Amazon, Whole Foods Planning Big Change for Prime Grocery Shoppers – Business Insider


Amazon’s decision to transition all in-store shoppers to Whole Foods employees is the latest sign that demand for grocery delivery is cooling — and that Amazon expects its deliveries to be faster than ever.
In late February, Amazon told its shoppers, who gather orders for customer delivery and pickup at Whole Foods stores, that all of them would have the opportunity to become Whole Foods employees by the end of the year, according to a letter seen by Insider and first reported by CNBC.
Shoppers who fill those orders are currently split between Whole Foods and Amazon. (Amazon bought Whole Foods in 2017.) The Amazon-employed shoppers work as independent contractors who are able to work for a few hours at a time and schedule their hours days in advance.
Those who work at Whole Foods have more rigid shifts, usually working between six and eight hours a day. They also have to set their schedules weeks in advance and are often asked to perform other tasks at Whole Foods, such as stocking shelves or working at the registers.
Before the pandemic, Whole Foods relied on its own employees, not Amazon Prime workers. “They started creating this gig-worker model to help increase their capacity of workers to fill these orders,” said Celia Van Wickel, senior director of digital commerce at Kantar, a data analytics and brand consulting company. 
Now the focus is on offering one- and two-hour grocery delivery in more cities, Van Wickel said. And fast delivery time requires having more employees at Whole Foods stores who can fill orders in time, she said.
“The benefit of that full-time employee model is to really have someone on-demand to fill the orders quickly within the store,” she said.
“Gig workers typically work for multiple companies: They might do some Whole Foods deliveries, they might do some DoorDash,” Van Wickel said. “This keeps them all within Whole Foods and focused on Whole Foods activities.”
Amazon’s competitors in the delivery world have started swapping gig workers for employees to speed up service, too. DoorDash, for example, started offering 15-minute grocery delivery in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood in December, using employees who have set hours.  Having employees on-site enables them to quickly pack orders or head out for deliveries. 
Switching from gig work to full employee offers certain benefits and disadvantages for workers. Employees are eligible for certain benefits, like medical benefits, whereas gig workers typically are not. But gig workers typically have more flexibility. 
An in-store shopper employed by Whole Foods in Massachusetts who handles online orders said their Amazon-employed colleagues have more flexibility when it comes to when and how long they work.
Many of those Amazon employees took their jobs because they were part time and fit around obligations like taking care of family, this employee said. Many might not transfer to Whole Foods if they have to work longer hours or work in other parts of the store, the employee said.
But being a Whole Foods employee has its benefits for the company. Whole Foods in-store shoppers are frequently called to work in other parts of the store when there are few orders to pick. The employee said they believe that being able to switch to other tasks when order volumes are low makes workers more efficient — something that appeals to Amazon. 
While orders for delivery and pickup increased at many grocery stores in 2020 and early 2021, many customers have since returned to making frequent in-person shopping trips to stores. 
At the store where the Massachusetts-based employee works, the overall number of online orders has declined in recent months, especially since the December holiday season.
“They noticed that orders have slipped a little bit,” the employee said, referring to the store’s management. Meanwhile, “the amount of workers we’ve had in the store has stayed relatively the same.”
Grocery sales for 2021 remained higher than 2020, according to the data. Even so, delivery and pickup sales seemed dependent on national COVID trends: Demand flattened in late spring and early summer as vaccines became widely available, for instance, before increasing again as the Delta and Omicron variants became widespread later in the year.
US online grocery sales fell 8% in January to $8.5 billion, according to consultancy Brick Meets Click. Within that, delivery sales declined 7%, while pickup sales increased 2%.
A shopper in Oregon told Insider that Whole Foods employees can fill orders faster than their Amazon-managed counterparts thanks to their experiences in other departments.
In the previous model, in which Amazon shoppers roamed Whole Foods looking for goods, one common problem occurred when Amazon shoppers couldn’t find an item on a customer’s list. In order to bypass the item, Amazon shoppers had to get a sign-off from a Whole Foods employee saying that the item was out of stock. 
In the early months of the pandemic, that led to a barrage of Amazon shoppers asking Whole Foods employees for help. But when Whole Foods employees pick the orders, the Oregon employee said, they can provide their own sign-off on the out-of-stock item.
“It’s just a waste of time for me to find somebody and interrupt their work to have them go when I’m already trained in this department,” the shopper said. “I know exactly where to look anyway. It’s faster for me.”
Do you work at Whole Foods and have a story to share? Reach out to Alex Bitter at abitter@insider.com or via Twitter direct message @abitterjourno
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