Monday, June 16, 2008

What Happened to Whole Foods?

Grocery stores have made a habit out of pricing their merchandise one way and charging a higher amount once you get to the check-out line. I don’t ever think it’s intentional, but it’s certainly rampant. That’s why, whenever I can, I watch the price of the items as they're rung in, looking for errors.

Unfortunately, I’m usually too busy unloading the cart or searching the bottom of my purse for my wallet to pay attention to the prices I'm being charged.

Yesterday, though, I was at Whole Foods ( with Mark. When we shop together, he’s in charge of unloading the cart and payment, and I’m in charge of making sure we’re not being over-charged. Everything was ringing in correctly and then I noticed the two bunches of organic kale we bought—which should have been $1.99/each—rang up at $2.50/each and that the bag of Celtic sea salt we bought—which should have been $6.49—rang up at $10.50.

Usually, the man or woman working the register will fix the price or, more likely, call someone over who will run through the store to verify the price. But something different happened. The salt was clearly marked $6.49 and I thought the really engaging clerk would simply delete the $10.50 and re-ring it for the correct price. But he said, “Because the product is clearly marked, and we over-charged you, it's free.”

Free? I don’t understand that word in relation to Whole Foods. [Friends of mine used to call “Bread & Circus”—one of the store’s earlier incarnations—“Bleed & Suck Us,” referring to the company’s wild mark-ups.]

“Okay,” I said, rather slowly, waiting for the catch.

“Since the kale isn’t priced, please stop at Customer Service on the way out,” he continued. “If we did over-charge you, you’ll get one bunch of kale for free and we’ll refund you the overage amount.”

Free and refund? Okay, seriously, where am I?

I’ve been a fan of Whole Foods since I walked into one many years ago, and I’ve always defended it when others attacked its high prices and aggressive growth. With Whole Food's new “accurate pricing policy,” I have even more to love.

Question of the blog: Do you know if this new policy is available at every Whole Foods or just the Salem, MA store I visited? [I can't find any information on their website and didn't think to ask at the store . . . I was too stunned.]

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