Amazon returns. That's how they get you.

It had probably been over a decade since I'd set foot in a Whole Foods until I had to return a baking dish and was exposed to another ridiculous level of Amazon convenience. To return an item, you can bring it to any Whole Foods, scan a QR code, and they will take care of it for you. You don't even have to bring a box. And I'd sure as hell rather drive 10 minutes to Whole Foods than even begin to think of where to find a printer. It's 100% free. It's genius.

And I hate to say it, but once I stepped inside, I was a little bit captivated. Whole Foods is easily the prettiest grocery store I've ever been in. It's also fairly spacious, offering plenty of room around the produce islands and baked goods.

The bakery section of Whole Foods. Big typography on the wall says "SWEETS".

However, they also sometimes put form over function. For example, most of the aisles are just a little over six feet tall, and the signs that tell you what's on each aisle are in the middle of the aisle. It looks great, but it's much harder to go past the aisles and find the one you need when you have to look down each one to see the signs.

The other thing that stands out when you walk in is that Whole Foods has not one but several IKEA-like restaurants in-store that are also gorgeous. Considering it now I can probably think of more grocery stores that serve hot food inside than ones that don't, but these remind me of IKEA because they take up considerable real estate and as far as I can tell are completely first-party-operated.

You can see some of what's on sale by looking at the app or the website. There is no paper ad, and most of the sales are exclusive to Amazon Prime members. You can verify your Prime status by scanning a QR code which is also in the app. These are basically the only two things the app does. When I ask myself if Amazon is taking full advantage of what they have with Whole Foods, my answer is an obvious no because of this embarrassingly barebones app. When I think of Amazon running a grocery store, I would expect them to at least be on the level of Target, which tells you what aisle items are on through the app and in-store tablets. The Whole Foods app doesn't let you see their products at all. In fact, the thing that feels the most futuristic about Whole Foods is that their mobile payments system actually works and doesn't seem to exist just to embarrass techies.

The Amazon Locker in the entrance of Whole Foods

The other main question I had about Whole Foods was this: is it still a specialty store? I went today to buy ingredients for a spaghetti carbonara, and my litmus test for variety of groceries was the guanciale, which they did not have. My lack of prior experience with Whole Foods makes it hard to say if they're losing their specialty items or not, but I can find people online saying they have it, so I think it is something they recently stopped carrying.

However, I don't think "grocery store run by Amazon" paints an accurate picture of what they have, either. They still claim to disallow high-fructose corn syrup, artificial sweeteners, and other things, and the difference in their snack selection compared to other grocery stores is noticeable.

The cereal aisle at Whole Foods. Honey Nut Cheerios are probably the sugariest thing here.

But make no mistake, you can absolutely indulge at a Whole Foods. The store has plenty of chips, cookies, and chocolaty shit trail mix. Depending on what you're after, their selection might be preferable to what you'd find at a normal grocery store.

The chip aisle at Whole Foods

So really, I wouldn't look at Whole Foods as the store that's going to replace your grocery store, but I do see it as a very powerful arrow in Amazon's global takeover quiver. And that's the biggest negative I have for Whole Foods. Yes, chains like Walmart have many horrible effects on society and the planet, but Amazon is the company that really feels like it's bringing about the end times. For one thing, I would already call Amazon a more ubiquitous part of our culture than any of those stores, and if it's not now it will be soon. They move extremely fast and have already made Jeff Bezos the richest person alive, and they've done a lot of damage along the way. And yeah, this all started with me returning something I bought from them, so I'm part of it, too.

Even without that major factor, it's still not good enough to be somewhere I go regularly. It is beaten by Target in shopping experience, and for me, it's beaten by almost any other grocery store in inventory.