At Whole Foods, mobile is a work in progress

Litchfield Park, AZ—While some retailers have rushed to create, and re-create apps, Whole Foods (NASDAQ:WFM) is taking the slow and steady approach.

The natural and organic foods grocer currently has a limited shopper-facing mobile presence, and is still trying to determine the best way to go to market in this channel, according to Jeff Wilson, senior product manager, mobile.

"Mobile is a mirror of the customer lifestyle and brand," he told attendees at the Mobile Shopping Summit Oct. 7. "My mobile experience has no mobile in it whatsoever. It's just physical and everything physical is supported by digital. The question is, how to bring the physical experience into the phone or home without it being taken over by the digital?"

Currently Whole Foods offers recipes via a mobile app and is grappling with how to deliver value to shoppers on the platform. The retailer has spent the last few years trying to get away from its "Whole Paycheck" image, building value-priced private label lines, adjusting pricing and entering underserved lower-income markets.

And the retailer is seeing results, even beating competitors on price. A recent report by Bloomberg found that Whole Foods actually had the lowest price for an average shopping basket in New York City compared to comparable markets.

Shoppers are also responding. When queried about what they want from a Whole Foods app, most respond with "coupons, deals, sales and discounts," said Wilson.

But how long can Whole Foods study the market and its shopper? How slow is too slow before the retailer loses the mobile savvy customer?

Wilson contends the more important thing for the retailer is to have a strong brand that in turn breeds customer loyalty: "People have a short memory if you have a strong brand."

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