Whole Foods Christmas Trees ended our family tradition

Thanksgiving is over. That means for many people, it’s Christmas. For us, it means it’s time for our family tradition of hunting for our perfect Christmas tree at a tree farm.

It’s something we enjoyed doing for many years… until something happened to us this year.

We were at our local Whole Foods Market, shopping for more expensive foods to feed our son than we’d buy for ourselves, when we spotted something we didn’t notice last year: Christmas Trees! Handsome-looking ones too. Voluptuous, tall, thick and green.

They looked like the ones we’d only find after hiking well off the trails til our shoes were muddy and our clothes soaked with dew and sap.

For $39.99! Even the big ones! Cheaper than the trees from the farms — which, by the way, we had to drive 1 hour to, up a narrow and twisty road; then slog around, find the tree, hack it down, toss it on our car and haul it back… ourselves… while wrangling our dog who likes to terrorize children.

Meanwhile over here, there was even a cheerful guy with a chainsaw, trimming the trees for everyone, AND stuffing them into nets for free!

Just like that, our family tradition was no more. But we loved it. We convinced ourselves our son probably wasn’t old enough to appreciate the tree farm yet, and decided to return to pick up our tree here tomorrow.

Why is an upscale grocery store selling cheap Christmas Trees?

Because they’re not in the business of selling Christmas Trees. They’re in the business of getting you to buy from their stores. The trees are a Christmas promotion to bring people to their stores — without lowering prices. (For many reasons why you should never lower prices, see here .) It doesn’t matter if they don’t make money on the trees, or even lose money — as long as offering the Christmas Trees increases overall profits.

How could they do better? They could have tested a higher price. A price of $39.99 in Silicon Valley is low enough to attract everyone, including people who wouldn’t ever want to shop at Whole Foods. A higher price could weed them out, allow them get more money for each tree, deal with fewer trees, and only attract people who return the most value.

Besides, there was no reason to be cheaper than the tree farms. Even matching their price would be a valuable proposition, since Whole Foods offered convenience and speed.

A timely promotion that makes it easy for your customers to check something off the top of their “To Do” list is a good way to attract them to you, without discounting your prices.

Inside, you’ll find them doing many clever things that most supermarkets don’t. Can you spot one in this next picture?

Have you seen any other supermarket do this? Keep your eyes peeled the next time you’re grocery shopping.

This is also known as the “cross-sell”. Or a version of, “Would you like some fries with that?” Most places organize their products by category, which is fine in general, but the problem is you never shop by category.

In reality, you always start with a problem like, “I need to buy stuff to make dinner with.” Or, “I want to make mashed potatoes.” Most stores arrange stuff by category, and leave it up to you to run around to hunt for what you need. Whenever they do that, most people typically pick up the bare minimum, and even forget an item or two.

But, if you know your customers like to make mashed potatoes with potatoes, you can be helpful and offer them potato mashers, which gives them a chance to go, “Why thank you… the masher I have at home was a pain in the ass the last time… this one looks better.”

In this case, Whole Foods would make an additional $10 sale along with the potatoes (quadrupling the transaction size), which it probably wouldn’t have gotten if they left the mashers in the who-knows-where aisle.

Rather than obsessing over what you want to sell, think about what problem your customers are trying to solve. Then make it easy — offer them everything they might need to solve it.

Happy holiday decorating!

P.S. – the thing I can’t figure out is the tree stand. Every Christmas, I stab, jam and curse the tree into ours. The best strategy I’ve come up with is to screw the damned thing into the base of the tree and stand the tree up. Then, whichever way it leans, I kick and bash the mangled legs until the tree stands upright without falling over. I’m not doing it right, but every year I am just seconds from tossing it over the moon. This year, my son heard the banging and walked out to try to help me, which fizzled out my rage.

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