I came across this little Christmas story via Lars Pinds this morning:
There was no storewide announcement of the problem, or its consequence. Cashiers simply told customers there was a computer glitch, bagged their groceries, wished them a happy holiday and a safe drive, and sent them on their way.
Hall estimated that up to $4,000 in groceries were given away before the computers began working again.
She said Donoghue did not consult headquarters before making his decision and said she has heard no negative feedback from the top brass.
"They just totally trust us to do what is right for our customers," she said.
If this story spreads (as some blog stories do) then someone will probably do the math and work out that the ROI on that $4000 in terms of marketing spend is astronomical. But in doing so they will have completely missed the point. Expressions of love are their own reward... they have traction and power because they are genuine, spontaneous and without ulterior motive. If this act had been contrived it would go nowhere.
After reading so much up-yer-bum stuff about redefining marketing for this super connected world of ours, this story is so refreshingly simple (and effective). Genuine expressions of caring don't follow any business rules or economic logic. The smallest of gestures can have far greater impact than the grandest plans. And the more freedom we grant ourselves to give unconditionally, the more our capacity for giving increases. There really is no cost to anyone.
I know it can be hard for some to resist trying to capture and then teach these things; but it's only when we try to tie this stuff up neatly into a formula, a policy or as part of some 'great plan' that it all becomes so elusive and ephemeral.
Whole Foods have done something brave and wonderful, but also something really simple. It is this: They've given their people the freedom to express their own notion of caring without the fear of unintended consequences. And then they've got out of the way. Isn't that all that's needed?
Related Article: Strange Math
Credit: Painting entitled 'Peaceful Co-existence' by Art By Wicks