“Customer Centric” a benefit for Whole Foods in the Amazon purchase


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Some of the big business news right now is the intended purchase of US Whole Foods Market grocery chain by Amazon for US$13.7b.

Interesting to note that Whole Foods CEO John Mackey, who for many years has been a advocate for Conscious Capitalism, recently said that:
“Amazon is more “customer-centric” than Whole Foods, giving the grocer an opportunity to improve in that area…” (Source Bloomberg)

Whole Foods are a very successful business (clearly from the offer price) serving a very loyal customer base – but here is the CEO saying there are benefits to come from becoming, more customer centric.

As you may know, Amazon’s vision has always been to be “Earth’s most customer centric company” for their chosen customer groups: “consumers, sellers, enterprises and content creators”. A very clear vision that everyone in the business can understand, even if the implementation can still be a little tough. Additionally, they have recognised that there is not this amorphous group called “customers”, but specific customer groups with specific needs, and undoubtedly sub-groups that are well understood.
This approach forms the basis of what all organisations should be doing – a clear vision on the customer, and creating a clear understanding of those customer groups.
So, what of the benefits from customer centricity..?

From their inception in 1997 Amazon has always said: “We will continue to focus relentlessly on our customers” and this focus will produce the long term results they are striving for…and it has done to this day.
This relentless focus continues today and is now described as “True Customer Obsession”. The following is from Jeff Bezos, in the introduction to the 2016 Amazon Annual Report released earlier this year.
“There are many ways to center a business. You can be competitor focused, you can be product focused, you can be technology focused, you can be business model focused, and there are more. But in my view, obsessive customer focus is by far the most protective of Day 1 vitality.
Why? There are many advantages to a customer-centric approach, but here’s the big one: customers are always beautifully, wonderfully dissatisfied, even when they report being happy and business is great. Even when they don’t yet know it, customers want something better, and your desire to delight customers will drive you to invent on their behalf. No customer ever asked Amazon to create the Prime membership program, but it sure turns out they wanted it, and I could give you many such examples.
Staying in Day 1 requires you to experiment patiently, accept failures, plant seeds, protect saplings, and double down when you see customer delight. A customer-obsessed culture best creates the conditions where all of that can happen”.

To me there are (at least) three powerful points that come from this statement:
1. What have you centred your business on..? Money…selling a product…? These things do not engage people. Being centred on customers allows all people to share that vision and continually work towards it. If you are focused on your competitors you won’t engage your customers or employees.

2. Being focused on the customer will always allow you to remain relevant for your customers. You won’t be chasing your pet project, or another shiny new idea – all these improvements will need to be pegged against the value your deliver to your customers.

3. The last two sentences are really about an organisational culture that is focused on improving customer value and business performance. People within the business can only feel that it is okay to ‘experiment, fail, learn and test against customer delight’, when they know their leaders are likewise committed to being customer centric.

What is your business or organisation focused on..? The first tenet of the Customer Centric approach to Business is that Businesses Exist for Customers. This is clearly a principle that Amazon and Whole Foods endorse.

Are you committed to continually improving the delivery of value for your customers..? If not someone else will be.

Does your business or organisation empower you to experiment, fail and learn what can delight your customers..? If not, then how are you learning to improve the delivery of customer value..?

Mark Hocknell
Mark is a Customer Centric Business specialist with experience spanning three decades, from line management to consulting and academia. Based in south east Queensland, Australia, Mark led one of the first, large scale CRM deployments for one of Australia's leading financial institutions. For the last fifteen years Mark has consulted to leading organisations in Australia, as well as small-to-medium sized businesses. He is the author of Profit by Design: how to build a customer portfolio full of profitable promoters.


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