Amazon shops Whole Foods to cure its Apple Store envy

Commentary: With the purchase of Whole Foods, Amazon isn't just buying prime grocery real estate. It's buying a brand that enjoys a lot of goodwill.

Chris Matyszczyk
3 min read

 Technically Incorrect offers a slightly twisted take on the tech that's taken over our lives.

Amazon CEO And Founder Of Blue Origin Jeff Bezos Speaks At Satellite Industry Conference

Jeff Bezos, shown here at the Satellite 2017 conference in March, is now buying ready-made goodwill.

Mark Wilson / Getty Images

Jeff Bezos likes to say he thinks long term.

He sees a future world taken over by robots, while others focus on the robotic recitation of their quarterly results.

Yet in agreeing to buy Whole Foods for $13.7 billion, perhaps the Amazon CEO is also nodding a little toward the past.

One of Steve Jobs's most brilliant decisions for Apple was to extend the brand to the high street and the shopping mall.

By designing the Apple stores to accurately reflect the Apple brand, he gave people a point of contact in their neighborhood, a place where their gadgets could be fixed and where they could simply get their Apple fix.

He gave them something that felt like Apple writ large.

It's clear that Bezos has been thinking about physical retail for some time. The experiment with cashier-free stores was just one attempt to look into the future and wonder what role a physical store might have for Amazon.

With Whole Foods, he'll be getting something that's ready-made, but that's grown organically. (Forgive me, I had to.) He isn't just getting a grocery brand. He's getting buildings that are already garlanded in goodwill.

Yes, some people think of the brand as Whole Paycheck. Few, though, think negatively of a brand that, in many ways, led America toward (slightly) healthier eating.

The Amazon brand, while offering splendid customer service and enjoying enormous goodwill and admiration, can also feel as warm as December in Omsk. In the drive for efficiency and excellence, Amazon hasn't often focused on being excessively touchy-feely.

Now, just as the Apple Store welcomes you with strangely motivated young people, Whole Foods' humans may begin to reflect positively on the whole Amazon experience.

Think about it, how many humans have you ever encountered who represent Amazon?

For now, Amazon says it will operate Whole Foods exactly as it is, with no robots taking over. In time, though, who would be surprised if the name became Amazon Whole Foods? It's not such a different name from, say, AmazonFresh, is it? Amazon didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

In perception terms, Amazon now gains warmth and credibility in the organic sphere, not just the grocery sphere. Whole Foods will quickly enjoy the perception that it isn't quite as expensive as it used to be. After all, the Amazon brand is all about value.

In the long term, of course, local physical presence will likely play another role. As artificial intelligence creeps into your innards and knows what you're thinking before you do, your Amazon Whole Foods will become the sort of friend you never thought you'd have.

You'll get messages from your local Amazon Whole Foods that will tell you what you need before you even know you need it. The store will offer you grocery ideas, because it will already know you're bereft of imagination. They'll probably broadcast them through your Amazon Echo.

One day, a drone might arrive at your house with a free cake from your local Amazon Whole Foods, just because it knows that you need cheering up.

This will work far more easily because you're already positively disposed toward both brands. 

As many physical retail stores proceed to die off, your Apple store and your Amazon Whole Foods will thrive. 

Food, wine and gadgets. What else do you need to be happy?

Technically Incorrect: Bringing you a fresh and irreverent take on tech.

Special Reports: CNET's in-depth features in one place.