The shelves filled with bags of nuts and dried fruit look like any other aisle at an Amazon-owned Whole Foods grocery store (the company bought the grocery business in 2017), but the newest store, in Brooklyn, New York, isn’t open for shopping.
The Industry City location near New York Harbor opened Tuesday as Amazon’s first online-but-IRL store. Only workers are allowed inside to fill orders for delivery. Orders come from Amazon Prime members shopping for groceries on Whole Foods’ online site and through the Amazon app and site.
Hundreds of workers will receive orders, shop in the store, and prepare items for delivery. Instead of existing as a customer-facing shop, this Whole Foods is more of a fulfillment center — but with groceries only.
The Brooklyn project was in the works before the coronavirus pandemic, but its arrival is well-timed. Amazon and other grocery stores have seen increased online sales during social-distancing and stay-at-home orders. Amazon says its online grocery sales tripled in the past three months compared to the same time period last year.
New York City in particular was hit hard at the start of the pandemic, and online order fulfillment struggled to keep up. An April report from Eater found that delivery times were backlogged for weeks and that finding an open delivery slot was near impossible. Amazon’s grocery services were also affected in New York and beyond.
In cities like San Francisco, some Whole Foods stores were turned into impromptu delivery depots, much like Industry City’s online-only store.
While delivery backups have simmered down in the months since the pandemic began, the new store is another way for online shoppers to get groceries within the two-hour window Amazon promises for its Prime members.
The Brooklyn “dark store” arrangement is the first for Amazon, but it’s unlikely the last, as the e-commerce giant continues to meld Whole Foods into its online shopping dominance.