Amazon is opening more 'dark' Whole Foods stores as online grocery orders surge and workers worry about rising infections

ReutersShoppers are seen at Whole Foods in Los Angeles, California
  • Amazon-owned Whole Foods is converting its sixth location to a “dark store” that is dedicated to filling only online orders.
  • “As we navigate the challenges associated with COVID-19, we continue to find ways to increase delivery availability while navigating safety measures and social distancing,” an Amazon spokesperson said.
  • Kroger, Stop & Shop, and HyVee have also been closing stores to the public to focus on delivery and pickup orders.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Amazon is converting more Whole Foods locations into “dark stores,” which are dedicated solely to filling online orders.

The latest Whole Foods store to shift to the online-only model is located in Chicago near DePaul University. The store will close to customers starting Wednesday at 4 p.m. Central Time, the company said.

After that, the store’s employees will focus only on filling online orders for delivery.

The Chicago store is the sixth Whole Foods location to shift to a “dark store” format.

“With stay-at-home orders in place, customers have generated unprecedented demand for grocery delivery,” an Amazon spokesperson said. “As we navigate the challenges associated with COVID-19, we continue to find ways to increase delivery availability while navigating safety measures and social distancing.”

The other “dark” Whole Foods are located in New York City (Bryant Park), San Francisco (SOMA), Baltimore, Austin, and Castle Rock, Colorado.

The San Francisco store is still partially serving customers who want to shop in the store from the hours of 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Pacific Time. At-risk shoppers can visit the store one hour prior to opening.

The stores in Austin, Castle Rock, and Baltimore are all brand new stores that converted to the online-only model before ever opening to the public. Amazon said the conversions to “dark stores” are temporary.

Grocery chains are testing ‘dark stores’ as workers worry about rising infections

The grocery chains Kroger, Stop & Shop, and HyVee have also been closing stores to the public to focus on delivery and pickup orders, as demand for online grocery services surges amid the pandemic.

The strategy makes it easier for the store to rapidly fill online orders. Most of the grocery staff can focus on these orders instead of working cash registers or helping customers.

It also reduces grocery employees’ exposure to COVID-19, as workers worry about rising infections within their ranks.

The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, the largest union representing grocery workers, said this month that at least 30 grocery employees have died from the coronavirus and at least 3,000 have stopped working because they have been exposed to the virus or become sick. The union does not represent workers at Whole Foods.

Separately, a group of state attorney generals sent a letter dated May 11 to Amazon and Whole Foods that cited reports of infections at Whole Foods stores, and requested that the companies provide a description of their policies for notifying customers and public health officials of serious COVID-19 developments at stores.

By shifting to a “dark” format, stores reduce the number of people entering the store, and therefore reduce overall exposures to employees. Stores can also more easily enforce uniform safety standards, such as the usage of masks and gloves, among the people allowed inside.

And with fewer people overall in stores, employees have more space to socially distance while filling orders.

Business Insider Emails & Alerts

Site highlights each day to your inbox.

Follow Business Insider Australia on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.