Whole Foods' Three New Technology Platforms

Three years ago, Whole Foods Market, Inc. looked at its overall technology landscape and put together a plan that essentially is replacing 80% to 90% of the company's systems over a period of time, according to Jason Buechel, EVP & Chief Information Officer.

"We've have a few years left to pull this off, but we grouped it into three major platforms: our team member platform, our customer platform and our product platform," revealed Buechel at the Oppenheimer 16th Annual Consumer Conference.

In addition, Whole foods is piloting new technology in its new 365 by Whole Foods Market stores. "We have other things planned for some of the future stores and what we’re finding is we can use it as a test bed to then bring some of those things back into the rest of the organization. I would say that we have the best digital ordering system for our venues, for instance in the 365 experience right now," said Buechel.

He also noted the electronic shelf labels in the 365 stores were put in place for efficiencies around labor and to make the store cleaner, but "customers seem to love them as well." The electronic shelf labels allow for more attributes that can be shown to the consumer. In conjunction with a mobile experience, this can allow customers to go a lot deeper into quality standards, nutritional information, and product attributes.

1. Whole Foods Market's Team Member Platform

Whole Foods implemented Workday in fiscal 2015. Buechel explained the software program "really allowed us to automate a lot of our HR processes and create one center common system for all team member information and attributes. That allowed us to do things like labor scheduling which is one of the strategic plug ins that sits on top of it, it also allowed us to do things like digital learning, new solutions for account management and recruiting. So this serves as a key foundation and supporting a lot of our other platforms."

2. Whole Foods Market's Customer Platform

The foundation of this is Whole Foods' one POS common commerce solution. Whole Foods is moving from four legacy systems right across seven different instance to one common solution that is not just about point of sale, but also about how the company ingests product information and has tied into its downstream systems including analytics. As the company wants to make price changes this will allow it to be more dynamic and responsive and put together promotions that allow the company to do things more at a personalized level. In the digital coupon side of things, John Mackey, Co-CEO & Co-Founder, explained, "in our newest point of sale solution we allow the ability to do personalized offers directly, one-to-one for individual customer. They can only redeem those things once."

In addition to its POS system, Whole Foods had focused on two other areas. One of them is Affinity, which the company has done a pilot of in Philly and will launch the next generation of in Dallas later this summer. Mackey explained Affinity data is helping the grocer with real-time decisions and some of these capabilities will allow the retailer to understand what customers are shopping for between the 365 stores as well as the rest of the LA stores, where is the crossover, and how is that changing the overall spend.
The other is the instacart partnership that Whole Foods continues to grow, in which consumers can order groceries online from directly have orders fulfilled through instacart.

3. Whole Foods Market's Product Platform

According to Buechel, this is one of the most transformational projects the company will be doing and "this isn't just about putting in a new piece of technology, it's about changing the way that we do our business." Whole Foods currently has a disparate home grown ERP solution and is partnering with Infor, the world's third largest ERP solution provider, to develop the next generation retail platform.

"For us this is going to be about how we host our product information, how we give ordering, receiving, it's going to add a lot of new capabilities for us like replenishment, allocation, forecasting," commented  Buechel. "It's also going to support our purchasing evolution as we adjust the way that we purchase goods, select our assortment, price our goods and put them on promotion. This will be our common system to allow our global team members, our regional team members and store team members to interact together.

Buechel said the grocer is leveraging new advancements in machine learning and big data and putting this all in the cloud.