Are Dark Stores the Answer to Post COVID-19 Retail?

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Traditional brick and mortar stores struggled considerably throughout 2020 as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. As COVID-19 remains just as prevalent at the start of 2021, it seems that retail could be set to experience further economic impact over the coming year.

As governments repeatedly order retailers to shut up shop in a bid to curb the spread of infection, the answer to post-COVID-19 retail could be in the form of dark stores.

2020 saw a dramatic shift in consumers turning to e-commerce business as coronavirus restrictions forced people across the globe to remain at home. The steep rise in online consumerism could pave the way for an increase in dark stores internationally.

What is a dark store?

A dark store is a traditional physical store that converts to a fulfilment centre not open to the public. Customers can order online and have the products delivered to their door or via a click and collect service. These options allow brands to conveniently serve customers locally as well as customers who live further afield.

Within the UK, the concept of a dark store was first trialled by, Sainsbury’s, during the early 2000s. While the outlet soon closed due to low order numbers, Tesco successfully opened a dark store in 2009, experiencing around 475,000 each week.

Although dark stores predominately began with supermarkets, growth has expanded to other retail forms such as clothing and home goods.

How can dark stores benefit customers amid COVID-19?

The predominant benefit of a dark store amid the coronavirus pandemic is that customers do not need to be around large numbers of people, as is the case with traditional stores. Dark stores allow customers to shop safely, preventing the spread of infection.

Even as COVID-19 infections begin to decrease, the ‘new normal’ will likely see traditional shops limit the store’s number of customers. Dark stores could become a much more convenient way for customers to get what they need without experiencing lengthy queues.

In addition to remaining safe amid the pandemic, there are many other ways in which dark stores can benefit consumers amid COVID-19.

Fast delivery

Dark stores offer fast and affordable shipping solutions, making it a significantly more convenient option than having to drive to a physical store and look around trying to find what you need. The option for local customers to also pick up their orders, negates the need for shipping costs altogether, making it a stress-free and cost-effective option.

Efficient picking and packing

Many dark stores are often laid out in a traditional store format, allowing staff members to locate items quickly. Being smaller than traditional fulfilment centres means that pickers can quickly navigate around the store. Therefore, the layout of dark stores reduces the likelihood of delays and ensures that orders can be efficiently picked, packed and delivered to customers.

Stocking a range of products

As they are not open to the public, dark stores can fully maximise space to ensure that as many products can be stored as possible. The layout means holding a greater variety of products, which for supermarkets, covers everything from food to household items. The variety of items allows customers to have fast access to essential items, particularly during coronavirus lockdowns or for those who need to self-isolate.

Reliable stock levels

Dark stores are often equipped with inventory management tools where staff can view real-time stock levels, allowing them to see which items need restocking imminently. From a business perspective, efficient inventory management prevents companies from overstocking or having stock which they can’t move. In terms of the customer, it means that essential items are likely to be restocked quickly. During a time where people have been known to panic buy, dark stores could be a lifeline for many consumers.

With the future of retail steadily turning online, ensuring that your order fulfilment is as efficient as possible has never been more crucial. At Pointbid logistics, we help a variety of businesses deliver products to customers quickly and accurately. If you’re thinking of outsourcing your order fulfilment in 2021, please give Pointbid a call on 0121 326 7368 to find out how we could help your business become more efficient.


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