Well it’s not a sinister body somewhere deep in the universe. Today I found the answer, when I came across an article about Waitrose doubling its e-commerce capacity in London.
A ‘dark store’ is really a warehouse that looks like a supermarket. It seems that the name is related to the fact that actual customers never see inside the store. Dark stores can be located in cheaper premises than actual supermarkets; in an industrial estate or business park. Inside they look like a supermarket, but the only ‘customers’ are the ‘pickers’ employed to fulfil on-line shopping orders.
I have never really understood how supermarkets make reasonable profits on on-line grocery shopping, given that delivery is often free and they have to employ pickers to do what traditional shoppers do in supermarkets. Maybe the use of dark stores in cheaper properties goes some way to explain this.
I suppose it could be more efficient – a picker’s progress won’t be impeded by group gossiping customers standing in precisely the wrong place!