customers want. Shoppers typically depend on suggestions from online tools, and algorithms can make mistakes or suggest inappropriate alternatives. Services that rely on gig-economy workers who pick items off store shelves can exacerbate the selection problem, since many aren’t food experts and juggle many orders a day, grocery consultants say.”
KC's View:
To be honest, I get a little stuck on the suggestion that delivery problems aren’t unique to Amazon-Whole Foods, and are in fact experienced by everyone in the segment.

Not that it isn’t true. It is. But what bothers me about the observation is that Amazon long as positioned itself as being a service that solves the problems that other companies have, and that offers solutions to the problems that consumers have. I get weird substitutions from anyone … I expect better from Amazon. And if Amazon has to substitute something that I’ve ordered, I want it to be as close as possible, with a superior level of communication and service.

Maybe that’s not fair, but Amazon has spent the better pat of two decades educating me that this is what I should expect from it. When it has flown above many others for so long, it can’t go getting pedestrian on me now.

One other thing. While Amazon has not confirmed anything, there is a ton of speculation out there that it plans to start rolling out its own chain of grocery-centric stores later this year. There are, apparently, places where it has been using Whole Foods as a decoy, with all the discussions with landlords and local authorities focusing on opening a Whole Foods, while its actual intention is to open one of its new store formats.

I have no problem with any of that, but I’ve said since first hearing about this new store format that I think its success will be dependent on Amazon bringing something new to the table - it cannot be just another store with lots of shelves and SKUs and traditional checkouts. There’s got to be something about it that takes advantage of Amazon’s unique position in the marketplace. Maybe it is open only to Prime members. Maybe it has checkout-free technology. Maybe it has a highly edited grocery selection that is keyed to grocery purchases made in the local neighborhood on Amazon. Maybe it will represent an entirely different relationship with vendors, with products stocked on consignment, so Amazon doesn’t own anything, and prices lower than usual with a different of economic arrangement. Maybe it’ll be all fresh food, with CPG items ordered online and picked up at the store or delivered.

Or maybe it’ll be all of the above. (Or none. I could be all wrong on this.)

Here’s my point. I’d like to see Amazon get its delivery of Whole Foods items right before it starts opening a separate chain of food stores.

But … that’s what separates Jeff Bezos from me. (Actually, there’s a lot that separates Bezos and me. I can think of only only one way in which I have him beat. Hair.) He may not be willing to have everything in place before again trying to change the world and the way we shop. He just moves forward, and takes both big swings and big risks.