October 26, 2020
6 min read

Dark Stores Bring New Light to Grocery Efficiency

Dark stores are quickly becoming a must-have for grocers looking to improve efficiency and customer service in today’s market. A recent survey found that 68% of shoppers purchased groceries online for curbside pickup or delivery during the pandemic. This surge in online shopping has led many stores to temporarily turn dark, while grocers like Walmart, Albertsons, Stop & Shop and more have already dedicated permanent spaces as “dark stores” - all in the name of improving customer service.

Dark stores are physical stores that have been turned into fulfillment centers in highly populated areas to shorten delivery times. They provide more convenient shopping experiences for consumers and enable retailers to more effectively deal with the sharply increased volume of e-commerce orders. As stores continue to limit the number of in-store customers and enforce social distancing, online shopping will only continue to grow. Dark stores can ease the burden as retailers strive to offer the fast, easy delivery options that shoppers expect.

Strategic inventory decisions

In addition to the benefits of improving last-mile delivery, dark stores can help grocers improve their inventory management. They are a cost-effective way to give retailers the ability to make more strategic inventory choices by location. Access to robust POS and promotion redemption data can help grocers understand order quantities. And with omnichannel technology that bridges the gap between the ERP system across headquarters and store-level processes, employees can effectively and efficiently handle merchandise needs. 

To do this, it’s important that grocers have access to accurate inventory data in real time. Otherwise, shoppers looking to place orders online may be faced with out of stocks and increased order substitutions. 

Dark stores can also help reduce food waste. If inventory in a dark store shows a surplus on perishable items, artificial intelligence can be used to dynamically price these products to incentivize shoppers to purchase these items.

Perfecting the last mile

As discussed earlier, the main benefit of dark stores is to more effectively manage the demand for online grocery orders, whether they are delivered to a shopper’s doorstep or via curbside. What’s more, dark stores eliminate the need for pickers to be in physical stores, which can decrease the experience for customers who choose to shop in a traditional brick-and-mortar store.

In terms of omnichannel strategy, to maximize curbside efforts, it’s important to have a program that effectively communicates the process to shoppers. Whether that’s an app, via email or QR code, explaining the check-in process for pickup is critical. Grocers should also leverage consumer and store inventory information to deliver personalized recommendations and offers for these shoppers.

Ensure dark store efficiency

Online grocery is showing no signs of slowing down. Among those shopping online for groceries, 81% plan to continue the practice once the pandemic passes. To accommodate this continuing demand, the number of dark stores will only continue to grow.

Ensure that your store efficiency and inventory management processes are up to par with today’s shopper as they order groceries online, via curbside or BOPIS.