Acquisition signals big shift ahead for grocers

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Change will be rapid in industry after tech giant buys Whole Foods

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The grocery business is about to change rapidly. Amazon, the one-stop online shop, purchased Whole Foods for $13.7 billion.

In the corporate world, that’s not a huge acquisition. Jeff Bezos, Amazon.com founder and multi-billionaire, is smart and has a vision that is consumer friendly, yet may affect our workforce in non-positive ways. Automation will be a big part of Amazon’s brick-and-mortar stores.

Its stores will rely on consumers who “grab and go,” picking up their items and checking themselves out sans cashier. That sounds awesome in theory. In reality, it will mean a lot less employees.

In 1990, the top three automakers had revenues of $250 billion and employed 1.2 million Americans. In 2014, the top three Silicon Valley firms had $250 billion in revenues and employed 137,000 Americans. Innovation is necessary but not always kind to the working class.

We give Bezos much credit. His purchase of the Washington Post has led to a flood of digital innovation sorely needed by our media industry. It is good to get an outside visionary’s view and his deep pockets seem to allow for near-instant improvements.

We worry somewhat about monopolies and wonder if our federal government is similarly concerned. Consolidation always sounds great for consumers, but soon we are left with a handful of choices about our cell phone service, our cable TV or our retail shopping outlets and most of them put profit over people.

Business columnist Jeff Spross wrote in The Week magazine: “The problem with monopoly power is it undercuts competition: It allows a company to extract more and more wealth from its customers — and from businesses throughout the economy — all while doing less and less to actually add value. Monopoly power is an engine driving inequality and wage stagnation, job destruction and dying towns. It will be a boon for Bezos and his fellow shareholders, and a boondoggle for the rest of us.”

 

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