Instacart from Convenience to Essential Service

Bloomberg Businessweek May 11, 2020 pp36-41 “Instacart Wasn’t Ready to be Essential” “The grocery delivery startup added 300,000 workers in eight weeks, but Covid-19 is still overtaking it in more ways than one” By Ellen Huet and Lizette Chapman

Instacart (IC) founded by Apoorva Mehta and colleagues in 2012 developed an APP-based shopping service that avoided errors of earlier predecessors by eschewing bricks and mortar and employees. IC relies instead on existing neighborhood supermarkets, on a "fleet" of gig-worker's vehicles and gig-workers who are contracted without benefits.

Between 2012 and 2015 IC captured $300M in VC funding and as the tide rose in response to COVID-19 SIP it has exceeded its business plan for 2025 and posted its first profit of $10M in April. IC has a run rate of $35B in grocery sales for 2020 and a private equity value reported as $7.9B.

Like any startup, IC has faced and is facing numerous challenges-having a contract with Whole Foods (WF) and then getting out after Amazon bought WF, contractor strikes-not enough pay-insufficient COVID-19 protection-software changes requiring contractors to make snap decisions about whether or not to take an order-bots being used to grab work orders, government intervention-California work rules that may require contractors to be classified as employees, web issues and degrading service quality resulting from COVID-19 surge in demand.

COVID-19 has brought challenges for all but it has catapulted IC from a convenience to an essential service. That COVID-19 demand is increasingly complicating website and service issues. According to Mehta, as COVID-19 emerged “Every day, we would see that the volume was 20% higher than the last day”…”In a matter of a couple of weeks, we were already ahead of our end-of-year goal”. Software engineers went from adding nuances to the APP to just struggling to keep the website from crashing. The contracted army of shoppers increased from 180,000 to 500,000 in eight weeks and may exceed 750,000. A feature, that tracks line-by-line inventory in participating supermarkets has been particularly challenged going from an accuracy of 90% to as low as 60%. Guaranteed “Same Day Delivery” is a presumed service element and this has become unreliable but reportedly has improved from “50% to 90% in two weeks”. “Things are changing so fast…looking at a month’s worth of data is not useful right now”, says Mark Schaaf [CTO], We’ve got to look at days”.

Not in the article-Basics of Instacart for the Shopper and Customer


2244 looking at sites like and, expect to pay 3% more for groceries. One list for just the purchase of groceries showed $74.83 for self-shopping and $84.35 for Instacart-that's 13% higher. Other costs are membership at $99/year or $3.99 per delivery in standard time but a Saturday AM delivery might be $9.99. Add to that, a customary tip for the Shopper of $5 or 20% whichever is higher. Anecdotes suggest tips are often higher at $20 or more. Other issues, Instacart charges are confusing and selecting freshness etc. is not as controlled as self-shopping.


2244 briefly reviewing Glassdoor, Indeed and others pay for shopping alone equates to $10-17/hr with personal shoppers able to garner $22/hr but in-store shoppers only $13.50/hr. A breakdown on is as follows;

Batch payment $15.78 (Grocery Cost Paid by Customer).

Charges accruing to shopper. Miles $0.60/mile X 8 miles in this example=$4.80, Boost Incentive $7.98 (Get extra if you take on multiple orders at the same time), Peak Boost $3.00 (Peak hours) and Customer Tip $5 for a total of $20.78.

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