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Do you "Comp-shop"? (esp at Whole Foods)

I went to a Whole Foods yesterday to price out stuff for an event- I was writing down cheese prices, and was asked, then forced, to LEAVE. "We don't permit writing down prices", I was told.

The cheeselady immediately jumped me- "Are you comp-shopping?". I didn't know what she meant- new term for me. But then she sent a young guy to me, telling me I had to leave. I asked- "what's wrong with me trying to price out a party?" He said, "good point...", and I walked away from him. Then he came back with a bigger guy to escort me out. I'm a 5'4" woman. With 2 grown men forcing me from the store, because I wrote down cheese prices.

Um, I'm sorry, in this economy, I'm not allowed to determine which store is going to give me the best bang for my buck, especially since I am planning a pretty large event, and the savings could be substantial?

I have a big event (100+ people) that I have to plan in the area of that WF, but surely won't be buying from them.

Is this "done"?

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  1. I've heard that other stores get cranky as well if they catch someone comp-shopping. Since the price of food among stores can vary wildly, I would recommend using a small recording device and verbally record the prices. If you speak softly, the employees will (hopefully) think you are just talking on your cell phone.

    2 Replies
    1. re: momdgp

      You can also memorize a few prices and run to the bathroom to write them down, or walk to another aisle and jot them down on the shopping list.

      Yes it's done.

      But if you're price shopping, I can't imagine why you'd be in Whole Paycheck in the first place.

      1. re: mlgb

        mlgb- I wanted some nice higher end cheeses, I want the event to be fairly swank- The local grocery has remodeled and upgraded their cheese dept. considerably, and I wanted to see how they compared to the WF. WF was lower on a couple of items, actually, I was surprised.

        It was pretty odd to be escorted from the store because I'm trying to find a better deal for myself.

    2. That is outrageous. Jfood opened this thread because he did not know what you meant in the title.

      He would definitely call the Corp HQ on this.

      Btw - jfood uses his blackberry when he is taking notes in a restaurant or prices in a store. Everyone thinks he is just sending emails. And he especially enjoys pissing the people off at the next table who think he is being an ingrate for daring to use his blackberry in a restaurant. One day he will take their picture when they give him "that look."

      2 Replies
      1. re: jfood

        Some employees may think jfood is "mystery shopping" and give him better service. Especially if he stares at nametags and asks lots of questions.

        1. re: jfood

          As is often the case, I again agree entirely with jfood. I would definitely call corporate HQ _and_ I'd be certain to specify that there seemed to be some physical intimidation at the very least implied. That's unconscionable.

          This has nothing to do with today's economy or anything else, by the way, its just flat out unacceptable for the simple reason that you're a person and should be treated with more respect. Even if it is perfectly within their rights to prevent you from writing down prices, any sort of physical threat, actual or implied, is far out of bounds.

        2. I can see their wanting to protect themselves against corporate espionage (sounds silly even as I type it) but it's private property and they can be a-holes if they want to. A bit of an extreme reaction.

          3 Replies
          1. re: ferret

            >>I can see their wanting to protect themselves against corporate espionage (sounds silly even as I type it)<<

            EVERYBODY DOES IT.

            The local Jewel manager spends at least an hour a week in the local Dominicks store a week. He also pretty much knows how they are doing.

            Target managers shop Walmart and Walmart managers shop Target.

            Locally, Costco drops their gas prices within an hour of a Sams Club price drop.

            Of course those folks are smart enough not to record it using a notepad. most of them prefer a small recorder in the pocket.

            If they get "caught", they just leave (and send someone else if needed.

            1. re: jlawrence01

              When I was in the grocery business my manager frequently sent me to the competitors to check prices. We all knew each other, at least by sight. As a courtesy we would check in with the MOD, they would say hello, we would jot down our prices, then they would make a copy of our price sheet...There were representatives from 4 -5 chains in the area who would "shop" each other at least monthly. There was never a problem!

              The behavior of that Whole Foods (to the OP) was crazy! I've been in some stores where they will print out a deli price sticker to provide the ingredient list for a customer who is trying to reproduce a recipe! You should call their corporate office and complain.

              1. re: meatn3

                My wife's assignment when she was in retail was not only to comp shop the competition BUT to buy them "out of stock" if the price was better on certain HBA items.

                Nowadays, it is a lot easier.

          2. Well, I understand being touchy but this goes above and beyond.

            Here's a very time consuming and irritating way to "Comp shop."
            Make a list (all non perishables)
            Buy everything on the list
            Make a copy of the receipt
            Take everything back to the store
            Repeat at each store you'd like to "comp shop"
            Compare prices from the receipt copies.

            Just an idea from a reactionary who is really bugged by the thought of being bounced from a store for comparing prices. </snit>

            1. Sounds like they're getting a bit touchy about their Whole Paycheck reputation. Stupid. This kind of thing doesn't help matters.

              I guarantee you they have people going out to other stores to see the prices of certain things. Example: I don't know if Trader Joe's is still doing it, but at one time they carried a certain scent of Kiss My Face bath wash. Just one scent/flavor/whatever though. At Whole Foods they carry a lot more of that brand. The one scent that TJ's was carrying was priced the same or lower at WF. Every other flavor of the exact same product was priced *several dollars* more per bottle. Funny stuff. I dunno why they wanted to make it that obvious that they were ripping you off on that stuff, but clearly they did it because of the price over at TJ's.

              So I guess they might have been worried you are the competition. But it doesn't make much sense to tell customers to take a hike when they're trying to price out their party supplies. You have a budget, you want to see what fits into it. Totally unreasonable to not let you do this! Write a snail mail letter to CEO John Mackey. The address in Texas is on this page: http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/compa...

              2 Replies
              1. re: CrazyOne

                My experience with Whole Paycheck is that they don't gave a rat's behind about the customer. Writing a letter, complaining to the manager...unlikely to get any sort of response.

                Price checking the competition is common practice. Often they'll hire someone posing as a regular customer so that's why they were unsympathetic to any explanation that you might have.

                1. re: CrazyOne

                  I agree that WF comp shops TJs--when TJ's started opening around Detroit, WF started dropping a LOT of prices on comparable items like Kashi cereals, milk, etc. And the 365 stuff generally is close in price to TJ products where they are similar.

                  If I were charged with comparison shopping a competitor, I'd just buy the products I wanted and expense them :) And it's not unreasonable behavior as a consumer to compile a list of products & prices for an upcoming event. I think they must be nucking futz to have done this--better to allow a competitor to know your prices (because they will know one way or another) than to alienate a customer.

                  Whatever happened to the poster "whole value"? Chime in, let us know what's up with this policy.

                2. They may have thought you were from another retailers. Most retailers ty to beat eachother on price and the only way to know the prices is to "comp shop". That way you staycompeditie. I have been asked to leave in the past also.

                  Here is the trick. Call your own voicemail and start rattling off prices. If someone gives you a funny look (they sometimes do) just smile and keep on truckin. You may even want to drop a "Did you get that?" as if you are speaking to your partner or something. Its a little cloak and dagger but it works.

                  Sams club or Costco would be a wiser bet of you have 100 people to feed.

                  1. FYI: If you're buying cheese for 100, you can probably get better deals than list price...I think at least 10-20% off is reasonable.

                    1. They threw you out? I have never been thrown out of a place, so I'm not sure how I would react but I think my "Jersey" would go up instantly.
                      My nephew was aggressively told to stop taking pictures inside of a local Walmart. Apparently it is prohibited. He takes pictures all the time, and I guess he snapped one of he and his girlfriend as we were walking in. They were in front of my husband and I and suddenly the door greeter began SCREAMING at us. "YOU CAN'T TAKE PICTURES IN HERE! DON'T TAKE ANY PICTURES! YOU CAN'T DO THAT! YOU HAVE TO PUT THAT AWAY!!" at the top of her lungs. The verbal assault took me by surprise.
                      Of course, we could have walked out but I had to ask her who she was screaming at. A crowd gathered. Very obviously the kid did not take a picture of a price tag-the camera was turned around at his own face and we had barely walked in. We were not asked to leave. We stepped to the side and waited for a manager. My husband asked why the no pictures rule, and was only told "we do not allow that".

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: Boccone Dolce

                        Stores are very protective of their intellectual property (as silly as it sounds to say that about WalMart). I worked for a large retailer many years ago and they were concerned that competitors would send people over to photograph department layouts, etc. (never mind that they did the very same thing surreptitiously at competing stores). Obviously nothing is that "secret" in a store that thousands of people may visit every day, but if you do it overtly they will react and treat you like a trespasser.

                        1. re: Boccone Dolce

                          This is fairly standard at most retail places. Part of the reason is so management is notified immediately if the press are there. Otherwise sensitive questions might be answered by hourly staff not authorized to officially comment...

                        2. This is terrible. You'd think that w/all their recent problems, they would be more customer oriented. I have comp-shoped (didn't know that term existed 'till now) at WF and Fairway and my local markets and never thought anything about it. Now I guess I have to be more conscious of the comp-shop police.

                          1. I used to work in a supermarket many years ago and it's funny but the exact same situation could've elicited a different response and often does. You're writing down prices, they ask if you were and you confirm, so they threw you out. They had no idea if you were writing down prices. That's why they asked you. They threw you out because they thought you were from the competition.

                            Here's another situation. They see you writing. They ask what you're doing. You answer, "The question is not how I'm doing, but how YOU'RE doing... Sally (read their name badge)". Then, they treat you like a god because they think you're a mystery shopper.

                            Prices are a touchy subject with them and I can see why... Whole Foods is EXPENSIVE, that's why. However, I still shop there, because they have good service and they don't use those damned self-checkout machines. I don't shop at central market, though because they are INSANELY EXPENSIVE. Here's an example that is representative of prices in general across the board. The example I'm using is brewer's yeast.

                            Brewer's Yeast of the exact same brand at;
                            Herb Mart $6
                            Whole Foods $6.50
                            Central Market $8

                            O.K. I can see how it's fair to pay an extra 50 cents for good service, but an extra $2.50?! Come on, that's just corporate greed!

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: lillymao

                              Not subtle enough. Too obvious. More like "How many types of cheese should I get for a party of 40 people?"

                              Actually, I don't believe the cheese people are "shopped" at Whole Foods. The bakery, deli, meat/seafood, health, and produce yes, but cheese no. Maybe that explains the rudeness.

                            2. Caviar_and_chitlins - do you have any small cheese markets in your area? Call them up, tell them the situation, let them know the quantities you're wanting and I bet they would give you great service and beat the prices at WF's just to get your business. Then they can do the "comp-shopping" for you :)

                              1. The whole situation brings to my mind how casinos eject blackjack players who are believed to be counting cards. (Watch what happens if you break out a notepad at any casino table.) Both the comp-shop and casino scenarios involve tactics that are not technically cheating, but management simply won't allow the customers/players to have any informed advantage whatsoever over the house.

                                So I say to the OP: Count your blessings 'cause it could have been a whole lot worse. I mean, did you see what happened to the card counters in Scorsese's "Casino"?

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: Arthur

                                  LOL, I almost mentioned that as a comparison yesterday. Too funny. It is very much like casinos and card counting. Not illegal, just against the establishment's policy.

                                  But in the case of the store I think they're stupid doing this to a legitimate customer just because it might be a competitor. It's not as if the competitors won't eventually get the info they need. It's a store open to the public, not a secret document or something. The pricing info is just not that secret, and chucking people out of the store isn't going to make it any more so.

                                2. I totally agree with you, IMO they have no right to look at your personal items. Like people don't come in with lists, calculators etc. I'd send the CEO a letter stating what happened and how your were treated.

                                  1. Interesting.

                                    As a former retail buyer, (comp) shopping was a regular part of my job. We were frequently asked to leave when we were caught, but knowing we'd been caught playing the game we'd just shrug and go on to another spot. Wal-Mart/Sam's were particularly persnickety about (comp) shoppers in their stores at the time(I retired out of the business about 8 years ago, so this may have changed at other competitors).

                                    I've never, as a consumer, had an issue when I've been shopping, with or without a list. From old habits whenever I go in a store I'm aware of their product line and costs in relation to other stores and might stand and study a product area to get an idea so I can compare against another store for my own use. This is particularly so in the past year with rising food costs. I"ve only written down prices a few times, for the odd party I"ve been asked to do a party for but never had an issue.

                                    I'd probably drop a line to WF Corporate outlining your experience. They should know they lost a customer due to physical intimidation. Be sure to mention to dollar amount of this potential sales(surely feeding 100 people would have been a nice sale for them) as well as your future sales and that of your colleagues. There were better ways for them to handle the situation(someone from the cheese dept perhaps could have asked for your business information and helped you with pricing and selection for your party and a made a bid for your business for instance). Be sure to send the letter on your letterhead.

                                    1. I recently comp-shopped at Cosco, WF, TJ, Fresh Market and two regional grocers in order to submit a proposal for a 125 person catering job. Two of the stores (not WF) realized what I was doing and why due to my questions regarding delivery dates/times. Neither had any issues with it.

                                      1. I'm thinking of going to WF and other places and really obviously making notes, just to see what reactions I get if any.

                                        It's ridiculous. There was probably a competitor in there getting away with it, and the legit customer gets chucked out. Stupid stupid stupid.

                                        1. You know, the thing I find ironic about this? I was in my WF the other day and saw a big ol' poster of of price comparisons they had done with their local competition.

                                          4 Replies
                                          1. re: RobynS

                                            The laws on intellectual property require a high level of vigilance by the owner to preserve rights of ownership, so they have to be draconian sometimes (but maybe not to this extreme).

                                            1. re: ferret

                                              ferret, there are absolutely no intellectual property rights (nor any other kind of property right) in the prices a store charges. The only legal right a store like WF can validly claim here is that the customer is violating a lawful store policy and therefore may be asked to cease-and-desist and/or be ejected from the premises, which are the store's private property.

                                              1. re: Arthur

                                                Not in the prices, but there are proprietary interests in displays, product assortments, etc. They don't know what you're doing in there. As I said earlier, when I worked in retail the managers was rabid about competitors copying displays. It's all basically silly because these are all things that are readily accessible to the public, but once they suspect you're snooping, they'll treat you like a trespasser.

                                                1. re: ferret

                                                  All true but not pertinent here. Go back and read the original post at the top of this page. The OP was merely writing down cheese prices and was thrown out in no uncertain terms just for that.