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“Dark stores” fulfill online grocery orders — but for how long?

Kristin Schwab Sep 15, 2020
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A Whole Foods Market in Washington, D.C. Whole Foods is one company building a new type of grocery store during the pandemic. Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images
COVID-19

“Dark stores” fulfill online grocery orders — but for how long?

Kristin Schwab Sep 15, 2020
Heard on:
A Whole Foods Market in Washington, D.C. Whole Foods is one company building a new type of grocery store during the pandemic. Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images
HTML EMBED:
COPY

Groceries were already moving online before the pandemic, and now it’s become a major focus in the industry.

Walmart launched its new delivery subscription program Tuesday called Walmart Plus, which includes groceries. More stores have joined Instacart, and other apps like DoorDash have added groceries onto their services.

Now, companies like Whole Foods and Stop & Shop are building a new type of store called a dark store. It looks like a regular grocery store — aisles of produce and pasta, without fancy cheese towers or end-of-aisle displays.

“It doesn’t have to look pretty because consumers are not going to be in the store, right?” said Doug Baker of FMI, a food industry association. Dark stores aren’t open to customers. They’re for fulfilling online orders, which have surged during the pandemic.

And building them like regular markets — not warehouses — means they can be converted into stores if the trend doesn’t hold.

“You can build something for today, but you also need to think about what’s the future,” Baker said.

Part of the reason the future is unclear is not everyone is online ordering experiences have been stellar.

“This integration of the online with the physical carried along with it some very unique problems,” said Terry Esper, professor of marketing and logistics at Ohio State University.

For instance, maybe you order a specific cheese, and you’re sent a substitute that’s $5 more. Or maybe you can’t get a delivery slot.

And for people who live outside a delivery zone, don’t have reliable internet or are receiving federal benefits for food, online grocery shopping may not be an option.

“I think we shouldn’t underestimate the human desire to engage in grocery shopping,” said Hart Posen, a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He thinks shoppers will eventually settle into a mix of in-store and online, because the online stores don’t let you pick the ripeness of your fruit. And they definitely lack free samples.

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

Can businesses deny you entry if you don’t have a vaccine passport?

As more Americans get vaccinated against COVID-19 and the economy begins reopening, some businesses are requiring proof of vaccination to enter their premises. The concept of a vaccine passport has raised ethical questions about data privacy and potential discrimination against the unvaccinated. However, legal experts say businesses have the right to deny entrance to those who can’t show proof.

Give me a snapshot of the labor market in the U.S.

U.S. job openings in February increased more than expected, according to the Labor Department. Also, the economy added over 900,000 jobs in March. For all of the good jobs news recently, there are still nearly 10 million people who are out of work, and more than 4 million of them have been unemployed for six months or longer. “So we still have a very long way to go until we get a full recovery,” said Elise Gould with the Economic Policy Institute. She said the industries that have the furthest to go are the ones you’d expect: “leisure and hospitality, accommodations, food services, restaurants” and the public sector, especially in education.

What do I need to know about tax season this year?

Glad you asked! We have a whole separate FAQ section on that. Some quick hits: The deadline has been extended from April 15 to May 17 for individuals. Also, millions of people received unemployment benefits in 2020 — up to $10,200 of which will now be tax-free for those with an adjusted gross income of less than $150,000. And, for those who filed before the American Rescue Plan passed, simply put, you do not need to file an amended return at the moment. Find answers to the rest of your questions here.

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