Instacart has a plan to use robots instead of shoppers

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Instacart reportedly has a plan to replace many of its gig workers with robots.

The supermarket delivery app has been angling for nearly a year to build fulfillment centers that rely on robots instead of personal shoppers to pluck packaged goods from shelves, although the plan faces major delays, according to a Bloomberg report.

The San Francisco-based giant, which has been slammed with protests over accusations that it has been nickel-and-diming its workers, would largely eliminate personal shoppers under the initiative except for those that gather fresh food, according to the report.

One proposal, according to documents Bloomberg obtained, would create a network of stand-alone fulfillment centers that would handle more than 3,500 orders a day using 700 robots and just 160 people. A second option calls for a smaller facility using just 150 robots and 40 workers and would be likely be located at the grocery store.

Supermarkets would be responsible for forecasting orders and handling inventory while Instacart would process the customer orders and handle the drivers, according to the report. A technology provider would build the fulfillment centers.

However, the initiative is running behind schedule, as no supermarket has signed on to test it and no technology partner has been selected for the project that is supposed to get underway later this year, according to Bloomberg.

An Instacart shopper removes grocery bags from the trunk of a car.
Instacart’s new initiative reportedly would shift the picking of grocery orders to big warehouses, where robots would handle most non-produce merchandise.
Boston Globe via Getty Images

In a statement to The Post, Instacart said, “We’re constantly exploring new tools and technologies that support the needs of the 600 retailers we partner with and further enable their businesses to grow and scale over the long-term. Shoppers are and will continue to be central to Instacart and our service, and any suggestion otherwise is wholly inaccurate.”

A spokesperson for the company told Bloomberg that the company is “committed to supporting our brick-and-mortar partners and continuing to invest in and explore new tools and technologies that support the needs of their customers.”

Using personal shoppers jacks up the price of a customer order by as much as 25 percent, including gratuities, according to the report.

Supermarkets have long been wary of Instacart, which generally controls the customer relationship.

A grocery store worker rings up an Instacart shopper's groceries.
Instacart has come under fire in recent years over how much it pays its workers.
Los Angeles Times via Getty Imag

In recent years, some large chains have severed ties with Instacart in favor of a growing number of competitors, including Doordash and Shipt — which Target acquired in 2017, and some large companies, including Walmart, are working on their own initiatives involving robots.

The pandemic fueled a huge spike in delivery business for Instacart, which is reportedly eyeing a potential initial public offering this year.



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