What if Instacart could…?

Chain Store Age published an article on Monday covering the new partnership between Staples and Instacart that sent the wheels in my brain for a spin.

Instacart has begun breaking out of its grocery/CPG shell with partnerships with companies such as Staples and Big Lots, where items such as office supplies, furniture, and other goods can be delivered the same day that they are ordered. The actual partnership with Staples here seems somewhat unnecessary as most people do not run into same-day emergency office supply shortages and almost anything sold at Staples that can be ordered via Amazon or picked up at your local Walmart, Target, etc. Despite the non-importance of being able to get office supplies on the same day that you order them, this article inspired me to think deeper into all of the possible partnerships that Instacart could engage in to shape the changing future of retail.

To start, I think that apparel retailers could benefit from offering same-day delivery services, especially those that are located in a mall. For most customers shopping for apparel items, your choices are to drive out to the nearest store to get what you need or to order online and wait for somewhere between 2-14 days or your order to arrive. With COVID-19 posing significant changes to the ways that people shop, I would love to see a store such as Levi’s (specifically in the Mall of America, a.k.a. my closest location) partner with Instacart to offer same-day delivery. I buy 95% of my apparel online, and if I could check the inventory of my local store, pick out a pair of jeans and pay online, and then have them picked up and delivered that day by an Instacart employee for $3.99, I absolutely would.

Regional malls forming relationships with Instacart could allow the retailers inside to offer a physical shopping experience while also being able to function as a hyper-local micro-fulfillment center, which gives the customers more choices when it comes to how they want to shop. Nobody likes waiting any amount of days for something to arrive on your doorstep at a random time of the day.

Side note: I also think that pet stores should invest in this. I find going out to the pet store to be an incredibly time-consuming and expensive ordeal, and sure, I could wait two days for an Amazon box to arrive, but sometimes with animals you really do need something like a bag of food or a leash for your dog THAT day.

My second point here, and the one that I find to be most important, is part of the title question, “What if Instacart could do return pickups and drop-offs?”

I prefer shopping online for many reasons and am willing to compromise on a sucky returns process, but why, in 2020, is this process still so sucky? Going to the post office, the UPS store, or the nearest FedEx dropoff box and waiting days upon days to see if the package made it back and was processed is a pain and having to drive out to a store or the mall, park my car, walk into the store, and then leave also isn’t optimal consumer experience. Granted, I can’t do a full pro/com analysis for this idea because of my lack of experience, but I know that I would pay someone $3.99 to come and pickup a return that I’ve packaged up and drop it off at the post office or at a physical store if the retailers accepts returns that way.

There are ways to schedule someone from a postal service to come and pick up your package, but I have to believe that using a service like Instacart would be significantly more practical. Overall, I think that there is are loads of potential for Instacart in the returns business, and, it would solve one of my biggest issues with how returns currently work in the retail world, especially in a time like this where there are consumer fears regarding shopping and going out to stores/post offices during this pandemic.

Published by Emma Irwin

Emma Irwin is a passionate student of the retail industry. Freshly graduated from the University of Minnesota with a B.S. in Retail Merchandising, she will be pursuing an M.S. in Apparel Studies with a concentration in Retail and Consumer Studies in fall 2020. Career ambitions include writing a formal research paper, becoming a retail writer and reporter, and maybe being a CEO someday.

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