Dark store dark site dark supermarket grocery home delivery service hub

More independent convenience stores are continuing to operate home delivery “dark hub” sites, countering a suggested decline in demand for the service post-pandemic.

Imran Akhtar, of Best-one Hurlford in Kilmarnock, has invested £40,000 into opening a standalone ‘hub store’ dedicated to his shop’s home-delivery business. The site will be used for packing and sending orders out to customers, with Akhtar predicting it will boost his home delivery service by 25%.

Akhtar operates his online service in partnership with Snappy Shopper, and has an average of 730 weekly transactions since partnering with the firm 18 months ago. Snappy Shopper head of B2B marketing Dael Links told betterRetailing the firm has seen more of its retailers open dedicated hubs for home delivery.

“Imran has generated £1m in home-delivery sales and he has the space to build a hub at the side of his store. However, not all retailers have the space to do that. We have retailers, such as Natalie Lightfoot, who operates Londis Solo Convenience in Glasgow, with a small shop area where they do all their packing. There’s a One Stop in Motherwell with a large backroom area for packing,” he said.

“The process when a store receives an order to it leaving the door should not interfere with existing customers in the shop. It’s dependent on store size, but even small stores have made it work. Some also have a satellite and hub model. This means they might advertise home delivery from one location, but will deliver from another one of their stores. There are multiple models and it will depend on what’s available to the retailer.”

Links added that, following the surge of home delivery in 2020, there is still a consistent demand for staples such as bread and milk. Some experts have also claimed the demand for home-delivery services from operators such as Getir and Gorillas has declined following the end of lockdown restrictions.

“Some have claimed that the party is over, but it’s just started for independent retailers,” Links said.

“There are suggestions that online grocery could make up 18-30% of home shopping. We’ve also seen uplift in our own demand. We’ve just completed five million orders and seen 70% annual growth in weekly orders. The average sales for our top 20 stores has exceeded £700,000 for the year ending July. The average basket spend is £26 and this is additional sales. The numbers are frightening.

“Independent retailers have a real customer base. This is the main difference between an independent retailer and a business that operates solely as a dark store.”