The coronavirus pandemic has turned life as we know it upside down. Amidst panic buying, stock-piling and the continued rise of online grocery shopping, we look at the concept of dark stores and consider the benefits of this model during these challenging times.
What Is a Dark Store?
A dark store is a retail distribution centre that solely caters to online shopping. This large warehouse looks eerily similar to a normal grocery store. However, it’s not open to the public; instead, it’s primarily used as a collect and click service as well as an order fulfilment platform.
Its quick and precise layout was created in response to in-store workers fulfilling online orders and competing with in-store customers for space. With their large trolleys, the aisles started to become too congested for customers to find what they needed. Instead, in a dark store, everything is organized specifically for distribution purposes.
A dark store operates simply after an order is placed through an online service. Once it’s processed online, it’s sent to the shop floor. The order is then routed according to the shop’s layout for favourable picking. Once an order is fulfilled, it’s then set out to be delivered in a timely manner.
The Benefits of Dark Stores
A dark store has many benefits that can help keep operations running smoothly. And as we face the challenges of COVID-19, a dark store or semi-dark store can help retailers utilise their real estate and perhaps help minimise certain last mile challenges. Here are a few reasons why the dark store can be a key strategy for meeting today’s challenges and possibly beyond.
With the application of new technology and innovative rugged hardware such as pick and pack stations, dark stores are able to increase the number of orders picked per hour. Furthermore, they can open 24/7 because they are not restricted by normal store opening hours and can fulfil orders around a more optimised schedule.
Range of Items
Unlike a traditional store, a dark store has a range of items. From grocery to plasters, a dark store has it all. Since it’s usually the size of about 200,000 square feet, it can provide storage for many items for an extended period of time.
Since their operations are dedicated to fulfilling online orders, a dark store has a precise vision of stock levels. Thus, they have better product availability since they are actively aware of their stock and will replenish it when needed.
Welcome to the age of outsourced grocery shopping
In this new world, pickers carrying hand-held devices move rapidly from aisle to aisle doing the weekly grocery shopping for complete strangers. And in today’s world where social distancing is necessary, it might just be one of many essential solutions grocery retailers need to explore.