Price pressure from Amazon.com Inc.’s ownership of Whole Foods Market is on full display.
Amazon cut prices on a select group of products at Whole Foods on Monday, the day it closed on its purchase of the supermarket chain for $13.7 billion. Amazon has indicated it will lower prices on additional goods at Whole Foods, and it has already made some Whole Foods’ brand products available for purchase online via AmazonFresh, an e-grocery service it offers in a dozen metropolitan areas in the U.S.
A pricing analysis of the newly repriced goods in Whole Foods stores and identical or similar goods at online and offline competitors indicates how tough the competition may get.
Internet Retailer checked in-store prices at a Whole Foods on Friday, Aug. 25 (prior to the acquisition’s close, but after Amazon announced some of the products it would reprice), and rechecked the prices on Tuesday, Aug. 29, the day after the deal closed and after the new pricing went into effect.
Internet Retailer conducted the same price checks of Peapod LLC, the online grocery service that ranks No. 62 in the Internet Retailer 2017 Top 500, on AmazonFresh, and in-store at Mariano’s, a supermarket chain owned by The Kroger Co. (No. 88). Amazon is No. 1 in the Top 500. All checks took place in Chicago, where all monitored retailers compete.
In a shopping basket containing nine products on which Amazon announced it would adjust prices, the price cuts displayed in the Chicago store Aug. 29 ranged from 0% (kale) to a 28.6% cut for a pound of ground beef that dropped to $4.99 from $6.99. Looked at in total, the Whole Foods basket price dropped 9.5% from Friday to Tuesday.
None of the other competitors checked in the analysis changed prices from Aug. 25 to Aug. 29. Mariano’s declined to comment.
But Amazon’s price changes at Whole Foods show how it may narrow the price gap, or even extend a price advantage, on competitors. On Aug. 25, a comparable basket purchased at Mariano’s supermarket cost 17% less than the basket purchased at Whole Foods. On Aug. 29, after Amazon/Whole Foods’ price changes, Mariano’s price advantage had narrowed to less than 12%. Not all products in the analysis are an apple-to-apples comparison because Mariano’s does not stock organic options for all goods on the basket list.
Interestingly, and contrary to many consumers’ perception of Whole Foods for “whole paycheck” pricing, Whole Foods’ prices using the same basket of goods before and after the adjustment beat Peapod’s and AmazonFresh’s pricing. Using the basket comparison, groceries purchased at Whole Foods on Aug. 25 cost 11.3% less than on Peapod; on Aug. 29, they cost 12.6% less. The price difference was on the goods only and does not include delivery charges for Peapod and AmazonFresh. Peapod’s fees range $6.95 to $9.95 per delivery, and AmazonFresh charges $14.99 per month for the service.
When shown the pricing comparison, Peapod chief marketing officer Carrie Bienkowski highlighted the opportunities Peapod offers consumers to save money, such as accepting coupons and rotating product specials.
“Peapod is focused on constantly delivering to our customers the best in service, quality and value,” Bienkowski says. “Peapod has no membership fee and along with thousands of weekly online specials, we double manufacturer coupons up to $0.99 and accept in-store coupons from our Ahold Delhaize store partners—Stop & Shop and Giant. We also offer a wide range of affordable store brands, including our popular organics and free-from brand Nature’s Promise.” The e-retailer also recently added a “buy more, save more” promotion for select products.
Taking the comparison to AmazonFresh, the e-grocery service Amazon offers that delivers perishable goods to Amazon Prime members’ homes, groceries bought at Whole Foods cost less: 17.1% less on Aug. 25 and 18.4% less on Aug. 29.
Amazon/Whole Foods’ price adjustments go beyond the scope of this basket analysis. Products throughout the store with new pricing are flagged with orange tags touting before and after prices. For instance, boneless ribeye and New York strip steaks now are $13.99 a pound, a 26.3% drop from $18.99. Gallons of organic milk are $5.99, a 14.3% drop from $6.99. On-the-vine tomatoes are $1.99 a pound, a dollar less than before Amazon took ownership of Whole Foods.
As Amazon wades more deeply into grocery it brings with it its penchant for driving down pricing and redefining what it means to compete. Retailers, online and offline, should take heed.