‘Dark stores’ could provide a bright path for US retailers 

    Whole Foods “opened” a new “store” that you can’t walk into or shop at. Located in Brooklyn, New York, and slightly smaller than a typical Whole Foods, the store is dedicated solely to fulfilling online orders. It’s the company’s first purpose-built online-only store. With longer aisles, no salad bar, and missing those checkout candy displays, the store will be used to pack up online orders, which have skyrocketed during the pandemic.

    But this is not just a pandemic-related reaction, Fast Company reports. This new dedicated online-only store had been in the works for more than a year, according to company officials. And it’s not alone. More retailers are accommodating the shift of shopping from in-store to online by turning their physical locations into so-called “dark stores”—miniature warehouse-like spaces where online orders can be packed for pickup or delivery. Retail experts say this is just the start of a major trend.

    “Every chain in the world will be doing this in the future. And the future is now, because COVID-19 has pushed the timeline up for a number of these kinds of initiatives,” says Ken Morris, managing partner at Cambridge Retail Advisors.

    Unlike the new Whole Foods store, not all of these facilities need to be purpose-built. Grocery chains such as Stop & Shop and Hy-Vee, based in Iowa, are already experimenting with turning stores dark. Other retailers are converting stores into micro fulfillment centers, Morris says. Walmart has one in New Hampshire. Bed, Bath & Beyond plans to convert one-quarter of its locations into dark stores. Some shopping malls are also being converted into fulfillment centers.

    This approach could represent a lifeline for struggling stores. Read the full story.