Checking Out Instacart’s Progress

The “last mile problem” has become an intensely urgent issue in the last few months. Learn how Instacart is responding.

May 6, 2020

Back in 2014, when Instacart was only a few years old, its then-VP of business development discussed the company’s plans and perceived barriers. Now Instacart’s President, Nilam Ganenthiran  probably could not have envisioned the online grocery shopping company’s current growth – and its challenges. Here’s what they’re changing – and the core values guiding their sudden growth.

As of the end of March 2020, 31% of U.S. households had shopped for groceries online within the last month, according to analyst firm CB Insights — more than double the number of online grocery shoppers just seven months earlier. More than a quarter of those shoppers (26%) reported they had used an online grocery service for the first time.

Many of those first-time delivery service users were bound to have tried Instacart, which today is available to more than 85% of U.S. households. But when Nilam Ganenthiran spoke at the Signal conference in 2014, the company wasn’t yet three years old, and it was in only 14 U.S. metro areas.

Needless to say, the company’s growth is an evolution – and certainly it’s been on fast-forward in the last several months. We asked Ganenthiran to watch his 2014 video (go on, you should, too!) and contemplate Instacart’s progress.

“We’ve truly come a long way as a company since 2014,” Ganenthiran says. “We’re now the largest grocery delivery network in North America. In 2014, we had a belief that in the future more people would buy their groceries online – today, that’s a reality.”

How has Instacart coped with the sudden growth due to everyone in lockdown? What have you learned from the experience?

The growth we’re seeing on the platform today is on par with what we expected to see two to four years from now. We became an essential service overnight. With that came a new level of responsibility to the millions of consumers who are counting on us as a safe and reliable way to get the groceries they need.

Additionally, as we move through this pandemic, the health and safety of our shoppers continues to be at the forefront of our decision making. As consumer demand has continued to climb, our teams have been working around the clock on a rapid response product roadmap to ensure that we can continue to provide our service to millions of families, while also serving as a safe, immediate, and flexible earnings opportunity for hundreds of thousands of people across North America during this economic downturn.

This is not something that any one of us could have expected, but I’m proud of the way our team has risen to the occasion and continues to work day in and day out to provide new safety resources and enhancements to shoppers and to bring thoughtful new delivery solutions to the table for customers. We’ve launched more than 15 new products and offerings for customers and shoppers in the wake of COVID-19, and we’re committed to continuing to find new ways to enhance and improve the experience in the days, weeks, and months ahead.

What’s going to happen to our new online shopping habits once we all can go outside, again?

Today, we’re hyper-focused on the here and now — meeting the current demand and extending the safety measures and resources available to Instacart shoppers, customers, and our partners.

As we think about the future, there’s something we’re confident won’t change: Brick and mortar retailers will always be the backbone of grocery. People want to get their groceries from the stores and brands they love and trust, and COVID-19 hasn’t changed that.

That said, we do believe COVID-19 has fundamentally changed the way people think about grocery shopping. Now, customers know that for the times that they need it, a service like ours exists. Regardless of what the future holds, our goal remains to serve as a chief ally to grocers and brands and to bring them online so they can continue to serve customers no matter how they choose to shop — in-store, curbside, or delivered directly to their door.

Only a few months ago, everyone was busy criticizing the Gig Economy and sneering at the techies who depended on it. Now everyone is depending on it. What has that meant for the relationship between Instacart and its shoppers, and the shoppers and the consumers they serve?

Our top priority is the health and safety of our shoppers. From personal protective gear and increased bonuses to new features like “Leave at My Door” delivery and perks that give shoppers access to financial and healthcare services – we’re committed to supporting shoppers during and long after this crisis.

Instacart shoppers join the platform for different reasons and play many roles outside of being a shopper — they’re parents, entrepreneurs, students, and more. They’re reaching across the virtual aisles and helping connect customers to the groceries and goods they need.

That’s something customers really appreciate and we’ve seen over the last couple months more customers than ever before showing their love for shoppers – from homemade signs on front doors and increased tips for shoppers who go above and beyond to heartfelt social posts expressing their gratitude.

There’s been widespread coverage of unhappy employees, including recent strikes. What’s your response to these developments?

First, we respect the voices of all Instacart shoppers, welcome their feedback, and will continue to find ways to enhance their experience to ensure this important community is supported today, tomorrow and beyond. Over the last two months we’ve grown our shopper community from 200,000 active shoppers to more than 500,000 shoppers, with plans to bring on an additional 250,000 shoppers in the next two months. We have more shoppers on our platform now than ever before and, today, we’re seeing our Shopper Net Promoter Score (NPS) – a measure of shopper happiness – at the highest level in the company’s history.

Every day, hundreds of thousands of Instacart shoppers across North America help bring millions of consumers in the U.S. and Canada the fresh groceries and household essentials they need. We greatly value our shopper community and remain committed to supporting them by regularly introducing new resources and features to improve their experience. Over the course of the last several weeks, our team has been working diligently to offer new policies, guidelines, product features, resources, increased bonuses, and personal protective equipment to ensure the health and safety of shoppers.

Additionally, last year we announced new perks for all shoppers including Shopper Injury Protection, Care.com memberships, access to the Stride Benefits Platform for health and financial resources, and access to Peanut Butter, a student loan assistance program. Today, our top priority is the health and safety of shoppers.

Back in 2014, you noted that the consumer barriers included trust; speed; ingredient choice; and online user experiences. Have those concerns changed in the last five or six years? Or just gotten more-so?

Rightfully so, customers expect their online grocery shopping experience to mirror their in-store experience. They want to be able to easily find and add all of their favorite brands to their cart and to discover new products. They also expect quality — it’s imperative that customers are getting the right brand of formula for their babies and all of the ingredients for that night’s dinner. These are things that haven’t changed for customers and remain critically important to us.

Grocery delivery is incredibly complicated. Instacart shoppers are picking and delivering groceries and goods from more than 25,000 stores and shopping from an average of 30,000 items in any given store. Quality is a huge priority for us and our partners. It’s something we’ve focused deeply on, introducing new technologies that make it easier for customers to pick replacements, chat with shoppers in real-time, and add notes to their order so it’s just right.

As we think about the landscape today and the surge in demand we’ve seen over the last couple months, we’re most immediately focused on growing our shopper and Instacart Care communities, as well as introducing new product features, to get back to one-hour and same-day delivery service levels for our customers who we know are relying on us for their grocery needs.