Analyzing the Whole Foods Experience

Ask a service designer what service design is. You’ll get something like: “It’s everything. But some things it’s not… and other things aren’t it…” Yes, one of the skills of service design is sounding like an eloquent kindergartner.

As the name of our group (Service Design, ATX) suggests, we are here to service design. But we wanted to start a group focused on learning service design through the actual development of its skills, rather than just discourse. We want friends to be able to apply the tools and methods they learn during our gatherings to their lives the very next day.

So we felt that starting with one of service design’s most integral tools, the Customer Journey Map, would be an appropriate focus for our first meeting.

Naturally, we met at Whole Food’s flagship location in downtown Austin. About 12 friends showed up, making for an intimate first meeting. After a quick introduction on the rather ironic rooftop astroturf, we split into groups and began investigating the bountiful Whole Foods experience.

One group chose to shadow a friend on his quest for the perfect Belgian stout. Another took a round-robin approach, allowing each friend to experience both sides of the mirror. The last elected themselves the peanut gallery of an unsuspecting Whole Foods customer just going about her business.

We returned to the roof to translate our experiences into a few Customer Journey Maps. Each group chose a different tactic in observation. The same can be said for mapping. But I won’t. The maps helped each group uncover some very compelling insights:

  1. Each group noted that the size and clarity of the signage made it difficult to find what they were looking for. Discussing the problem further, we realized that Whole Foods’ wayfinding could be improved: the information architecture of it all did not seem to line up with our expectations. Like: who keeps stalking the damn Quinoa in the Gluten Free section???
  2. We also identified a gap between Whole Food’s suggested target market and the store’s actual purchasing experience:
  • Whole Foods’ beer selection suggests they are reaching out to someone who is trying to date beer. But beer is just not having it. The display is difficult to navigate and there are no hints for palettes and pairings to help seal the deal. Beer just isn’t that easy. The wine section, however, does a great job facilitating this type of… relationship?
  • In search of tampons, one group had to resort to following signs for “diapers” (…) , only to find themselves caught between “feminine health” and “feminine hygiene” but that doesn’t matter because both sections were smattered in such glamorous, luxurious branding that DAMN, DOES IT FEEL GOOD TO BE A WOMAN! When they finally did locate the tampons, they found few, unfamiliar options in plain packaging, as if the tampons had been shamefully caste aside. Curious, WF, curious…
  1. We also discussed the effects a smartphone can have on the service experience. The peanut gallery noticed their victim interacting with her phone frequently, unintentionally discovering the perfect conditions for public phone-fiddling. In those fleeting moments, away with her phone, could she be interacting with the Whole Foods brand? Lol no. But the opportunity to take advantage of our society’s screen-addiction is certainly ripe for the picking…

This meeting was a ton of fun. The conversation was fluid and there was a great variety in friends’ design backgrounds. I will leave you with two questions that I will leave unanswered to goad you into attending:

  • How would you approach Customer Journey Maps in the context of doing this work for a client?
  • How would you approach synthesizing multiple, singular experiences into a Customer Journey Map? Would your personas come into play?

We hope to make a few new friends at our next meeting! Will you be there? This time Capital Factory is generously donating their main space, so we’ve got room for everyone!