The success of ‘dark store’ operations emerged as one of the critical determinants of success in post-pandemic retail operations. Dark stores are driving competition around lower delivery guarantees that can provide customers with their must-have products in as little as 10 minutes.
Retailers who came out on top after a global lock down learned market plans must have the flexibility to pivot away from foot traffic and towards online ordering (and sometimes back again). Accommodating such shifts is an essential part of fulfilling customer needs with speed and accuracy, especially as lockdown regulations provoke certain preferences for each channel.
So how can businesses maximize sales and drive customer engagement? By figuring out how to “fill” a store without physical shoppers. The secret to this technique is developing dark stores. As COVID-19 forever changed our retail schemes, companies need to accept that this new retail trend is here to stay and find solutions that make dark stores easier to leverage.
What Is A Dark Store?
As a reliance on physical proximity for in-person shopping shifts to a preference for social media engagement and online purchases, dark stores are all the rage. Dark stores mimic traditional supermarkets, department stores, and micro businesses, except shoppers aren’t allowed inside. Instead, employees receive online orders, take requested goods from the shelves, and ship them to the customer.
In comparison, dark warehouses do not have any in-person employees working to fulfill orders. Instead, fully-automated operations fulfill consumer queries. These warehouses operate like a vending machine, but on an industrial scale.
Many retailers have decided to transition from operating at physical stores to dark stores to enhance inventory management protocols and reduce slow-downs during quarantines.
While consumers were forbidden to venture inside of businesses for an extended period of time in 2020 and 2021, they didn’t stop buying. What changed was how consumers decided to view, purchase, and analyze potential products for their needs. They were shopping online.
Retail businesses adapted by spending less money on in-person stores, and opting to focus their efforts on online marketplaces. By successfully “going dark” during the pandemic, forward-thinking companies have been able to thrive during an otherwise unstable time for brick-and-mortar retailers.
Mapbox helps businesses use real-time maps, vector maps, geo data, and population movement to find the perfect locations for their dark stores. Our technology is built to provide various sectors, such as the automotive, logistics, or outdoor industries, with the navigational and logistical tools needed to deliver products efficiently to customers. This technology is being used by top online retailers to drive their dark store placement strategies.
Benefits Of Using Dark Stores
Businesses that craft effective dark stores can drive customer engagement during radical changes in retail markets. Here are a few benefits of using dark stores in this post-pandemic world.
Affordable Real Estate
Dark stores take previously-undesirable store spaces and turn them into convenient distribution centers. Typically, the best storefronts are located in high foot-traffic areas, which are expensive to rent out. Since dark stores can be successful in low foot-traffic or drive-over areas of the city, dark store operators can set up well-placed shops without paying exorbitant rent prices for the hottest street in town.
Dark stores can fulfill a higher workload and generate more income than you would find with the in-person retail stores they replace. With a higher production level, dark stores can produce more, sell more, and make more in the long run. Mapbox has helped numerous businesses increase their productivity levels by creating data to provide in-depth insights into sales planning, supply chain optimization, and risk management.
Quick and Contactless Shopping
Customers are turning to contactless shopping more than ever in a post-pandemic world. Many of us are inseparable from our smartphones, love online shopping, and use mobile apps to speed up our transactions. Dark stores provide the convenience and ease these consumers want. Not to mention, online shopping is safe - you don’t have to worry about hand sanitizing, social dancing, or wearing a mask while using your laptop at home. Fulfill the ever-increasing needs of online shopping by finding the best location for your dark store with Mapbox.
Meeting Customer Expectations On Time
Dark stores give retailers the ability to expedite the order fulfillment process and win customer loyalty. Customers will become accustomed to your brand’s online order accuracy, quick in-store operations, and fast delivery, making them more likely to become long-term, loyal customers. With Mapbox Logistics, retailers can exceed customer expectations by designing the optimal distribution network to dispatch efficiently and deliver on-time.
How To Create Foolproof Dark Store Strategies
We know dark stores are beneficial, but how do businesses create foolproof dark store strategies to meet demand? Although dark stores increase dynamic customer engagement and demand, they can also introduce new complexities.
- Location Intelligence: To avoid an overly-complicated abundance of data, business owners must focus on location analysis. They can narrow in with location technology to analyze potential dark store sites and the most effective use for each site. With Mapbox Movement, businesses use population movement data to understand activity, movement, and density in a specific location - making it easier for business owners to analyze dark store positional efficiency, transportation planning, and site selection.
- Consumer behavior: Another way to bolster success is by analyzing consumer behavior. By comparing data from online shoppers and in-person shoppers, retailers can skip much of the marketing guesswork and identify what different types of customers prefer.
Once businesses have analyzed location discrepancies and consumer behavior, they can identify which stores are better for in-person shopping and which stores are better for online shopping.
How To Turn Your Store Into A Dark Store With Mapbox
As location analysis helps retailers identify ideal properties for brick-and-mortar stores, business planners can use geospatial tools to create better market plans for dark stores. Here is how customers are using Mapbox to achieve their dark store strategy:
- Use Movement data to determine which parts of a city are active and which parts are quiet (and when).
- Use MTS and Maps SDK to visualize order locations as a heatmap and find hotspots.
- Add Isochrones around each of your candidate dark store locations to see if there are gaps between your delivery zones or if there is too much overlap.
- Use our Navigation SDK to help your delivery drivers meet delivery promises and increase customer satisfaction.
Mapbox simplifies every phase of running a delivery business - and is powered by Mapbox Data. From designing your distribution network to delivering on time to delighting your customers, check out our Logistics page for more information, customer stories, and how to get started.