What Are Supermarket "Dark Stores"?
While grocery shopping counts as an "essential errand" during stay-at-home and shelter-in-place orders, per the CDC, more shoppers than ever are turning to online grocery orders to limit supermarket crowding and reduce risk of spreading or acquiring the coronavirus.
As a result, many brick-and-mortar supermarkets are being transformed into "dark stores." That means the physical store location is closed to the public and only accessed by a limited supermarket staff and shoppers working for online grocery services.
This pivot began pre-pandemic at stores across the country like Kroger, Stop & Shop, Meijer and Hy-Vee, but it has really ramped up during the coronavirus as supermarkets find themselves overwhelmed with the quantity of online order requests. Retailers appreciate the strategy as a way to handle that demand, still generate income and serve their community while being able to limit capacity in their stores, control stock better (AKA limit panic-buying) and keep the majority of the staff employed.
At Giant Eagle's dark store in Akron, Ohio, staff are well-stocked with hand sanitizer and practice social distancing. They print orders, fill carts, then bag the groceries. For curbside pickup, customers stay in their cars while staff loads them in the trunk or back seat, and for delivery, drivers place bagged food on the doorstep, knock and walk away.
Now Whole Foods Market and Amazon are joining the club. Some locations are going partially dark, closing early or opening late to allow more time to handle virtual orders. And a Woodland Hills, California Amazon store, which originally planned to open as a normal market in February, will stay completely dark for the time being. That location will act as a temporary online-only fulfillment center, reports Stephenie Landry, the company's vice president of grocery.
Beyond allocating more fulfillment space to try to keep up with more online orders, Amazon and Whole Foods will soon launch a waitlist for dedicated shopping and delivery time. They've increased online order capacity by 60% and are turning to dark stores and these alternate strategies to attempt to keep pantries stocked throughout the pandemic.
As supermarkets are rapidly adjusting to try to keep up with increased demand for everything from toilet paper to yeast, call your local store to confirm their hours and online shopping opportunities.