Last Mile Automation
Feb 9, 2021
The rise of the Dark Store and the challenge for retailers
During the COVID-19 crisis stores were forced to shut down a bit all over the world and the only way to keep them afloat was to turn them into fulfillment centers for online stores, giving birth to the era of the Dark Store. Almost a year has passed since the first wave of the pandemic hit the world by storm, but now it seems that dark stores are here to stay. Or are they?
The concept has allowed retailers to survive during the pandemic and become resilient to new forced closures, but has the pandemic created a permanent shift on consumer behavior towards online commerce?
The truth is that we don't know. In most cases we are not over the pandemic yet and it seems that, in the best case scenario, things will only normalize towards the end of 2021 when most of the world's population will have been vaccinated. Then, who knows if people will resume their shopping habits with a reinvigorated desire for shopping sprees in malls or if they will forget all about that and will have a newly found love for couch-based shopping?
Whatever the case, Dark Stores are here to stay for a while. Either to justify the use of space the retailers can't momentarily use in other ways, or to address the added pressure of fulfilling eCommerce demand and keeping inventory closer to customers.
Dark Stores have had a profound impact on the acceleration of the omni-channel retail concept. What retailers found difficult to for many years, suddenly became easy. Store staff finally didn't see eCommerce as a cannibalizing cannel and started seeing it as the only life raft available. But now, stores have to manage the new challenge of making sure customer retention is not negatively impacted by deliveries from store.
It might seem easy, but it's not. Store sales staff who used to have full control over the interaction with the customer in store and guarantee a flawless experience, are now working mostly as fulfillment operators, losing their engagement with customers and being unaware of how their customer received the product and the experience.
Retailers have to take the step to re-engage with customers in new ways and re-architect the standard operating procedures of sales staff in stores. A salesperson can still be effective at building individual relationships with customers by being empowered with technology that provides them visibility over delivery delays and individual customer satisfaction.
From a customer experience perspective it is key that retailers don't turn their salespeople into fulfillment operators. The human interaction has been and will always be a key factor of the retail shopping experience. The way forward is to automate the last mile logistics, the store pickups, label printing, shipment tracking and communication flows, and to empower sales people, connecting them with their customers in new ways, preserving the trust that customers put into the brands they love.
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