Bolt dark warehouse seeking to replace corner grocery store

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Bolt Food couriers. Source: Anna Aurelia Minev/ERR

Bolt is expanding its courier services, adding a so-called dark warehouse in Tallinn orders from which should reach customers in 10-15 minutes. The pilot project will be launched in Tallinn, while the company aims to offer the service in ten European countries.

Retail chains have been expanding their online businesses in recent years, and while the coronavirus period has helped boost turnovers, e-commerce remains a marginal activity for major supermarket chains that no one has been able to turn profitable.

But while retail chain delivery times start at four hours and can stretch to several days, taxi services, electric scooter and car rental company Bolt now aims to shuffle the deck. The Estonian startup is developing a new global service called Bolt Market that will first be tested in Tallinn.

Bolt will not open a regular grocery store but a dark warehouse that will be visited by couriers on behalf of customers. The selection of goods will be modest that will allow the company to offer short delivery times.

Jevgeni Kabanov, chief of product development at Bolt, told ERR that Bolt Market compares to a small supermarket the goods selection of which covers 1,000-2,000 items.

"Orders are assembled in a matter of minutes. It is a lovely service for people who want to make porridge at home but discover they have run out of milk. It's a way of getting the milk you need in 10-15 minutes, and perhaps a few more items your fridge is missing. It is not a place for a family's weekly shopping but rather the rebirth of the corner grocery store – convenience and speed is what is added by the delivery service," Kabanov said.

Couriers will mostly be using bicycles to make deliveries. Scooters are not a good fit for the service as they need to be recharged often.

The dark warehouse will be constructed at the heart of Tallinn so couriers would have the same short commute to every borough. Should business pick up, Bolt plans to open other dark shops to ensure even coverage of the city necessary for speedy deliveries.

The service is still being designed, while there will likely be a minimum shopping cart to ensure profitability.

"It will not be too high. Likely between six and ten euros, just as it is for restaurant food deliveries now," Kabanov said. A service fee will also be charged.

"We would like our service fees to be on the highly competitive side, we're rather aiming lower than the competition. Let's see how low we can go. Good, fast and cheap are what we're aiming for," Kabanov described.

Bolt also plans to expand its cooperation with recent partners, like Stockmann, Biomarket, Selver, the Solaris grocery store, several wine stores etc.

Kabanov could not say when Bolt Market will be launched.

"We hope to launch it post haste. Near future for sure. We are talking coming weeks," he said.

The chief development officer said that Bolt aims to make its new services profitable in one to two years.

"We have developed a very good team over the years, people who know technology and operations. I have a lot of faith in our ability to make these complicated things happen," Kabanov said.

Bolt refuses to say where the service will be launched, as well as shed light on its investment volume. Kabanov just said that millions will be invested in Europe.

"Our society has gotten to a point where Europeans everywhere can appreciate the convenience and are willing to pay a little extra for such a service," Kabanov noted.

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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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