Is Instacart Showing How AI Will Transform the Grocery Experience?

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Instacart announced a series of AI-driven upgrades to its websites, apps, and smart carts that promise to help grocery shoppers with education, discovery, and checkout.

On websites, conversational search arrives for the Instacart Storefront platform, which powers e-commerce storefronts for more than 550 retail brands, including Costco and Price Chopper. Customers can ask open-ended questions such as “What do I need to make fish tacos?” or “What’s a nutritious lunch for my kids?” directly in the search bar on retailers’ storefronts.

In the press release, Instacart stated, “Instacart processes millions of search queries a day – and hundreds per second during peak time – and this capability uses OpenAI’s ChatGPT models alongside Instacart’s own product data and AI models.”

On Instacart Storefront-powered apps, a new “In-Store” mode “turns retailers’ apps into companions when customers shop in stores.” With In-Store mode, customers can see what’s in stock, view details about items on their shopping list (including nutrition information and EBT SNAP eligibility), sort items by aisle, get product recommendations, and access promotions and discounts in the store. Retailers gain insights into online and in-store behavior.

Instacart’s Caper Carts, AI-powered smart carts that automatically identify items and provide seamless checkouts from anywhere in the store, now allow customers to order made-to-order items, such as deli sandwiches, from the carts. They also enable retailers to offer in-store rewards to cart users for completing actions like logging into a loyalty account, adding certain items to the cart, or trying a cart.

Asha Sharma, Instacart’s COO, said, “We’ve long believed the future of grocery – and commerce in general – isn’t online or in-store, it’s both. And now, more than ever, it’s being supercharged with AI.”

One AI enthusiast is Kroger’s CEO, Rodney McMullen, who said on a June quarterly call, “By applying our data and AI-based personalization, we can better understand what truly matters to our customers and deliver more targeted and effective experiences.”

A recent joint report, “The Impact of AI in Grocery” from Grocery Doppio in partnership with FMI, The Food Industry Association and Wynshop, found that 69% of grocery sales in 2023 so far were digitally influenced (i.e., discovery, inspiration, order, pickup, wayfinding, and coupons), and 73% of grocery technology executives expect AI capabilities to be embedded in most or all of their technology software by 2025.

Still, only 28% expressed confidence in effectively using AI by 2025. Challenges cited include budget availability (71%), unclear ROI (69%), and subpar data or tools (63%).