Instacart: Bringing Community, Personalization, and the Sharing Economy to you

Instacart is a U.S. based personal shopping platform that involves three major consumer groups: full-service shoppers, brick-and-mortar grocers, and end-customers.


Process Overview

Instacart holds contracts with several grocers and markets including the likes of Whole Foods, CostCo, PetCo, CVS Pharmacy, and Spec’s liquor store. Instacart offers jobs that involve shopping for groceries, bagging, and delivering goods to the homes of customers. Each shift, these shoppers are expected to safely acquire and transport hot and cold groceries to customers in their delivery zone. End customers peruse through the app or online catalog which features products available at the stores contracted by Instacart. Customers select their desired items and a time frame they are available to receive the goods at their workplace or residence. Using location-based technology, the Instacart application notifies customers when their personal shopper is in the store and sends live updates as items from the shopping list are added to the cart. Instacart shoppers – or Instashoppers –  are trained to accept orders, arrive at the store, collect the requested items, and purchase the groceries using a company card. Prior to checkout, shoppers communicate with customers about any adjustments that may have been made given the available selection at the store. Additionally, customers and shoppers are able to chat with each other during the shopping process to discuss products, availability, adjustments, and any other customer service issue each party may have.

Once bagged, Instashoppers return to their vehicles, load the goods, travel to the customer, and make the drop. Customers are able to rate and add an additional tip for shoppers based on their performance and service. Although customers are allowed to schedule deliveries for later, the process typically takes 75 minutes from the moment a shopper accepts an order to the confirmation of delivery, all recorded in the application.

The Instacart model incorporates three major Customer-centric ideologies: the sharing economy, community, and online personalization and product recommendations.


Instacart encourages community support among shoppers in delivery zones which reap numerous benefits. After he or she passes a background check, an invite is sent to new Instashoppers to visit a local grocery store where a Shopper Supervisor holds orientation seminars. Here, new shoppers gain firsthand exposure to the shopping procedure and undergo a demonstrative experience of the job. Additionally, these recruits meet several other new and experienced Instashoppers from which they will receive tricks of the trade, a branded lanyard, a company credit card, and a branded T-shirt that serves the purpose of unifying shoppers and intriguing regular grocery store shoppers about the Instacart service. Plus, Instashoppers are invited to a third-party mobile-based community on GroupMe where hundreds of shoppers and supervisors are able to have a chat offering advice or asking questions about the shopping experience in their zone. Given that the communication platform is outsourced, the shoppers can express joys or frustrations about customers they come across, grocers, and even the corporate policies like ones that incentivize new shoppers.


Instacart uses product recommendations to influence shoppers and customers alike. In the likely event an item is unavailable in the store, shoppers are asked to use common sense in order to fill the likely request of the customer. For example, the customer wants Moo-Moo Farms 2% milk, but the grocer has run out of this item. Once the shopper informs the app and customer of the stocking issue, the app may turn around and suggest adding 2% Milk from Oak Farms to the shopping list, as this is an item the customer has ordered in the past. Furthermore, the app may offer nonsensical items based on algorithms that an intelligent shopper might have to identify like the suggestions of Moo-Moo Farms Chocolate Milk or Creamer. Other cases may include how a lack of fresh fruits and vegetables in the store may be replaced by packaged and canned versions of the products. On the customer end, Instacart employs big data analytics to predict items that may be desired based on past purchases, demographics, and information based on location and shopping patterns of neighbors. If one’s shopping behavior mirrors that of other new moms, young singles, or larger families, he or she can expect to see coupons for products people like them typically buy.

Sharing Economy

The biggest benefit this ideology helps Instacart with is the ability to rent human capital and delivery vehicles. Instashoppers use bags, coolers, cars, wagons, temperature-controlled bags, and any other personal product that helps them to shop and deliver groceries. For long distance deliveries of over 15 miles between store and customer, shoppers are offered a five dollar bump for the additional time and gas required for the delivery. This method allows for Instacart to circumvent the issue of car maintenance in their operations as their hired employees use personally owned vehicles to fulfill orders. Given the low-skill requirement, minimal overhead, and manageable physical effort requirements, the barrier to entry is low and new shoppers join every day. Instacart thrives by offering jobs to people young and old who can deliver groceries to their less-abled or more affluent neighbors willing to pay a premium on groceries for the added convenience of delivery and avoidance of long lines and hellish parking lots on busy Sunday afternoons.


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