For six years now, we have broken up and gotten back together. There have been some good times. But I just can’t bear the notion that you’re cheating on me. Literally. Cheating me of good money that I work hard to earn and could be spending on other things rather than getting cheated by you.
Nearly every time I come to visit you, Whole Foods, I am overcharged for something. I’m not exaggerating. Not occasionally. Not now and then. Not sometimes. Nearly every time. Today, it was a special on wine. The sign under the bottles — you, know that bright yellow sign with the red banner across the top that you intend to get my attention — clearly read, “2 for $10.” A great deal. When I got to the checkout, it rang up 2 for $20. Or the time I bought eggplant and the sign said price per each, and at the checkout it was price per pound. Or the time I was charged for a $20 bottle of wine that wasn’t even in my bag! Or the time I bought a loaf of bread on sale, and when it came up regular price, the clerk in a snitty tone insisted that it wasn’t on sale. It was.
I should have known this would be a rough relationship when the first four times I visited you, shortly after you opened a store near where I live, there was a consistent price variation on one of my staples. The small cans of tomato paste consistently rang up 20 cents more than the price on the shelf. Finally, after four times, I took the time to go find the manager to find out why the correction wasn’t being made. I did not encounter an individual trained in the art of “the customer is always right.”
I have dozens of examples. So many that I can’t remember them all. What else am I to conclude than that this is a systematic, purposeful strategy to maximize profit?
Whole Foods, I want to like you. I like the cleanliness of your stores. I like it that you pay their employees a living wage with benefits. I like it that you pay attention to earth care matters. I like the availability of organic produce and the great variety of produce. I like it that you pay attention to sustainability issues. I like it that I know which farms my meat comes from. I love the amazing and extensive variety of cheeses.
But what I like is no longer enough to ameliorate my anger. I’m angry that I have to pay so much attention to the price of every item, knowing that something will ring up for more than it should. I’m angry at the thought that it’s happened enough times that I’m sure I’ve missed some. I’m angry at the thought that most people don’t pay such close attention; which means in general that you are cheating most of your customers. And because if my hunch is true that most people aren’t paying attention, you are getting away with it. I’m really angry about that.
I’m angry at the condescending attitude that I often face when calling these things to the attention of your staff. That time when I noticed that I was charged for a bottle of wine that I didn’t even buy? Here’s how it went down. Because of the consistency of my experience, I not only pay attention to prices, but do a rough cumulative total in my head as I go. I’m usually within 5 or 10 dollars. On this particular occasion, the total was $25 more than I had estimated. So, I stopped and went over my receipt. I noticed that I was charged for 3 bottles of wine. “Huh. That’s funny. I thought I only put two in the cart.” I was still thinking that I had made a mistake and wondered what else I had put in the cart that I hadn’t remembered. Sure enough, several searches through my bags proved that there were, in fact, only two bottles of wine in my bags. And when I went to the customer service counter, I was treated with a great deal of suspicion. Even when it was all over, there was nothing even close to an apology for the mistake. I was left with the clear impression that I had done something wrong.
And I’m angry that I am the one made to feel like a cheapskate, a schmuck. It feels like being really picky to ask for my 20 cents back for the overcharge on a can of tomato paste. Or the buck on a loaf of bread. But it’s not really the money. It’s the principle. It’s the unspoken agreement that I can trust the people that I do business with, that when they say “this” is the price of something, then “this” is what I will be charged. When that trust is broken so many times, something very basic has broken down.
So, I think I’m done. No more Whole Foods.
I don’t mean that anyone else needs to make the same decision. Maybe it’s only this store. (Most of my experience has been at my local WF store; I have shopped at two other stores one time each and have had the overcharging experience both times.)
If you do shop at Whole Foods, here’s my advice. Watch the prices on the shelves. Check your receipt against them. It’s hard to believe that I’m the only one who they’re trying to take for a ride.