Metric system

Whole Foods workers say tracking and measuring system is like Amazon’s

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  • Amazon bought Whole Foods in 2017 and slowly made changes to the grocery chain.
  • Tracking techniques used in Amazon warehouses are trickling down to Whole Foods, workers say.
  • Five shoppers working at Whole Foods in various states spoke with Insider about their experiences.

Amazon tracks the productivity of employees filling Whole Foods online orders with systems similar to those used in the tech giant’s warehouses, employees say. It’s the latest sign of Amazon’s growing influence over the grocery chain it acquired in 2017.

The company tracks how many units these workers – called “shoppers” – pick per hour, how quickly they respond to requests and how many items an order has out of stock, according to five shoppers who have spoke with Insider.

Whole Foods’ picking system exhibits characteristics of approaches that have been honed in warehouses like Amazon’s, said Beth Gutelius, research director at the Center for Urban Economic Development at the University of Illinois at Chicago. , who studied Amazon.

Amazon warehouse workers have previously told Insider and others that they are under “intense pressure” to meet unrealistic goals and face close scrutiny from managers and automated systems.

“This is an example where we’re starting to see the learnings that were developed in warehouses spill over into other industries,” Gutelius said. “Amazon’s biggest competitive advantage has been its ability to monitor its workforce and push it to work faster.”

The buyers who spoke with Insider worked at Whole Foods in the United States. These buyers spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of losing their jobs, but their identities are known to Insider. The customer management structure varies by store. Four of those shoppers were employed directly by Amazon, while one was employed by Whole Foods.

Amazon and Whole Foods declined to comment for this story.

“It makes you feel less like a person”

At Whole Foods, shoppers arrive for their shifts and log into an app on Amazon-provided smartphones, which they use to scan barcodes on items and bag them for customers. The app allows shoppers to communicate with customers about replacements if an item is out of stock and see how many orders are waiting to be filled in the queue.

Shoppers are expected to hit a certain number of select items per hour, which is calculated on a 30-day moving average and called the “UPH” score – or units per hour.

Shoppers said stores had varying expectations for what would be considered a strong UPH. Some shoppers said they have UPH expectations as low as 50 and others said it was as high as 80.

Other than motivating shoppers to get a higher UPH than their colleagues, the rating system didn’t seem to make much sense. Buyers told Insider they haven’t heard of anyone being fired for falling short of expectations.

“You don’t make a penny more if you do 90 units per hour versus 40 units per hour,” said one employee from Pennsylvania.

The measures did not appear to be related to compensation or punishment in grocery stores, but still added to the pressure felt by shoppers. The Pennsylvania buyer said he tried to limit his trips to the bathroom to one or two minutes so his average score wouldn’t be affected.

Two shoppers said their store managers grade employees and print out UPH scores to display in break areas where co-workers would see them.

“It makes you feel less like a person if you don’t get that high number,” one North Carolina employee told Insider.

An Amazon Prime pickup sign in a Whole Foods

An Amazon Prime pickup sign at a Whole Foods.

Smith Collection/Gado / Contributor

“Everything you click and touch is tracked by Amazon”

Amazon has faced pushback over its approach to measuring the performance of delivery providers and company employees, among other people who work in or with the company.

Company employees, including those working in the division that oversees Whole Foods and Amazon Fresh, have pushed back against a review system they say does not clearly link their performance to pay. Fresh team employees said they face a “toxic” work culture.

Still, Amazon faces pressure to be “consistently faster” than rivals when it comes to grocery delivery, said Celia Van Wickel, senior director of digital commerce at Kantar. Productivity metrics and automated pushes are ways to keep the cost of delivery low, she said.

“The faster you can be to pick up an order, the more profitable it will be for the business,” Van Wickel said.

“We like to meet customers where they are and when they need something, and we’re constantly working on speed,” Brian Olsavsky, Amazon’s chief financial officer, told analysts on the earnings call. Amazon’s fourth quarter on Thursday.

Amazon began offering two-hour delivery from Whole Foods as a benefit for its Prime members in 2018. In the fall, it added a $10 fee to all orders scheduled for delivery within one hour. or two hours in addition to the month or year. costs.

Amazon last week raised the cost of a Prime subscription for the third time in eight years, adding pressure to deliver orders on time and prove to customers that the cost of a subscription is worth it.

A portion of that Prime fee will go towards expedited delivery, including one- and two-hour grocery delivery.

The pressure is on Whole Foods as Amazon’s other grocery business, Amazon Fresh, struggles to keep up with competitors, employees say. Amazon has also lagged behind its internal goals of opening cashier-less Fresh stores.

At Whole Foods, shoppers are expected to quickly accept an order and start working on selecting items for it when it enters their queue, two shoppers said. If they don’t respond to the new command within about a minute, they’ll receive a robocall letting them know they have a notification. Buyers are allowed to refuse orders if they’re on a break or working on other tasks, but will be written off if they refuse orders too often, the Pennsylvania buyer said.

At Whole Foods, buyers are also tracked by the number of out-of-stock items in a particular order. If they hit a certain threshold of non-stock items — which has been happening more often lately, as stores have faced supply chain issues — they have to ask a Whole Foods employee to backcheck each out-of-stock item and scan a QR code on the shopper’s app to verify they’ve done so.

A shopper from Oregon described a constant feeling that Amazon was watching closely.

“Everything you click and touch is tracked by Amazon and is important to Amazon in some way,” they said.

Are you an Amazon or Whole Foods employee and have ideas to share? Do you have any advice? Contact this reporter by email at or via the Signal encrypted messaging app at 808-854-4501. See Insider’s source guide for suggestions on sharing information safely.