Tesco delivery van
The supermarkets, which are laid out in the same manner as normal stores, will be used exclusively by staff doing virtual shopping for online customers. Instead of the public browsing up and down the aisles, teams of Tesco workers will push their own trolleys around as they complete more than 1,000 shopping lists every day.
The “dark stores” are a response to the rise in online supermarket shopping.
Although online orders are currently handled in normal stores, the dedicated dotcom stores are believed to be a more efficient way of satisfying the growth in online shopping.
Laura Wade-Gery, Tesco’s dotcom chief executive, said the company would open one new store per year for the foreseeable future and predicted the ‘dark store’ format could be taking 15 per cent of online turnover by 2014.
The first two stores have been opened in Croydon, Surrey, and Aylesford, Kent, and the third is due to open next year in Greenford, Middlesex.
Tesco spokesman Tom Hoskin said: “The dotcom stores are much the same as standard supermarkets.
“They work in a similar way but the only people in them are Tesco staff.
“There are no check outs and there’s not the same point of sale advertising but they are set out in the same way so our staff can find things.
“These new online-only stores are about raising capacity.”
Tesco currently gets 475,000 orders online per week and 3.4 million visitors to the Tesco.com website. The firm has 2,000 home delivery vans.
The new Aylesford store handles 8,000 orders every week and now employs 500 staff with around 200 working at any one time.
Ms Wade-Gery insisted that, with profits of 109m pounds on sales of 1.9bn, Tesco’s online operations are not only sustainable but capable of considerable growth.
She said Tesco was “systematically tackling the barriers to shopping online” among consumers, predicting uptake for online shopping in the UK would increase from 3 per cent to 5 per cent in the next five years.