Whole Foods' Prime discounts let Amazon ask its most important question to customers in person

  • Amazon has expanded its Whole Foods discounts, and it's designed to place Prime front and center.

  • Cashiers now ask each customer if they're a Prime member upon checkout, and the stores are covered with signs advertising the sales.

  • It marks the first time that Prime, Amazon's most important customer offering, has jumped offline, and it provides another avenue for growth for the service.

Amazon is giving its Prime membership prime treatment as it rolls out discounts across Whole Foods stores.

The stores are now staging grounds for Prime membership, filled to the brim with in-store advertisements showing the latest deals that are available only for Prime members. Workers wear blue Prime aprons advertising the membership, and cashiers make a point of asking every single customer if they are Prime members so that they can scan the code for discounts at checkout.

Asking customers directly, in person, if they're part of the Prime program is something Amazon has never been able to do before. That changes the game, opening a new avenue of potential growth for the service.

While all these materials and techniques are ostensibly advertising the Prime deals, they also necessarily function as advertisements for Prime itself — and only Prime.

The most obvious case is the Prime signup table, where workers ask Whole Foods customers if they're Prime members. If they're not members, they get little pamphlets advertising all the benefits of Prime.

These employees function as Prime evangelists, zeroing in on shoppers who say they don't have Prime or haven't heard of it, pulling them aside to chat free, two-day shipping.

Having Prime in Whole Foods gives it a foothold in the physical world as the service becomes more vital to Amazon's business. Prime customers are by far Amazon's most loyal, buying more stuff more often, so it makes sense that the company would want to keep customers within the Prime ecosystem and expand the number of people the service reaches.

Though analysts estimate that about 75% of Whole Foods customers already have access to Prime, that other 25% is ripe for the picking as some indicators see Prime membership growth slowing in the US.

Additional reporting by Hayley Peterson.

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