Nat’l retail-delivery service rolls onto Long Island

By GREGORY ZELLER //

Have you ever wished you could get a gallon of organic milk from Whole Foods, a bag of kibble from Petco and your vitamins from CVS, without all the driving and crowds and checkout lines?

According to Instacart, you probably have. Responding to “incredible demand” from Long Island residents, the San Francisco-based retail delivery service is expanding operations to include Nassau and Suffolk counties.

Beginning Aug. 1, customers in 110 Long Island ZIP codes will be able to create online accounts through the company’s website and mobile apps and connect with Instacart “shoppers,” who will hand-pick and deliver items from a selection of national-chain retailers (“in as little as one hour,” the company claims).

Launched in 2012, Instacart collaborates with national and local retailers in more than 90 national markets. It first began servicing the New York City area in 2014, including Manhattan, sections of Brooklyn and Queens and select New Jersey suburbs.

Adding some 825,000 Long Island homes to the mix was an almost foregone conclusion, according to General Manager Walker Dieckmann, who noted, “Long Island residents have really embraced Instacart.”

“We have been working hard to expand our delivery area [to Long Island],” Dieckmann said. “We are excited to announce these 110 new ZIP codes and look forward to serving even more people in search of the time-saving convenience that the service offers.”

In a home-shopping economy where retail is an increasingly online sport, that convenience is paramount. And with popular retailers Whole Foods Market, Costo, Petco and CVS on Instacart’s Long Island menu, it’s front and center, according to Carson Lee, a senior operations manager in the San Francisco startup’s Manhattan satellite.

“We want to have the retailers that the customer wants,” Lee told Innovate LI. “That is one of our primary product benefits, to offer choices from retailers the customer knows.”

In some markets where the digital delivery service has already established a virtual foothold, those choices have grown to include local and regional retailers: Some Southern customers can arrange deliveries from Publix Super Markets, Midwest customers can get their Schnucks.

Carson Lee: Customer-focused.

According to Lee, Instacart has not yet formed a collaboration – which includes “lots of terms” and “technical back-end integration” – with Long Island favorites such as King Kullen or Uncle Giuseppe’s.

But the retail delivery service is pleased to open its Island offerings with regional favorites like Whole Foods and CVS (not including prescription medications) and is “constantly trying to being new retailers to our platform,” Lee noted.

“We are absolutely going to try to continue to bring on new partners that make sense,” the operations director said. “If customers want them, if they will bring something great to our platform, then we are absolutely going to try to bring them on.”

For certain, Instacart is bringing on 150 new shoppers to cover its 110 new ZIP codes. While management of the new territory will be based in that 10-person Manhattan office, the company is creating some 150 part-time shopper positions – reliable transportation a must, food knowledge a bonus.

“We’re looking for shoppers who have a desire to provide great customer service,” Lee said. “That’s the underlying factor.

“And we’re looking for people who have a general understanding of food,” he added. “We’re a food company and we buy people’s groceries, and that’s something we take very seriously.

“If an item is out of stock, we want a shopper who can find the right replacement.”

While that human touch is certainly required, the Instacart system relies heavily on proprietary company software. Customers log in, select their location and stores, fill their virtual carts and choose a delivery window – within an hour or two, or another day, up to seven days hence.

On-call shoppers then accept the order through a shopper-only app that’s programmed to guide them through the entire process – checking in upon store arrival, locating precise items in specific aisles, directing them to the customer’s delivery point at the appropriate time.

It’s all “pretty seamless,” according to Lee.

“We have worked hard to make the job fairly easy for customers and shoppers,” he said. “All that’s required is great customer service, which is what the company is founded on.”

To greet the estimated 825,000 homes within its new Long Island coverage area, Instacart is offering a number of limited-time specials, including rebates and free first-time deliveries. And while the 110 ZIP codes represent those where Instacart was most in-demand, according to attempted customer logins, the company might not be done growing on the Island.

“(Where we expand) is based on where our customers are demanding our service,” Lee said. “But we also must take a look at where we have our retail partners, and how we can serve that demand.

“We don’t have anything planned, but I can’t say this is the final, final expansion forever on Long Island,” he added. “If the demand makes sense and we are able to service retailers from new areas, then we will absolutely expand.”


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