Instacart Adds Retail, Couponing, and Voice Services

Instacart is dramatically expanding the services it can offer retailer customers with its $65 million acquisition of Unata, a Toronto-based developer of retail software. Bloomberg and TechCrunch cover the details of the deal. Why does it matter?

On-demand companies traditionally focus on the last-mile, putting people to work delivering and providing services to the home. However, Instacart is acknowledging with this acquisition that it needs a larger role in retail. Unata will provide Instacart with retail storefront software that, we expect, will eventually be integrated with Instacart human services. 

Instacart is hedging its bet by deepening its retail services offerings. Integration with logistical and messaging tools, such as voice, can be tied into consumer solutions expressed as a “skill.” Voice combined with couponing capabilities would allow a product request made to a smart speaker to take a grocery order and offer better pricing or coupons when alternative options are available, then organize delivery in the background. Instacart a separate upsell to retailers, another stream of revenue in the face of competition in on-demand. 

Amazon’s looming retail presence should not be a short-term concern for Instacart, as the Seattle retail giant has not (yet) mastered on-demand services. Instacart could change its revenue mix, moving to emphasize retail services with on-demand humans subsidized by software in order to win market share. 

Amazon is big in online sales, but still only four percent of retail in U.S.

It was a very good holiday season for Amazon, with growing sales and the massive adoption of Alexa-enabled devices. However, keep in mind that after all this success and 20 years of investment to get to 44 percent of online commerce, Amazon still accounts for only 4 percent of U.S. retail sales in 2017. This suggests there is lots of room for growth at Amazon, as well as plenty of inroads for challengers to pursue. We think the brand service experience will be a keystone of expansion as Amazon enters the neighborhood. Target isn’t the solution for Amazon’s local challenge, but Target’s salespeople may be useful to the project. How to get those Target people out of the store and into the market, that is the question.