As a result of the shutdowns and stay-at-home orders due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many retailers have put more of a focus on their ecommerce websites and online ordering. While brick-and-mortar is still primary, business owners are finding creative ways to utilize their storefront space other than just for in-store shopping.
The Move to Dark Fulfillment Stores
Dark storefronts are traditional retail brick-and-mortar stores that have been converted into local fulfillment centers. Since traffic is low right now, retailers are putting their focus on fulfilling online orders and growing their customer base with social media tactics. With dark stores, businesses can decrease their open hours, ship directly from their location, and have more time to build the brand image.
“This is a new concept in retail and we are definitely going to see more of it in 2021 and going forward because it makes more sense,” Hadar Paz, CEO of Powerfront, said. “Imagine taking an online store and making it a little more realistic by allowing customers to video shop in the store. You can even include catwalks and live presentations.”
Using A Dark Storefront for Live Videos
Live social media videos grew to be quite popular in 2020 since it was a safe and easy way to show customers around the store and present new products without them ever having to leave their house. The Greek International Food Market, located in Boston, Massachusetts, has been utilizing live videos so well during COVID-19 that they have not only increased their customer base, but also their sales.
“I didn’t realize how impactful everything I was doing actually was until I started my freezer tours,” Katerina Iliades, founder and CEO of Greek International Food Market, said. “I didn’t have enough time to update the customers on what I was carrying, so I decided that Facebook live was a good option for me. It was very successful.”
Creating More Delivery & Pickup Flexibility with Your Customers
On top of live social media videos, dark storefronts also help to speed up delivery times. Bed Bath & Beyond announced plans to transition 25 percent of its stores into regional fulfillment centers to make faster deliveries during the pandemic. A number of fashion brands, including jewelry company Kendra Scott, are also converting their stores to fulfillment centers to provide faster deliveries and reduce the strain on the main fulfillment hubs.
“We are seeing customers become more fluid with flexible fulfilment. According to our recent primary research, 80 percent of respondents surveyed now use curbside pick-up and or BOPIS and 60 percent choose same day pick-up (or delivery) as a top priority when it comes to satisfaction. Brands and retailers will utilize physical spaces to get ‘closer’ to their customers and be better positioned for last-mile fulfillment,” Melissa Gonzalex, CEO of The Lionesque Group and Principal of MG2m, said.
Dark Storefronts Are the Way of the Future
Just like many changes that came about because of COVID-19, dark storefronts are also expected to stick around even post-pandemic. Many shoppers that never bought online before are now making online purchases more and more, according to Paz, and many consumers are realizing they never need to leave the house. While tourists will always need physical stores to walk into and ecommerce shopping will never triumph the in-store experience, dark storefronts provide many useful avenues for brands to build their customer base.