Ubicomp Project by The Grocery Peeps: Exploratory Research


This project’s theme is Interactive Environments and Ubiquitous Computing.

We started our first brainstorming session by mapping out different areas of interest for shopping malls. Some of the more specific topics we thought about are bookstores and grocery stores. In the end, we decided to focus on grocery stores because we thought it had a lot of interesting areas to explore in terms of space design and service flow.

Mind Map

Starting from Shopping Malls and branching out
Exploring different actions, stakeholders, interactions, products, pertaining to Whole Foods
Mapping the different spaces in relation to Whole Foods

Field Research

Our team split up the field research. Louise was in charge of creating behavioral maps, Min and Ian each shadowed a shopper and recorded their observations, and William conducted an interview with a shopper on site.

Behavioral Mapping

I used behavioral mapping to document location-based observations of Whole Foods shoppers.

Individual-centered mapping

After scoping out the Whole Foods located in EastSide district of Pittsburgh, I created a store floor plan and made a behavioral map based on my observations. This following map was created after observing shoppers at Whole Foods from 4:00PM — 5:00PM on a Monday afternoon. The three colors represent the paths of three different shoppers from the start to the the end of their shopping experience.

The three colors represent three different individuals and their shopping paths

Key Observations

Individuals tend to shop in a methodical manner, starting from the produce section and moving onto the seafood/meat section, frozen foods section, dry foods, hot food buffet/deli section, then check out. The express check out and the checkout stations closest to the deli section (end of the shopping journey) were the most crowded.

Individuals occasionally traced back their steps if they found a replacement product that was cheaper or more to their liking.

Place-centered Mapping

I also created a place-centered map to see if we could analyze the traffic patterns and key points of interaction. Each star represents a shopper. The map reveals that most of the congestion happens in the checkout stations, especially the express checkout.

Each star represents an individual shopper

Shadowing — Participant 1

Participant: Michael, Male, 21

Basic info: Michael is a junior majoring in chemical engineering at Carnegie Mellon University. He has shopped at Whole Foods Market on centre avenue every weekend for almost two years.

Details: On Sunday, April 3, I followed Michael to Whole Foods and observed his shopping behavior. He drove his car to Whole Foods and easily found a parking spot near the market at 1pm. He brought his recyclable Whole Foods bag with him. That night he wanted to make dinner for a few friends at home and had already decided to try a newly found Gordon Ramsay’s salmon recipe. In addition to the salmon dinner, he also needed to buy breakfast food and snacks for the week.

He opened the Whole Foods app and checked what the coupons were. He saw that the oranges were pretty good and had a coupon. He then went to the vegetable section and picked a bag of salad (the 365 brand). After that, he headed directly to the seafood bar and picked four salmon fillets. Then he brought milk, eggs, oatmeals, and cookies.

Since he goes to Whole Foods every week, he knew exactly where everything was and did not have any difficulty finding what he wanted. After picking everything he needed, he waited in the shortest line he could find, which had 3 people in front of him. It took about 5 minutes before it came to his turn. He showed the coupon on his phone to the cashier, and she scanned the coupon and discounted the oranges. Another staff member at the end of the conveyor belt put everything into bags efficiently.

Michael finished paying and pushed the cart to his parking spot. After unloading the bags into the car and returning the cart at the door of the market, he drove back home.

Shadowing — Participant 2

Participant: Kaylyn, Female, 21

Basic info: Kaylyn is a Senior studying Psychology at Carnegie Mellon. She regularly cooks at home and shops at Whole Foods once every 1 or 2 months depending on the occasion.

Details: I shadowed Kaylyn on a Sunday afternoon to learn about her shopping habits. She shops at Whole Foods infrequently, only going when she is looking for a special ingredient or when she wants to treat herself from her usual grocery shopping locations (Giant Eagle and Trader Joe’s). She has a few recipes in mind to shop for at Whole Foods, but also is going to go shopping for her week in general.

Kaylyn doesn’t normally shop at Whole Foods, so she shops with discovery in mind. She walks up and down the aisle looking for products that spark her interest, or would be used with the recipes she has in mind.


Branding/ Decision Making

We are not endorsed by Skinny Sticks

When picking between items Kaylyn used packaging to decide what she wanted to purchase. She determined the factors of health and taste by the look of the product and physical packaging. In this case she was trying to decide between 365 Sweet Potato Chips and Sweet Potato Skinny Sticks. She chose the Skinny Sticks because she felt the pictures of the sweet potato chips looked greasy and less healthy than the Skinny Sticks.

Price/ Frugality

Kaylyn is used to shopping at Trader Joe’s and Giant Eagle where prices are much cheaper than Whole Foods. Therefore, at Whole Foods she considers the price of products she is buying much heavier. Items like produce and on sale items are similar in price to other grocery stores. More expensive items have to be of a considerable higher quality for Kaylyn to buy them.

“I spent $60 here but, I could have gotten three times as much food from other grocery stores”


Kaylyn shops for special types of items she finds are of better quality and unique to Whole Foods. This includes packaged goods, frozen foods, prepared foods, and Deli foods.

The Whole Foods frozen sections is a lot better than other places. I like looking for other cultures’ foods in this section. It’s like a cheap and easy way to try a whole different kind of food.”


Will conducted an interview with David, a Whole Foods shopper.

Interviewee: David, Age 47

Why do you go to Whole foods over the other options?

I like the shopping experience better as opposed to shopping at Giant Eagle. I really like the environment and enjoy the organic foods and products that they offer. I am trying to eat clean now, and with shopping at Whole Foods I’m not as concerned as eating “bad” food. Sometimes I do go to Trader Joe’s though. It’s also very conveniently located to Kenmawr. I also like how it’s a lot easier to carry the Whole Food bags back!

At whole foods what do you normally shop for?

Basically just generic groceries, but particularly fresh foods. Things like milk, fruits, eggs, chicken breast, different beef cuts. I also go to their prepared foods sometimes and get their $10 value meal. They also have a decent cheese section that I get stuff from sometimes. My wife also finds a particular type of lotion that she can only get at Whole Foods -I don’t remember the name of it of the top of my head.

What’s your impression of whole foods? What’s your impressions about other options?

I mean I think it’s great. Clean, comfortable, friendly, fresh, healthy. A little expensive sure, but I can afford it. I’ve obviously shopped at Giant Eagle before and it’s a completely different ballgame. The one near here is a little run down and I really don’t like the atmosphere shopping there. I’ve been to to the one on Centre Avenue and that one is pretty decent -I just got used to whole foods though.

How do you shop? (specific time, or go whenever feel needed)

Usually once a week on the weekends, but really just whenever I get off work (around 4–5pm) and have the extra time during the week. Tends to be towards the end of the week though.

What’s so unique about Whole Foods?

I think it’s just really nice to visit and has great products. I can imagine it being a problem for those who can’t afford it, but I guess that’s part of Whole Food’s image. I never have to worry about “sketchy” people or rude staff. I actually bump into a lot of my coworkers there. It’s a pleasant experience.


After conducting our research, we came up with the following conclusions

  • People value atmosphere, quality customer service, quality products
  • Packaging and appearance is a big factor in determining quality of products
  • Shoppers generally shop for foods in the same order
  • Long lines tend to form near the higher number registers (closer to the end of the store)

Link to our presentation slides: https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1B2IqYkZBNOdpC-sWlquae_V7DvH1-YQtg2S36kFnBF0/edit?usp=sharing