The Race to “Dark Supermarkets”

The Lempert Report
May 13, 2020

"Careless customers" are "probably the biggest threat" to workers right now.

According to Marc Perrone, President of the United Food and Commercial Workers' union, 85% of its grocery store member workers reported that customers are not practicing social distancing in stores.

CNN reports that according to the UFCW, dozens of grocery store workers have died from COVID-19 and that is in spite of the masks, temperature checks, plexiglass barriers at the checkstand, improved sanitation procedures and capacity restrictions to keep everyone safe. 

Some supermarkets have already become dark stores, meaning that they are closed to the public and being used only for pick up orders or delivery. 

Whole Foods has closed down a store in New York City's Bryant Park area and transitioned it into an online-only store, focused solely on deliveries. Kroger and Giant Eagle have switched a few stores to pickup and delivery-only locations.

John Logan, professor and director of Labor and Employment Studies at San Francisco State University told CNN that  "Shuttering stores and repurposing them for pickup and delivery only would be a positive step. Anything that reduces the need for interaction with the public and allows for greater physical distancing will ultimately better protect grocery workers.” 

Public safety officials are not requiring essential stores to shut down to customers, but the US Labor Department last week recommended that retailers start "using a drive-through window or offering curbside pick-up" to protect workers for exposure to coronavirus. The California Department of Industrial Relations said this week that companies should "encourage customer use of online order and pickup."

Los Angeles, Miami, Washington DC, New Jersey, Maryland and New York have ordered shoppers to wear masks or face coverings in stores. Vermont has required big box chains like Walmart to close down their "non-essential" sections like furniture, home and garden equipment and arts and crafts. 

The grocery world is not ready, nor can it afford to become only dark stores. The current model is that we the shopper does the “picking” of groceries off the shelves, if dark stores do become pervasive that means the store will have to hire people – and pay them – to do that job for us. Until we install robotics that can do the picking for us its just not feasible or affordable.

And lets remember, in normal times, people like going shopping for food – discovering new tastes, making new recipes, seeing their neighbors.