The words grocery shopping brings about a very specific mental image. An in-person store, walking up and down aisles looking for that last item, and long checkout lines. However, the industry has been under some changes for a long time. Slowly but surely, more and more stores have offered online shopping with same day pickup, delivery, and other options to avoid that long shopping trip. The most recent addition to these innovations is the idea of entirely online stores. Customers will be able to shop entirely online and have their groceries delivered from a store meant specifically for this. This is often referred to as a “dark” store. These stores are run completely customer free, and sometimes even employee free, with AI and robots doing the grocery picking and stocking for the locations. Dark stores are ushering in a new way to shop, but they have many pros and cons. At first glance, they seem to be innovative and exciting, but there are more concerns the further you look into the idea.

A recent example of this innovation is an entirely online Whole Foods that has opened by Amazon in Brooklyn, New York. The company has incredibly high hopes for this online location, saying “This store will be fully staffed by Whole Foods Market Team Members who are 100 percent dedicated to facilitating grocery delivery — enabling them to quickly receive, shop, and prepare orders for delivery to more customers than ever before.” The confidence of the company in opening this location is comforting, especially considering the importance many customers are placing on no contact options. As we have spoken about in previous blog posts, online options are more important than ever to many people. The switch to online has been slowly occurring in grocery stores all over the globe, but it is now a better time than ever for this acceleration in the process. The complete removal of in store customers allows for much more socially distant shopping and work. The employees will not be seeing hundreds of people in and out every day, and the customers will only minimally interact with the delivery drivers, if they do so at all. However, the online Whole Foods is not Amazon’s only updated grocery option. They are also offering an option where customers can check out using their carts, eliminating the need for interaction with an actual checkout clerk. These options are bringing grocery shopping into a new, changed climate that has been brought about by a need for convenience, haste, and caution in times of a global pandemic.
(https://www.cnet.com/news/amazon-opens-its-first-online-only-whole-foods/?fbclid=IwAR2dlaheQ_tG6WBJDiZ2cblQtqzuYjB1zuzrIbEZMkNN6vOXSpkkOv50q74)
(https://www.wtsp.com/article/money/business/amazon-whole-foods-grocery-shopping-online-dark-store-delivery-pick-up-coronavirus/67-1c5b80c2-c157-46bc-9470-9edf80164ded).

However, this online shift has not been as efficient and good as it might first seem. This shift has been in the works for a while, but when the pandemic came and shifted everything forward for online shopping, these companies were not prepared. “Being the nation’s biggest destination for online orders — grocery and otherwise — went from being Amazon’s biggest advantage to a major challenge early on in the pandemic. An unprecedented influx of orders for food and other essentials due to panic buying, uncertainty and fears about the safety of physical grocery shopping led to roadblocks for the one-time leader of order fulfillment. At one point in April, Amazon even had to waitlist new online grocery customers.” An inability to handle an influx of customers is concerning at any time, and in any industry. However, since groceries are necessities such as food, water, and household items, this inability to cater to customers is even more so. Another concern that has come up within these delivery options are long delivery waits and what that could mean for the perishable food in orders. If the store is struggling to keep up with orders, and food is left in a delivery truck before being delivered, there are several health and quality concerns that arise. As many as there are exciting avenues of this option, there are concerns for how they will be implemented.
(https://retailwire.com/discussion/is-whole-foods-e-grocery-business-headed-down-a-dark-path/).

In an ongoing shift to more and more e-commerce like we have seen in the recent past and continuing until today, every industry is figuring out how they fit into the puzzle. As these new options are developed, the bugs need to be worked out and resolved in order to keep customers happy. Fast delivery, product quality, convenience, and catering to safety concerns are all crucial. It remains to be seen exactly how well this online grocery store will work, but there are high hopes for this new option going into the future.

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