What the Amazon-Whole Foods deal means for consumers

  • Amazon's $13.7 billion deal to buy Whole Foods will have a huge impact on consumers.
  • Expect Amazon to lower prices wherever it can.
  • Shoppers should expect the check-out experience to change.
  • Amazon could offer shoppers ready-to-pick-up groceries as a compelling alternative to waiting in line.
Andrew Councill | Bloomberg | Getty Images

The likely transformation that is about to be unleashed by Amazon's $13.7 billion deal to buy Whole Foods will affect the consumer, suppliers, grocery rivals and the in-store experience.

This is why it is at once exciting for all consumers of groceries who will have the opportunity to witness the innovation, and also a huge threat for all current players in the space. Given the reaction being seen with publicly-traded grocery chains, investors have been quick to recognize the threat.

What does it mean for consumers?

- Amazon will be marking down prices where it can, or else consumers won't find the value they've been conditioned to demand.

- The in-store experience will likely be changing in ways not seen since the old general store days, when consumers pointed to items on high shelves and the clerk grabbed them.

- Look for more seamless integration of the online and brick-and-mortar experience. Think about how Amazon.com beckons with reminders of what we've previously purchased and hints at what we might like.

- Amazon's command of the data world means it should be more agile in knowing what consumers are buying and getting those items on store shelves. This means it should be more effective in anticipating trends, like those we've seen in recent years with organic, gluten-free or the explosion in popularity of things like coconut water.

- The check-out experience will change. This means no more scanning at the front of the store and waiting in-line. New technology will allow a real-time price tally which might be presented on smartphones (or yet to be seen devices).

- Ready-to-pick-up groceries could be a more compelling option. Just as Amazon has designated locations for hard goods, it can do something similar with non-perishable groceries and household items, but at greater scale.

- Don't forget about the expanding worlds of Amazon Echo devices and yet-to-be-unleashed drones. Between devices listening to our voice commands and automated delivery drones, consumers will see compressed timeframes better able to provide satisfaction.

- Yet to be answered, whether Amazon will double-down in brick-and-mortar with apparel, for example. Retail real estate is on sale as malls and strip centers see long-established brands vacate and stores close.

- Disruption isn't without some pain. For every rival that loses market share, jobs are at risk or being lost. As we've seen over the evolution of the Internet, the benefits provided to consumers do come at a cost.

Ultimately, one inescapable takeaway is that we live in exciting times. This will be interesting to watch and experience as consumers and investors.

Commentary by Mark Hamrick, the Washington bureau chief for Bankrate.com. He was recently named president of the Society of American Business Editors and Writers (SABEW), a leading organization of business journalists. Follow Mark Hamrick on Twitter @hamrickisms.

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