Since the pandemic began, a lot of us have turned to online shopping for groceries — both for convenience and flexibility, as well as to avoid crowds for personal and health reasons.
But have you ever wondered about the people who pack those online orders, as well as make the odd food substitutions that often make the rounds on the internet?
1. First off, a dark supermarket doesn't mean it's dimly lit. It's essentially a giant "Amazon-style" warehouse, that's rigged up to have a similar layout to actual grocery stores, minus the customers.
Workers will then fulfil online orders by basically "shopping" for them and filling up carts. According to u/yayitstheinternet, the layout is fairly similar, with the exception being that bulky items are at the start and that bread is last so that it doesn't get squashed.
2. Workers are given an electronic device installed with an AI system that gives them the most efficient route through the warehouse to complete orders.
"The system is designed that a 12-year-old could figure it out."
3. They'll also pack multiple carts at once, depending on what the AI assigns them.
It could be one giant order for one customer or six different orders that are smaller.
4. If it's an especially large order, multiple team members in different parts of the store (freezer, chilled, dry goods, out-of-stock items) will work together to complete it.
5. Otherwise, you'll be assigned small parts of everyone's orders to complete.
Different people work in different parts of the store, so you're not completing an entire order yourself.
6. In terms of produce, the freshest groceries are supposedly available from dark supermarkets because of their high stock turnover. Everything will be delivered in the morning and then be completely cleared by midnight.
Any surplus stock will be offloaded at the end of the day to charities or the employee-only store.
7. Some of the most popular items include low-priced bread, from brands like Tip Top and Wonder White.
8. And if you're ordering bread, a good bet is to select items that are baked in store — those will always be available since they're made to order.
"Bread is always out of stock because after-school care will order 100 loaves at a time."
9. If you're concerned about food safety, any stock that is required to be refrigerated is kept in a separate part of the warehouse that is cooled to one degree. There's also regular supermarket-style freezers for frozen items.
10. By default, groceries are packed into plastic bags. Other options can be requested at the time of order, but no one ever requests otherwise.
11. If your order contains something that is out of stock, staff are told what substitutions to make to your order by the AI system.
12. And while some of them may be weird, they unfortunately don't have the time to implement special customer requests.
"We're under the pump (think how overworked Amazon staff are in their packing warehouses). If you make a special request, it takes us time to go back to the previous screen to see what your message was, override the suggestion made by the system, find the item that you've requested (depending on what item, they could be on opposite ends of the warehouse) and pack it in for you."
13. All in all, don't check the box that allows for substitutes if your order can't be flexible.
14. If you're ordering lots of items, find out how much is exactly in one carton.
15. Especially since it's a huge pet peeve of staff when they have to pack an order involving an item that's one less than an entire carton e.g. 11 cans of dog food, when an unopened carton has 12.
"A customer isn't able to know, but still extremely annoying nonetheless."
16. To avoid shaken up soft drink and torn-up drinks, always order cans and not bottles.
17. During shifts, headphones aren't allowed, but background music is played for employees.
"They play music on the security system thing. Depending on the 'DJ' it can range from mediocre to awful, usually."
18. And you can expect to walk an average of 8,000–10,000 steps per shift.
19. As much as they try not to, sometimes workers will judge your orders — especially if they lean towards the strange side of things.
"The other day some lady ordered 27 tins of baby beetroot. Not sure if she was prepping for a future without her beloved baby beetroots or something."
20. If you're wondering about pay, online supermarket workers in Australia are paid the retail award.
21. And lastly, staff turnover is ridiculously high, so dark supermarkets are always looking to hire if you're interested.
"Check your local Coles/Woolworths website to apply."
Well, there you have it! It honestly sounds kind of nice, just packing groceries with no customers. But also, I can imagine how repetitive it would get with the long hours.
What are your thoughts on packing online grocery orders? And for anyone that works in a similar field, don't be shy, let us in on a couple more behind-the-scenes secrets in the comments below!