Whole Foods Computer Crash Results In $4,000 Grocery Giveaway

What did Whole Foods Associate Manager Ted Donoghue do when his West Hartford store lost its computer system during a major snowstorm? Nothing! After realizing that the registers were down for the count, Donoghue issued simple instructions to his cashiers: bag the customer’s groceries and wish them a happy holidays.

No storewide announcement was made and the store ended up giving away groceries worth $4,000.

[Manager Kimberly Hall] said Donoghue did not consult headquarters before making his decision and said she has heard no negative feedback from the top brass.

“They just totally trust us to do what is right for our customers,” she said.

It didn’t appear to be a big deal to Hall. In fact, neither the store nor the chain sought publicity for what happened.

Just as turtle hatchlings know to shimmy towards the moonlit sea, employees freed from constraining corporate codes know exactly how to provide unimpeachable customer service. Great work, Ted!

Whole Foods Shows You Can Get Something For Nothing [Hartford Courant]
(AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

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  1. Moff says:

    That’s fantastic, and so smart as a business practice. $4,000 is nothing — they could spend that on a newspaper ad in a heartbeat and never know if anyone noticed or cared. Whereas now they’ve got devoted customers plus coverage in newspapers and other media outlets all over the place.

  2. coan_net says:

    This just shows what can happen in ANY company – it is the people who run the day to day that make the difference – the difference between the consumer loving a company, or hating it.

    I’m sure 99% of people in the same position would have at least tried to calculate the totals without the registers.

  3. pine22 says:

    damn, how come when i go to whole foods this doesnt happen lol.

  4. ds143 says:

    I live right near there, too. Whatever, happy holidays to whoever was able to get away with something for free!

  5. wring says:

    i’m actually surprised nobody took advantage of the situation and went back to the shelves and picked out more free stuff. $4k seems like not a lot of money lost.

  6. Trick says:

    I wonder if word got about “free money” at Whole Foods? Was there fighting in isles and a guy down at the K-Mart selling the location of the free food?

  7. fredmertz says:

    At whole foods, $4000 was probably 3 customers.

  8. PølάrβǽЯ says:

    @wring: I’m sure they closed or monitored the dors so no more customers could come in, they just let the customers that were already in the store gat their groceries for free.

  9. JAYEONE says:

    And we are sure this manager still has a job?

  10. PølάrβǽЯ says:

    @aaron8301: Damn, I need to proofread what I type.

  11. DallasDMD says:

    @fredmertz: LOL, sounds about right. I’ve been behind people who have purchased $500+ worth of stuff there.

    I can get a week’s worth of decent food there for about $70.

  12. akalish says:

    It would be really cool if they continued that tradition in every following year by donating $4000 worth of food to shelters/soup kitchens for those less fortunate. It would be a wonderful way to do something great and give customers good feelings about the store. (I know it’s not a lot for a place like Whole Foods, but it’s more symbolic than anything else).

  13. Zodiack says:

    @fredmertz: Beat me to it.

  14. banmojo says:

    My, my, some of us are too jaded, methinks.

    Kudos to this manager for bringing the Christmas spirit to life. God bless and Merry Christmas to you all.

  15. JeffM says:

    Absolutely genius… that is a lot of national goodwill for a very very very low price.

  16. The Bigger Unit says:

    Nice on the manager. What choice did he really have? There’s no alternative…can’t “hand calculate” customer bills, and can’t tell them to screw off without groceries because they won’t return. Now, he has lifetime customers and the kind of positive word of mouth/publicity money cannot buy…

  17. DAK says:

    According to the article, the store was formerly a Wild Oats, and the computer glitch had to do with switching to the Whole Foods system. I wonder if the employees are also Wild Oats holdovers? Maybe the culture/employee outlook had more to do with Wild Oats and Whole Foods is just lucky enough to reap the rewards?

  18. Alvis says:

    I hope someone stocked up on some of those $500/lb mushrooms.

  19. scampy says:

    @Alvis:

    I believe you are thinking of truffles which are definiely NOT a mushroom. You couldnt eat a whole one like you could a mushroom. The only thing that makes them remotely close is that they are both fungi. Never call a truffle a mushroom

  20. oneswellfoop says:

    What Scampy said.

  21. backbroken says:

    @scampy: Then allow me to rephrase for Alvis…

    “I hope someone stocked up on some of that $500/lb fungus.”

    ;)

  22. Rando says:

    Are you kidding? That store alone probably makes $4k in profit within 2 hours from that overpriced shit.

  23. AndyMan1 says:

    @The Bigger Unit: It is pretty interesting that grocery stores don’t have any sort of backup system (pen and paper) for situations like this. You’d think considering people may make a rush to stock up during a situation where there is no power, it would be prudent to be prepared for that.

    As an alternative, what do you guys think the reaction would’ve been if the Manager said “pay what you think you owe”?

  24. EtherealStrife says:

    Not really above and beyond, but good management. Anything less would’ve been a PR nightmare.

  25. Jesse in Japan says:

    The profit margins for a supermarket aren’t as high as a lot of people here seem to think, even for an overpriced place like Whole Foods.

  26. arcticJKL says:

    The store I worked at had a mechanical register for such situations.

    Assuming that it only applied to those in the store at the time, I think this was a better move.

  27. sled_dog says:

    I can’t believe all you looking a gift horse in the mouth. Shame!

  28. hatrack says:

    It was a good thing they didn’t let people know they didn’t have to pay. The place would have been cleaned out otherwise.

  29. lalahsghost says:

    As an alternative, what do you guys think the reaction would’ve been if the Manager said “pay what you think you owe”? – Even more fairer (is that a word?)

    When I was looking at this article, I was like “how about they just charge a base price of $1 per item type deal. :shrug:

  30. iamme99 says:

    I think it would have been good to have included this part of the story in your leader:

    She said she picked up about $70 worth of groceries for a dinner party that night to celebrate the first snowstorm of the season. When she got to the cash register she was prepared to swipe her card, but an employee was blocking the machine.

    He explained to her the problem and asked if she wanted paper or plastic.

    “I was somewhat dazed by this comment and asked what I should do,” she wrote me. “He said, ‘You don’t understand, we can’t charge you and your groceries are free!’ I think I looked pretty silly standing there with my mouth open for a few minutes.”

    A grateful OConnell said she will donate the $70 to a food bank, “and I thank Whole Foods heartily for what I think is truly the essence of Christmas spirit.”

    This was a nice gesture also. I wonder how many other customers did similar?

  31. hollerhither says:

    Nice. When this happened at another WF location, they just shut the store and threw us out. I left a cart full of groceries. I wrote to corporate and it took two months for a response. So I guess it really does reflect on the individual store’s management.

    Meanwhile, I haven’t been back. I’m probably saving quite a bit of money.

  32. Amelie says:

    $4000 is a low figure for all the good will and PR. But actually, one can estimate one’s groceries, quite accurately, by rounding to the nearest 50 cents. I do it all the time, to make sure my groceries are being rung correctly. I’m always within a dollar or two of the actual cost.

  33. Shadowfire says:

    @The Bigger Unit: Our Telxons store all product information… unit, size, distributor, and price. When we have a power outage, we use those to look up prices, then write the prices on a paper bag to get the total. Just like the old days. ;-)

    I’m not sure if Whole Foods use the same Telxons, but I’m sure they do.

  34. savdavid says:

    What a great thing to read! In this world where most businesses try to find any and every excuse to screw the consumer for short-term profits here is guy who thinks in the long-term. Thanks for posting that.

  35. speedwell (propagandist and secular snarkist) says:

    Hey, I worked in retail for a long time when I was starting out, and I would have been so thrilled to have been part of this as a cashier. The associate manager probably helped his retention rate, too. You really can’t overestimate this gesture’s value to his store and to the corporation on all sorts of fronts.

  36. HalOfBorg says:

    @AndyMan1:
    What good would pen and paper or a mechanical register be?? How many items in stores have price tags any more? (probably only this place and BigLots)UPC/Bar codes, how ya gonna scan the barcodes?

    Need a hand held unit to read those with an up to date database of prices. Just for emergencies.

    Or a big list of prices, updated all the time, just for emergencies.

    Nah – $4,000 is a LOT less than those would cost.

  37. peggyhill says:

    Thanks Whole Paycheck! Happy Holidays!

  38. peggyhill says:

    Also, look at this as a dividend….

  39. MystiMel says:

    It’s happened at my school (CSULB’s) convenience store before. We let the people who had things and were in line or in the store when the power went out to take their things after our manager had told us to. Then we closed the store until everything was fixed. Another time there was a really huge line for textbooks in our bookstorw and all the registers went down. Textbooks are mucho$$ so obviously we can’t really afford to give tons of those away, so the managers went in the back and got some school logo stuff from the warehouse and started having a quiz question = prize game throughout the line. We also had movies running on TVs above the line. People were entertained and didn’t mind the delay as much, sadly some people were too delayed and had to put the books back or on hold so they could get to a class, but nobody was horribly unhappy for it.

  40. chersolly says:

    I can easily drop $$$ at WF. How come this never happened to me!

  41. coren says:

    Yeah, in a grocery store, I think 3 percent profit per receipt might be typical..which if you think about say, a 50 dollar grocery receipt, is only a buck fifty. So if you’re talking about 4,000 bucks, that might be like 133,000 dollars of actual sales to get that much profit. (I may be off percentage wise, but grocery stores make their money in volume of sales rather than selling big ticket items, obviously). I don’t know how close this is to what Whole Foods does in terms of a profit margin, but I don’t think any grocery store gets more than about 8 percent profit on their sales.

    And it isn’t as if they had much choice..without backing people up to ridiculous lengths while they send people running around the stores with cell phones or walky talkies to do price lookups. Can you imagine how much “fun” that would be?

  42. Death says:

    God knows the poor low-income shoppers of Whole foods desperately needed a break, what with the escalating cost of brie and all…

    Still, a nice move on their part.

  43. HungryGrrl says:

    I think people are missing a big point here- it wasn’t that the store couldn’t calculate what the totals were with a pocket calculator, the problem is that MOST CUSTOMERS DON’T CARRY CASH, and they couldn’t run the credit cards with the system down.

  44. shanaynay says:

    @HungryGrrl. Indeed. People, it’s the happy happy holiday season. Don’t be such cranky bastards.

  45. Katharine says:

    That is really going to screw up inventory. Also how did they calculate the money lost if really they had no idea what was going out the door?

  46. infinitemojo says:

    Whoohoo! Nice way to handle it Whole Foods.

    All of you cranky bastards, don’t be jealous because this didn’t happen to you.

  47. AlphaWolf says:

    It was definitely worth $4,000 in advertising.

    Nice to hear a good story about a retailer for once.

  48. greensanta says:

    What strikes me the most is the national effect of this one associate manager’s action. Because this story was reported by Christine OConnell, one of the positively affected customers, it reached out all over the web.

    So WF should be sending out kudos to her for being savvy enough to drop a dime to the consumerist at the Hartford Courant newspaper.

    When I talked to a few of my friends about it (who ordinarily don’t shop at WF) there was a definite admiration in their tone, and I’ve no doubt that they will find their way to WF sometime soon.

    So yeah, it may have cost the Hartford WF $4k, but all 270 WF stores will probably feel the positive effect soon.

    @DAK: I also wonder if this wasn’t more a Wild Oats thing, rather than a Whole Foods thing–but it doesn’t so much matter now, as the ethos will carry forward at those converted stores for some time to come.

  49. edwardso says:

    @DAK: no wild oats I worked in ever did anything like that

  50. aquanetta says:

    $4000 of groceries at Whole Foods means like 20 whole minutes of downtime.

  51. DAK says:

    @edwardso: I figured it was a long shot, but so is assuming that anything good ever came out of a Whole Foods.

    For those of you lucky enough to be near one, go to Wegman’s instead (New York based regional chain). Better quality and selection than Whole Foods, cheaper prices, and none of the pretentiousness.

  52. synergy says:

    @Katharine: Agreed.

    It is probably some cheap marketing and/or can be written off as charity or a giveaway come tax time.

    Speaking of which:

    Consumerist articles on tax help and loopholes in 3…2…1…

  53. levenhopper says:

    @MystiMel:
    If your power was out, how did you have TVs running?

  54. HungryGrrl says:

    Mystimel actually said “the registers went down” which sounds like a computer problem or a phone problem, not the power going out.

    The power went out a few times when I was a grocery cashier, back in the day (a whopping 10 years ago or so)… but the store had a generator, so the lights would go out, everyone would go “oooh!” and then 20 seconds later they’d come back. The registers would all have to be restarted and everything rescanned, but it wasn’t too bad. However, when the phone lines went down, we couldn’t process any credit cards and people were SOL. I worked there when that satellite went down and lots of people’s cell phones died (remember that?) and we had no Muzak for weeks because it was stallite radio. Instead the owner brought in a bunch of Frank Sinatra tapes. :)

  55. jooverz says:

    Safeway would NEVER do that.

  56. LibidinousSlut says:

    @DAK: I have dreams about wegmans (I went to undergrad in upstate new york); it would be almost worth moving into a wegmans zone to be near a wegmans. almost.

  57. Frantz says:

    . All-in-all, Whole Foods is a classy outfit. However, I have one complaint. They have a great coffee bar, or whatever it’s called. So, I ordered a latte, or something like that. I got it and then asked where the “Equal” was. “Oh, we don’t have anything like that in the store, it’s not NATURAL.”
    . Well, of course it’s not natural. But, my diabetes is. Another customer behind me offered me a packet of Equal; he had brought his own as he also had diabetes and could not tolerate the “natural” sugar Whole Foods offered.
    . I consider this a pretty serious transgression by Whole Foods. Sugar, carbohydrate, in any form, is pure poison to a diabetic. And Whole Foods forces it upon us. Diabetics are Second-Class customers at Whole Foods.

  58. bombledmonk says:

    @coren:

    Whole Foods and many of the larger organic/natural chain type stores make A LOT more than 3 or even 8% on their groceries. I’ve dealt with some of the wholesellers that ship to these types of stores and they have obscene markup.

  59. HOP says:

    good for that manager…..sounds like a good guy to work for…..has good common sense……

  60. azgirl says:

    I love Whole Foods- they are pricey but I HEART organics and the service is awesome…They really do empower their employees to be humans…( and this is speaking not just as a customer, but as a mystery shopper for them.)

  61. Dan25 says:

    How long until people start taking advantage of this persons good will? I bet it has already happened….

  62. iamme99 says:

    @BOMBLEDMONK – Whole Foods and many of the larger organic/natural chain type stores make A LOT more than 3 or even 8% on their groceries. I’ve dealt with some of the wholesellers that ship to these types of stores and they have obscene markup.

    Yeah. I think those 1-3% numbers for the grocery biz are like the numbers from Hollywood. I don’t think there is a film that has ever made a profit for investors using standard Hollywood accounting rules.

    It all depends on what you are counting and how you are counting.

  63. iamme99 says:

    Ha! And speaking of Hollywood accounting, this just in:
    [www.techcrunch.com]

  64. MystiMel says:

    The power did go out on one occasion, I think in the convenience store portion we just let people take the snacks they had picked out for free, and with the bookstore we ended up having to kick everyone out, but we sold scantrons and pencils outside with cash for people who needed them for tests.
    The television with movies and the time we played games was when the registers went down during the time students all buy their books.

  65. RvLeshrac says:

    @Jesse in Japan:

    That’s actually crap. The profit margins are rather high on individual items.

    Unfortunately, idiocy at the management and ordering levels causes a lot of loss. Overstocking the shelves doesn’t mean the margin on items is low, it just means the people in charge are brainless twits.

    Constantly stocking items which don’t sell at any location and constantly restocking items which don’t sell at specific locations – these are what drive net profit down.

    Supermarkets could charge a lot less and still make substantially more money if they were a bit more intelligent. Trader Joe’s and Aldi are an excellent example of how to properly run a grocery business.

  66. EtherealStrife says:

    @HungryGrrl: Some stores still carry the old hand swipers as backup. Insert paper. Insert card. *crunch crunch*. At office depot the networked POS (point of sale) system was always going down, requiring us to use the funky card cruncher. To the untrained they’re almost as slow as paying with a check. :-

  67. redx says:

    management must be pissed but they cant say anything because its already done and if they do, it turns good PR into bad PR.

  68. Mary says:

    I heard a similar story about a Harris Teeter, years ago. It’s one of the reasons I continue to shop there.

    Making good choices and helping out customers is generally the right way to go. Kudoos to this manager, she deserves a raise.

  69. SpdRacer says:

    @MystiMel: Where in the hell did you go to school that you had to pay for scantron sheets?

  70. EtherealStrife says:

    @SpdRacer: Most US colleges and universities, AFAIK. It’s one of those great mysteries. Thousands in tuition and they can’t afford the $15 it would cost to supply the whole class with scantrons. Same story for blue books. FTR I went to UCI and everyone I know who went elsewhere was in the same boat. It’s a popular rant.