Future Vision of Online Grocery Shopping

September 9, 2020

Corrections & Clarifications: An earlier version of this story gave the wrong number of Whole Foods temporary online-only stores that have converted back to traditional stores. Four stores have converted back.

There’s no salad or coffee bar at the newest Whole Foods Market.

The Amazon-owned grocery chain is officially opening its first permanent online-only store in Brooklyn, New York, to fulfill orders for grocery delivery, Whole Foods officials shared exclusively with USA TODAY on Tuesday. Like other retailers’ online-only stores, also known as dark stores, the store will not be open to the public.

On-demand grocery shopping for delivery and curbside pickup have grown in popularity in recent months amid the coronavirus pandemic as many shoppers look to make fewer trips to stores.

But this new store was already in the works pre-COVID-19, said Nicole Wescoe, Whole Foods president for the Northeast region, in an interview.

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“We started working on this over a year ago and it was really an opportunity for Amazon and Whole Foods Market to come together and create this vision for the future of grocery online,” Wescoe said.

The company gave USA TODAY a behind-the-scenes look at the new Brooklyn store that features long aisles, a refrigerated cooler for fresh produce and a large freezer.

“When you enter into this facility, you’re going to see long aisles of shelving where we have cases of products that are ready to fill this online demand,” Wescoe said. “You’re going to you’re going to make your way into our refrigerated cooler, where you’re going to see beautiful produce set up … ready to pick for the online orders.”

Unlike traditional stores, there won’t be a prepared foods department, and there won’t be a pickup option for shoppers. Orders will be delivered with Amazon delivery drivers, along with some bike delivery, Wescoe said.

The new Brooklyn store is different from Whole Foods temporary online-only stores, which were converted to help meet COVID-19 demand. Four of the six stores have since converted back.

Last week, Amazon soft-launched its first Amazon Fresh supermarket in the Los Angeles suburb of Woodland Hills, with a shopping cart that tallies items as it enters the basket and enables instant checkout, and Alexa stations throughout the store that you can ask questions.

Grocery delivery, which previously was a convenience for busy families, is now seen as a necessity for anyone concerned about contracting COVID-19.

Some have likely changed their habits permanently and will shop for groceries using as little human contact as possible. Others have discovered the convenience of online ordering and delivery or pickup and will stick with it.

Is it possible Whole Foods will build additional online-only stores?

“We’re always evaluating ways to increase grocery delivery,” Wescoe said. “Delivery is here to stay. People like options and this is an option that they really love.”

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