The idea of Amazon, a company founded 23 years ago on the premise of shopping from the comfort of a computer screen, moving forcefully into the crowded field of brick-and-mortar retail, with its limitations on selection and lack of customer reviews, once seemed ludicrous. But in the past several years, the company has dabbled with stores, opening or planning more than a dozen bookstores around the country.
In Seattle, it recently opened two grocery drive-through stores where customers can pick up online orders, along with a convenience store called Amazon Go that uses sensors and software to let shoppers sail through the exits without visiting a cashier.
The addition of Whole Foods takes Amazon’s physical presence to a new level. The grocery chain includes more than 460 stores in the United States, Canada and Britain with sales of $16 billion in the last fiscal year. Mikey Vu, a partner at the consultancy Bain & Company who is focused on retail, said, “They’re going to be within an hour or 30 minutes of as many people as possible.”
Founded in 1978 in Austin, Tex., Whole Foods is best known for its organic foods, building its brand on healthy eating and fresh, local produce and meats. It has also long been caricatured as “Whole Paycheck” for the high prices it charges for groceries. That conflicts with a core tenet of Amazon, which has made low prices part of its mission as a retailer.
Analysts speculated that Amazon could use its $99-a-year Prime membership service, which gives…