Instacart rolls out generative AI, virtual store

Ask Instacart answers prompts with personalized recommendations.

a phone with the instocart logo on it

A pair of recent launches from Instacart highlight how the grocery ecommerce company is integrating two of the key emerging areas of technology into its offerings: Generative AI and marketplaces.

Let’s take a look:

AI-powered search

Instacart is seeking to harness generative AI to create a more personalized shopping experience.

A new tool called Ask Instacart that is launching this week is designed to allow customers to type in questions about specific recipes or general recommendations for an occasion. Embedded in the search bar, Ask Instacart also provides personalized questions to be asked by customers. In addition to specific items, it provides information about food preparation, product attributes and dietary considerations.

For those eying how generative AI will play a role in the shopping experience, Ask Instacart shows how search can be transformed into a place for discovery. Instacart is aiming to provide answers to the more open-ended questions that people would naturally ask, not just simply provide info in response to a question that has one answer. It shared the following sample prompts:

  • “What fish is similar to salmon?”
  • “What can I use in a stir-fry?”
  • “What are dairy-free snacks for kids?”

The tool is also showing the way for generative AI to integrate with retail media. Ask Instacart is designed to integrate with a brand's sponsored products campaign, so that the answers to questions that match consumer needs can also provide a way for brands to stand out.

To create the tool, Instacart combined the language understanding of ChatGPT with its own AI models. It added in catalog data from 80,000 retail partner locations around the country, which together have more than one billion shoppable items.

Beyond mission: Ecommerce marketplaces have honed a shopping experience where it’s easy to find what you’re looking for. But if shoppers want to happen upon something they didn’t know they needed, social media or the store is still the best place to visit. Instacart is showing how generative AI can make discovery a marketplace function. It also signals that advertising will come to generative AI by way of retail media. Going forward, the growth of discovery could make retail media more valuable as a tool for advertising that raises brand awareness, not just lower-funnel conversions.

A virtual store

Instacart will power a new virtual convenience store for the grocery chain Aldi.

Aldi Express will feature 2,000 of the most-shopped Aldi items, ranging from prepared food and snacks to grocery staples.

Drawing on 2,100 Aldi locations around the country, items will be delivered as fast as 30 minutes, the companies said.

“Through ALDI Express, we’re making shopping more convenient so you can satisfy a craving or get a missing ingredient in minutes,” said Scott Patton, VP of National Buying at ALDI, in a statement. “Together with Instacart, we’ll continue to find ways to innovate and make the online grocery experience even more effortless and accessible.”

Aldi began offering delivery via Instacart in 2017, and has since expanded services to include pickup as well as alcohol delivery.

Aldi’s marketplace moment? While Aldi previously offered delivery, making the assortment available through a virtual store offers the opportunity to create a marketplace for its goods. With the virtual store, it will more closely resemble DoorDash and Uber Eats, which have been expanding their grocery assortment. With a marketplace, additional revenue opportunities could open up for the grocer, such as advertising through retail media.

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