Jeff Bezos Whole Foods Market “To Do” List

Bezos isn’t killing retail, he’s fixing it.

Jeff Cunningham
5 min readJun 19, 2017


Produce at a Whole Foods store in Berkeley, Calif.

The most important part of Jeff Bezos’ staff meetings is the first 15 minutes when no one speaks.

The briefing memo distributed at the beginning of each meeting may be Amazon lore but it’s not myth. Each person reads it to ensure they understand the problem and what the meeting is meant to achieve. Comments aren’t curveballs or self-serving lobs, but decisive fastballs to the strike zone.

With the announced acquisition of Whole Foods Markets, there is much debate about the true long term meaning of the deal. So I thought it would be interesting to imagine the nature of the discussion where Bezos reveals his intentions:

  1. Team, although I am not a credit hog, I called it, didn’t I? Retail is back and we are reinventing it.
  2. While others are getting out or crashing (did you see Kroger’s earnings?), we are all in. I love to swim upstream. Our competitors are mystified.
  3. Now our challenge is to figure out how to do outrageous things. You know, like we always do.
  4. Jeff giggles hysterically here. Everyone else laughs.
  5. Jeff says, “We are not contrarians, we are Amazonians.” Heads nod.
  6. He continues: Steve Jobs was the first. He got the intersection of online and retail before anyone. He also discovered people love a store that doesn’t resemble a store. It should look like an old fashioned place where friends sell baked goods for charity at blond pine tables inside the elementary school. That’s what an Apple store is designed to look like.
  7. Let me tell you how outrageous Jobs was. He opened the first Apple Store on May 19, 2001 in Tysons Corner and Glendale, CA, and turned retail on its head. Most of the dopes in the business didn’t realize it. They were too busy calculating revenue per square foot.
  8. Then he opened up on Regent Street in London (11,000 visitors the first day) to show this was a global thing. He really was the coolest guy in the world. Until now, of course. Giggles again.
  9. History will note I created the world’s largest bookstore when I started Amazon. Heads nod again.
  10. Barnes and Noble sued me for that. Their lawsuit made us famous. I have to remember to thank them.
  11. Some around the table are asking, who’s Barnes and Noble?
  12. Barron’s called us Amazon dot bomb. I like to think the last reporter turning off the lights as she leaves an empty Dow Jones building will be thinking, wonder if Jeff Bezos has a job for me? More giggles.
  13. No one believed me when I acquired the Washington Post, either. I can hear all those pesky journalists saying I would somehow taint their beautiful prose with my Capitalist ways. Oh, but how they love me now.
  14. One thing I have learned, never give in to ‘confirmatory bias.’ It kills business because the past should inform but never guide the future.
  15. Murmurs of “I hate confirmatory bias.”
  16. I like to think I am a bias killer. I am also a question lover. Are there any here?
  17. In unison: “Yes, why Whole Foods and why now?”
  18. We are moving into outer space with the acquisition of Whole Foods Market, a stunning retail success and a shareholder loser. It was founded by a brilliant entrepreneur, John Mackey (I have a soft spot for that type), on September 20, 1980, in Austin, TX. He made grocery retail into organic cool, display cool, fresh, and interesting to shop, which is key. People have to like to shop not just to buy, if you’re going to thrive in retail.
  19. The problem with Whole Foods isn’t food. It’s people, delivery, and pricing.
  20. Lots of nods.
  21. The retail checkout process is flawed. Surly service, unclear rules for delivery, inconsistent pricing, and merchandise selection that can be awesome at times and spotty at others. They don’t know where they make money or lose it so optimization isn’t easy. For me, fixing that is almost trivial. Hysterical giggles.
  22. But they know how to produce quality. Any retailer who can deliver ramekins of chicken pot pie for $8 is doing something right. That’s the part I don’t know how to do. We will observe them closely.
  23. By the way, when I spoke to the CEO, he told me the chicken is from the front of the house. That means the quality is superb and the price is awesome. Make that predictive and repetitive. Now you know why I like Whole Foods.
  24. Many repeating ‘awesome’.
  25. The stuff that’s wrong with Whole Foods I can fix. It’s now my mind works. I can smell inefficiency in a business and in a person for that matter. As everyone here knows, I don’t know any more about selecting fruit than I do buying old volumes of Shakespeare, but I know how to serve them online and retail for people who want to buy them.
  26. The question everyone is asking, where do we do take Whole Foods? The answer to anyone is obvious. Wherever the customer wants it to go.
  27. That’s why the journalists and pundits are always desperate and why, like the New York Times, they create outright falsehoods about me. They just don’t understand. Sometimes, it’s so bad I hit back, although I would rather ignore.
  28. Everyone nods.
  29. Media isn’t really smart about business and have no idea what people want.
  30. Staff is on their feet now.
  31. Long term plans for Whole Foods. Do not be surprised if you see within a year’s time, the most deliriously efficient and aesthetically pleasing display of merchandise the world has known. But what isn’t known is what we do in customer service will blow this away.
  32. Pricing, merchandise, delivery, service. That will be the new Whole Foods.
  33. Cheering from the team. They are loving it.
  34. Now you will be able to buy indifferently. You will no longer care about hours, delivery, cost, or merchandise. It’s your store.
  35. Can we turn this on its head the way we did at Amazon?
  36. Hands raise, “can I manage that?”
  37. Any questions? This is going to be a great era to be in retail.
  38. They giggle.