Instacart ramps up delivery speed and convenience as demand surges

Dan Berthiaume
Senior Editor, Technology
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An online grocery delivery giant is increasing delivery availability and reducing wait times as demand surges during the COVID-19 crisis.

Instacart is launching two new consumer-facing features in response to heightened order volumes as customers shop online more due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The new features - "Fast & Flexible" and "Order Ahead" - which the company has been testing over the last few weeks, are designed to increase delivery availability for customers across North America and provide more product selection and convenience.

According to Instacart, its overall customer order volume was up by more than 300% year-over-year the week of March 30. Average customer basket size on Instacart is also up by more than 25% month-over-month.

Over the past month, Instacart has introduced a number of new product features for customers and shoppers. In addition to these new features, the company has also increased its shopper workforce from 200,000 to more than 350,000 active shoppers. 

Instacart's new Fast & Flexible delivery option is designed to more efficiently match customer orders with real-time shopper availability to deliver more orders, potentially more quickly, to customers. The feature enables customers to have their order delivered by the first available shopper, rather than schedule it for a specific delivery window. 

When a customer chooses the Fast & Flexible option, they will see an estimated delivery range (e.g., Tuesday through Thursday) and will be notified when their order is picked up by a shopper and scheduled for delivery. According to product tests of this new feature, Instacart says Fast & Flexible has increased available delivery windows by 50% and also increased delivery speed, with 85% of all Fast & Flexible orders arriving within the earlier portion of the estimated delivery range. This feature is available for all orders except those containing alcohol purchases, due to regulations in some states that limit the times during which alcohol can be purchased.

Instacart is also introducing a new Order Ahead feature that allows customers to now place orders up to two weeks in advance. The previous Order Ahead functionality only allowed customers to select delivery windows up to seven days ahead. The expanded service is available in a number of high-demand locations, and will be rolling out across North America to all customers in the coming weeks.

"The customer demand we expected over the next two-to-four years has happened on the Instacart platform in the last two-to-four weeks,” said Apoorva Mehta, founder and CEO of Instacart. “To address this immediate surge, our teams have moved quickly and reprioritized our entire consumer and shopper product experience to better serve our community in the wake of COVID-19." 

In addition to Fast & Flexible and Order Ahead, Instacart has introduced a number of new customer features over the last month in response to COVID-19, including “leave at my door" delivery, contactless alcohol delivery, automatic cancellation of out-of-stock orders, and a new "customer default tip" feature.