Whole Foods hasn’t had a loyalty program in 30 years, but it’s ready to test the waters.

In an attempt to fend off fierce competition in the organic and natural foods category, Whole Foods plans to test a new loyalty program in Princeton, N.J., and in Philadelphia at a future time. Plans call for the program to be rolled out nationally by the end of 2015.

Loyalty360 caught up with Whole Foods Market spokesperson Michael Silverman for an engaging Q&A about the impending loyalty program.

What factors prompted Whole Foods to test a loyalty program and, possibly roll it out nationally next year?

Our customers have wanted an affinity program for some time. With such strong existing customer demand for a program like this, we believe Whole Foods Market Rewards will enhance existing customer loyalty and drive new customers to shop Whole Foods Market stores. We’ve spent a lot of time creating the program, bringing unique and exciting offerings to our customers that are in line with Whole Foods Market’s values and differentiate us from our competition, and will continue to enhance the program as we learn more about what is most important to our customers. 

How do you think it will impact your customers and what are the goals for the program?

The Whole Foods Market Rewards program offers shoppers a unique experience where they will not only be rewarded for their purchases (i.e. one point back for every dollar spent), but they will also have an opportunity to receive experiential rewards (e.g., cooking classes), more personalized messages based on individual preferences, and earn points in a variety of ways.

What does Customer Experience/Customer Engagement mean to Whole Foods?

One of our core values is to satisfy, delight and nourish our customers, who are our most important stakeholders. From the beginning, Whole Foods Market has been committed to extraordinary customer service, meeting or exceeding our shoppers’ expectations every time they visit our stores. It’s helped us to become the leader we are in the grocery industry.

How does Whole Foods stay on top of rapidly changing technologies and what role do they play in customer engagement/experience initiatives?

Our senior leadership team recently detailed what we refer to as our “Digital Roadmap,” our commitment to leveraging technology in an effort to provide our customers new ways and choices to engage with us. First, we are expanding our reach to customers outside our stores. Through a strategic partnership with Instacart we announced last week, Whole Foods Market is offering delivery in 15 major markets, with in-store pickup options coming soon. We are launching a new Wine Club program next month, curated by our Master Sommolier. We participated in Apple’s launch event last week as one of the first retailers to accept Apple Pay transactions. Next year, we expect to offer direct ship in several key categories. 

Our Whole Foods Market Rewards program is another part of the digital roadmap. Third, we will be introducing a new and robust Whole Foods Market mobile app to dramatically improve our customers’ digital and mobile experiences before, during, and after visiting our stores. 

How do you define customer loyalty and has that definition changed or evolved in recent years?

We think we know customer loyalty better than any other grocer … our loyalty to our customers and their reciprocated loyalty to Whole Foods Market has propelled us to where we are today. We will continue to keep our customers at the center of everything we do. Again, it’s a core value for our business and will not change.

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