OPINIONRetailers

Are Dark Supermarkets Next?

Careless customers could be the biggest threat to workers right now

The Lempert Report

According to Marc Perrone, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) International Union, 85% of its grocery store member workers reported that customers are not practicing social distancing in stores.

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 check stand, improved sanitation procedures and capacity restrictions to keep everyone safe, CNN added. 

Some supermarkets have already become dark stores, meaning that they are closed to the public and being used only for pickup 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, "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 U.S. Department of Labor last week recommended that retailers start "using a drive-thru window or offering curbside pickup" 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, D.C., New Jersey, Maryland and New York have ordered shoppers to wear masks or face coverings in stores. Vermont has required big box chains such as Walmart to close down their "non-essential" sections such as 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, it's just not feasible or affordable.

And let's remember, in normal times, people like going shopping for food—discovering new tastes, making new recipes and seeing their neighbors. 

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