"It's been called Uber for groceries."
That's how Matt O'Connor refers to Instacart, the grocery store delivery service that made Houston its 14th market by launching in the city Wednesday morning. O'Connor is Houston's designated "city launcher," someone who's been with the company since it entered its third market, Boston, only eight months ago.
The premise is simple. Shoppers simply choose from an array of available products from H-E-B and Whole Foods Market. A trained "Personal Shopper" goes to the grocery store and selects the items from the same selection that regular shoppers do. O'Connor refers to Instacart's "really stringent produce policy" as a guarantee that buyers will receive high quality goods; the ordering process also allows customers to specific a level of ripeness, if, for example, one wants to order slightly harder avocados on a Wednesday so that they'll be ready for making guacamole on Saturday.
Instacart identifies four basic groups of customers who most benefit from the service.
Using Instacart costs $3.99 for delivery within two hours or $5.99 within one hour for people who spend $35 or more. The prices bump up to $7.99 and $9.99 for orders under $35 ($10 minimum). A $99, Amazon Prime-style annual membership waives the delivery fee on all orders greater than $35. Items are priced independently of the grocery store price; O'Connor notes that some are higher but some are lower. TABC regulations currently prohibit Instacart from delivering alcohol.
The delivery area roughly consists of areas inside the Loop, including downtown, the Heights, Montrose and Midtown and a portion of west Houston that roughly fits between I-10 and the Westpark Tollway at the north and south between 610 and the Sam Houston Tollway.
Unlike similar services such as Webvan that failed in the late '90s dot com bust, Instacart maintains almost no infrastructure. It doesn't own vehicles or warehouses. The de-centralized business model is what allows for the reasonable delivery fees and has attracted positive press in the tech world.
Although only two Houston-area stores have signed up with Instacart, the company has relationships in other cities with stores that include both Costco and Kroger. O'Connor says they're also "actively looking" to add "local favorites" like Revival Market. While H-E-B is participating, so far, Central Market is not (but is available in Austin, so fingers crossed).
Instacart identifies four basic groups of customers who most benefit from the service. The first, obviously, is busy young professionals who want to have a steady supply of fresh groceries but lack the time to shop. The second is office managers for whom keeping their coworkers stocked with snacks and sodas has become an unwelcome chore and time away from other responsibilities. Somewhat surprisingly, the third is moms, who realize that taking two or more children to the grocery store adds unnecessary time to each shopping trip. Finally, O'Connor notes that Instacart benefits disabled and/or elderly customers who aren't able to visit the grocery store on their own.
Want to try it? The first order doesn't have a delivery fee, and everyone who places an order August 27 will receive free deliveries for the first month. Use code CultureMapHOU to get $10 off and free delivery on the first order.