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Instacart reported that overall customer order volume last week soared more than 300% year over year.

Instacart works to expedite delivery as coronavirus hikes orders

Fast & Flexible, Order Ahead tools expected to address surging demand

Online grocery delivery giant Instacart has launched two new product features to speed service and unlock more delivery windows amid booming order volume triggered by the coronavirus outbreak.

Called Fast & Flexible and Order Ahead, the new tools were introduced April 8 after being piloted over the last few weeks. Besides increasing delivery availability for customers across North America, the features will bring more choice and convenience for consumers now going online for their weekly grocery, according to Instacart.

The San Francisco-based company said overall customer order volume last week jumped more than 300% year over year. Meanwhile, average customer basket size swelled over 25% month over month as customers stocked up on staple groceries and daily essentials.

Such growth has made it difficult for Instacart customers to place and receive orders and for the company’s personal shoppers to accommodate the rush of deliveries. Widespread press and social media reports have spotlighted significant delivery delays for orders on Instacart and other online grocery and food delivery platforms during the pandemic.

Instacart Fast & Flexible delivery tool.jpgTests showed that Fast & Flexible increased available delivery windows by 50%. (Image courtesty of Instacart)

Indeed, Instacart acknowledged that delivery availability has been impacted in some of its busiest cities throughout North America as more people have turned to its service to get the groceries and household items they need.

“We’re proud to be serving as a lifeline for families across North America during this critical time. 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,” Instacart founder and CEO Apoorva Mehta said in a statement. “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.”

The new Fast & Flexible option more efficiently matches orders with real-time personal shopper availability, enabling the delivery of more orders to customers — and often more quickly, Instacart noted. As a result, customers no longer need to check back for updated delivery time windows from their preferred grocery store. They only need to set it, and their order will be delivered by the first available shopper, rather than scheduled for a specific delivery window, the company said.

Customers selecting the Fast & Flexible option will see an estimated delivery range, such as Tuesday through Thursday, and they will be notified when their order is picked up by a shopper and scheduled for delivery.

Instacart said tests showed that Fast & Flexible increased available delivery windows by 50% and boosted delivery speed, with 85% of these orders arriving in the earlier portion of the estimated delivery range. Fast & Flexible is available for all orders except those containing alcohol purchases, due to regulations in some states.

With the coronavirus crisis now pushing many consumers to anticipate their grocery and pantry needs more carefully, the updated Order Ahead feature allows Instacart customers to place orders up to two weeks in advance. Previously, Order Ahead functionality enabled delivery windows to be selected up to seven days ahead of time.

Instacart said Order Ahead now lets customers build their digital cart well before it’s time to restock. The feature has been rolled out to some high-demand locations and is expected to become available to all customers in North America over the coming weeks.

“The launches of Fast & Flexible and Order Ahead allow us to speed up our delivery service for customers and ultimately offer more flexibility based on how people are shopping right now,” Mehta stated. “It's important to us that customers can continue to rely on Instacart to get the groceries and household goods they want when they need them. These are extraordinary times, and we take our responsibility to serve our customers and shoppers very seriously. We know people are counting on us, and our teams are working tirelessly around the clock to support customers and their loved ones.”

Other new customer and personal shopper features introduced by Instacart in response to heightened demand amid the coronavirus crisis include Leave at My Door delivery, contactless alcohol delivery, automatic cancellation of out-of-stock orders, customer default tip functionality, in-app incident reporting and customer order issue review for shoppers, ratings forgiveness for shoppers, easier cancellation of batches for shoppers, everywhere availability of mobile checkout for shoppers and a COVID-19 resource center.

Instacart, too, said it has expanded its shopper community from 200,000 to more than 350,000 over the last two weeks and is scaling its customer and shopper support team to better meet surging demand.

“This work is just beginning for us,” Mehta added, “and we remain committed to supporting the entire Instacart community throughout this crisis.”

Overall, Instacart partners with more than 350 grocery retailers and delivers from over 25,000 stores in 5,500-plus cities in North America. The company’s service is available to more than 85% of U.S. households and 70% of Canadian households.

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