Dark stores, even as a temporarily approach, can help offset the cost of underperforming stores and the expense of freight and logistics, especially in more densely populated areas. It also takes online fulfillment out of store operations, allowing retailers to concentrate on customer service and minimizing inventory confusion.
Ocado, the UK grocery concern that has struck deals with grocers around the world to use its robotic fulfillment center technology, is being sued by AutoStore for intellectual property theft – with AutoStore in turn being investigated by Ocado for patent infringement. AutoStore filed the lawsuits in London and New York.
Amazon has finally opened the doors of its hybrid Amazon Fresh store in the Woodland Hills section of Los Angeles, a futuristic blend of digital and physical challenging traditional grocers that had been put on hold this spring due to the COVID-19 crisis. Customers can breeze through checkout and navigate the store via Alexa.
Kroger plans to launch a marketplace this fall through a partnership with French platform provider Mirakl, adding 50,000 items from sellers initially to its assortment, including toys and household goods in addition to specialty foods, international foods and natural and organic items. The marketplace is an expansion of Kroger Ship.
A handful of grocery retailers have flipped some locations into so-called dark stores to handle the crush of online orders, but it remains to be seen how widespread the practice will become or how much the trend will stick after the coronavirus threat dies down. Retailers include Amazon/Whole Foods, Kroger, Giant Eagle and Stop & Shop.
Panic buying continues to cause empty grocery shelves due to the coronavirus panic, with heavier clusters in affected states as grocery retailers are starting to ration supplies. Same-day delivery providers Instacart and Postmates have expanded a “leave it at my door” option as more spooked shoppers opt for no physical contact.
Micro fulfillment centers are all the rage in e-grocery – small, highly automated systems that use robotics to fulfill online orders in 1 to 2 minutes. Neil Stern of McMillonDoolittle talks all things MFC in this latest MCM CommerceChat podcast. He’ll also lead an MFC session at Ecommerce Operations Summit (4/14-16, Orlando).
Amazon is reportedly using a micro-fulfillment center solution from Dematic at its first grocery store not named Whole Foods outside Los Angeles, sending a loud signal to the rest of the market that an MFC capability is critical to success and maintaining market share in the red-hot e-grocery sector.