When COVID-19 overwhelmed the U.S. grocery industry in March, Instacart Chief Technology Officer Mark Schaaf recalls being in bed every night with his computer.
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“Grocery is deeply personal to customers,” Schaaf says. “They want the ripest avocado, and we have personalization algorithms for that. Customers are trusting us to give them a great experience.”
According to Schaaf, building a great experience on Instacart means having to match supply and demand across the company’s four-sided marketplace of customers, shoppers, retailers and consumer packaged goods (CPG) companies, and then customize it all for each market, whether it’s Tampa, Florida, or New York City.
“Nobody plans for 500% growth in a matter of weeks,” Schaaf admits, “and so we did a lot of infrastructure work to scale out our core systems.”
For the retailer and CPG pillars of the marketplace, the company has implemented “basket- boosting” features before a purchase is completed by a customer.
Going forward, at the top of Schaaf’s tech to-do list is making the checkout experience smoother for Instacart’s shopper workforce. The company has launched bypass checkout for shoppers at some retailers.
“It requires some integration between us and the retailers, but I think you'll see more of that happen over time because retailers want to make sure our shoppers are able to move quickly and efficiently through their checkout lines side-by-side with customers who are shopping in store,” he said. “There's just no end in sight to how this technology and product can evolve.”