Dark stores: the future of commerce in the era of fluidity?

Stores turn into warehouses dedicated to on-line customers: faced with the nth evolution of Fashion Retail

Dark stores, retail outlets reconverted into warehouses to face the needs of e-commerce, are a phenomenon known for some time now. However, for a few months, word has been that they are the post-pandemic future. Let us see how realistic this forecast is.

The digital customer in the omni-channel era

Before exploring this new trend, we analyze the general context in which it developed. An interesting study carried out by the Polytechnic University of Milan in collaboration with Nielsen, presented in issue 1/2021 of the magazine Largo Consumo, is eye-opening from this point of view.

The article entitled “On-line e off-line senza barriere” (On-line and Off-line without Barriers) begins with three essential concepts: the keyword is fluidity, in Italy the consumer is increasingly relying on digital, and brands need strategies to make sure that the retail outlet communicates with e-commerce, Apps and social media. The following is extremely relevant data: in 2020, Italian multi-channel consumers were an impressive 46.5 million, up by 2.6 million compared to the year before.

In fact, 88% of the Italian population over the age of 14 has used the Internet to find information, purchase products, make payments or share opinions. More than 1 out of 4 Italians (28% to be exact) is now an experienced omni-channel consumer, who moves, confidently, from off- to on-line and uses the Internet in all phases of the purchasing process.

From traditional stores to logistics centers

It is evident, therefore, how in this context, now dedicated to complete omni-channel and fluidity, the stores are destined to profound transformations. It is a short step from executive showrooms and fashion hubs, which we wrote about in our previous article, to an even more innovative format.

On April 25, 2020, exactly one year ago, Forbes was already wagering on dark stores as the future of Retail. After all, we certainly are not dealing with something entirely new, if we think that large-scale retailer chains like Walmart or Esselunga experimented with this method as far back as in 2001.

Beyond the forecasts for success, the conversion – at least in part – of a network of traditional stores to logistic centers is by now a reality. The dark stores will remain permanent structures, and this is not only because of the effects associated with the pandemic. Adults in the United States who have experimented with grocery delivery shot up from 12% to 50% already in 2019, with industry Retailers providing a further growth of 30% for the following year. Analysts, therefore, had bet that the passage from food to clothing would not have been delayed by too much.

Stores become hubs for e-commerce

At this point, here we are, present day with news from late March. El Corte Inglès, historic Spanish group, will soon convert several stores into dark stores, starting with the food division. “The decrease in the rental prices of commercial properties and the growth in on-line sales have led to a sudden increase in these logistical warehouses, situated where the stores were previously located”, reports the industry magazine, Modaes, in commenting the decision.

It is not that difficult to find similar examples also in the world of fashion. In February 2020, H&M made the reorganization of its sales locations official, for which a strategic change is expected: from simple stores, they will be organized and managed as logistics hubs for the digital market. Zara’s goal for 2020 is instead the 100% integration between stores and on-line stockrooms in 96 markets, so that each store can operate as an integrated distribution hub, oriented towards customers service.

We are faced with a momentous change, a change we have been bringing forward here at Bizeta since last summer. This is the reason why resorting to our technologies for Retail, in this outlook of absolute permeation between on-line and off-line, becomes an essential strategic move.

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