With Whole Foods, Amazon on collision course with Wal-Mart

Amazon's new storefront

Amazon's new storefront

Inc said on Friday it would buy Whole Foods Market Inc for $13.7 billion ($F28.30b), in an embrace of brick-and-mortar stores that could turn the high-end grocer into a mass-market merchant and upend the already struggling U.S. retail industry.

The deal comes after Seattle-based Amazon spent almost a decade trying to find a way into the fresh-food delivery business through various endeavors, without much success.

Some shoppers worry about the quality of their produce and say they're rather pick their pears themselves. With this deal, Amazon is hoping that more people will associate Amazon.com with being their one-stop destination for all shopping needs - even for fresh vegetables.

Ryne Misso of the research firm Market Track said a customer who buys fresh fruit regularly at Whole Foods might be offered a deal on blenders and serving bowls.

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The merger announcement suggested that Whole Foods would maintain its current operations as before, saying the chain "will continue to operate stores under the Whole Foods Market brand and source from trusted vendors and partners around the world". Grocery chains plunged on Friday - Wal-Mart Stores Inc. fell as much as 7.1 percent, while Kroger Co. tumbled 17 percent - as investors anxious that woes will mount in the increasingly cutthroat industry.

Both companies said there will be no layoffs, but they did not respond to other questions about Amazon's plans for Whole Foods. Additionally, Amazon will soon let all grocery customers use their EBT cards for payment. As Amazon invests in new benefits and makes it easier for everyone to afford, there's a long runway for growth, especially internationally.

"It's an interesting combination", he added of how Whole Foods could add to AmazonFresh.

For now, Bezos has yet to disclose his plan for Whole Foods. Mergermarket's Lim says the first challenge for Amazon is how to successfully run a physical supermarket chain.

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Most concern after the acquisition announcement was for Whole Foods' cashiers. She's skeptical that groceries will go purely online and thinks it'll be more of a hybrid model, where people use a mix of online ordering, restaurants and traditional grocery stores. Pachter said Amazon might get customers over those fears if they know the delivered items are the same as those they would find at the local store. The takeover is slated to be completed in the second half of the year, with Whole Foods' headquarters remaining in Austin, Texas.

"This private corporation already dominates every corner of online commerce, and uses its power to set terms and prices for numerous most important products Americans buy or sell to one another", Lynn said. No official figures are available, but some analysts say Prime has some 80 million subscribers in the U.S. alone.

Wal-Mart, Kroger and others already have seen profits pinched by stepped-up investment in e-commerce, store remodeling, higher wages and low prices, as they try to win customer allegiance and keep shoppers coming back.

There's also the "grocerant" trend - a blending of grocery stores and restaurants.

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The residents group said while it welcomed the funding it had not been consulted before the announcement was made. The protesters were angered when no one from the council came out to address their concerns, reporters said.

"The thinking is it's a very complex area that everybody's been testing and trying to make something work, but they haven't been able to figure it out and that Amazon, now they're here, they can make it work", Agnese said.

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