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Instacart needs to treat its delivery workers ‘much, much better’

Instacart CEO Apoorva Mehta admits the company has had a rocky relationship with its shoppers.

Instacart CEO Apoorva Mehta onstage at Code Commerce 2018
Instacart CEO Apoorva Mehta
Keith MacDonald for Vox Media

Grocery delivery startup Instacart has had a complicated relationship with its shoppers, the people it hires to pick up and deliver users’ groceries.

Instacart was sued by some shoppers — and ultimately settled for $4.6 million — in early 2017. It has messed with shoppers’ tips, and earlier this year even withheld some of those tips by accident due to a software “bug.”

Instacart CEO Apoorva Mehta knows his company has some work to do in order to gain shoppers’ trust.

“Yes, we have made mistakes in the past, and we have debt with our shoppers,” he said Tuesday at Recode’s Code Commerce conference in New York City. “The reality is that we have 50,000 shoppers on our platform and this number is growing really, really fast. So we need to do much, much better here, and we recognize that.”

Mehta added that improving relationships with shoppers was “a core focus of our company.”

One of the ways Instacart is trying to tackle the problem: It’s building a new support center in Atlanta to take calls from delivery people who run into issues on the job. Mehta says he plans to have 300 people working in the support center when it’s up.

“When something goes wrong in the store, in the app, outside the customer’s door, they need support,” he said. “They need to be able to call in and make sure there’s someone from Instacart there to help them.”

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Mehta says advertising inside the Instacart app is already a “big chunk” of the company’s revenue, and he expects it to be an even bigger part of the business down the line. Consumer packaged goods brands are some of the largest advertisers in the world, Mehta added, and a lot of Instacart’s marketing dollars are spent on platforms focused on brand advertising, like television.

He thinks Instacart can offer a more targeted advertising option for brands that are trying to sell groceries.

“We want to build the AdWords for groceries,” Mehta said, a reference to Google’s search advertising business, which basically prints money. “That’s something we’re actively working on.”

Will Instacart expand beyond groceries?

Mehta says that while, yes, the idea of delivering other goods beyond groceries is compelling — “We’ve thought about that a lot,” he says — the company doesn’t have any plans to deliver anything but groceries in the near future.

“Groceries are so hard,” he said. “It’s nearly a trillion dollar market. It’s an enormous space. And we really want to focus on it and get this right and be the category leader in groceries.”

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