Transforming the Shopper Journey Through Instacart

Updated: Mar 9

By Kat Ussery, The Mars Agency

The significance of ecommerce for CPG brands has been catapulted into the future with record-breaking sales during the COVID-19 pandemic. Shopper behavior has changed in many ways. And among the key changes is that shoppers have become accustomed to the ease, convenience and immediacy that on-demand grocery delivery and quick commerce platforms provide.


As a result, we’re seeing more and more brands turning their marketing and media attention to emerging channels like Instacart to reach shoppers. But these sustained changes to shopper behavior and the related shift in marketing focus to retail media have made it increasingly difficult for brands to capitalize on — or even understand — the best-in-class ways to grow their business through these platforms.


The on-demand commerce space is rapidly evolving, which means the sky is truly the limit right now. So how can brands optimize the growth taking place and position themselves on the front lines as proven innovators, helping to define what the ecommerce space looks like not only today, but well into the future? Let’s take a look.


This phenomenal growth is expected because shoppers continue turning to online grocery in general and utilizing emerging channels like Instacart in particular.


Instacart is focusing on four key areas to support this ongoing growth:


1. Selection involves ensuring that Instacart has the right products that shoppers love — and from their favorite stores. It also means providing all the products shoppers need to fulfill all their usage occasions.


2. Price doesn't just include giving customers the best prices on delivery, but also providing brands with a multitude of promotional opportunities to convert new brand shoppers, increase brand loyalty, or drive usage occasions through a variety of new media offerings, as we’ll discuss later.

3. Experience has become critical across the entire ecommerce space. For Instacart, this means helping brands transform what historically has been the impersonal activity of buying something through a mobile or desktop screen into an engaging, customizable shopping experience. Instacart is working to take the personalized shopping experience one step further through proven solutions around unique usage occasions like Holiday, Super Bowl, and impulse buys.


4. Speed of delivery is simply that, the ability to deliver the brands shoppers love when they need them the most. Instacart launched priority delivery in 30 minutes or less in key markets last year and will expand to additional markets throughout 2022.


The Instacart Marketing Menu

Instacart has a toolbox of foundational media opportunities that brands can use to capture shoppers and drive sales across the full purchase journey.


The first is Sponsored Products, which are a key investment area for brands to win on-shelf and drive household penetration by getting their product into the shopper’s first cart via featured placement in three core areas within Instacart’s app: Search, Discovery, and Buy It Again. That first-cart purchase is critical for driving brand loyalty, brand retention and repeat purchase.


Next is Display Ads, which are great for driving awareness and consideration at scale because they deliver massive reach via the storefront banners available across all of Instacart’s retailer partners. Brands can also use these to support key drive periods and their own promotional campaigns.


Email is a great tactic to amplify the brand story, again around key drive periods or promotions but also for objectives like driving new usage occasions.


Finally, Instacart has Coupons that can drive sales and conversions with promo offerings at any point in the shopper journey.

A Framework for Success

The Mars Agency has developed a framework to use with clients that helps them take their media efforts with Instacart to the next level and even establish themselves as pioneers in the next frontier of ecommerce media. Now that Instacart has successfully solidified its foundational media offerings, it's looking to help brands find the best ways to win on its platform and the best tactics for getting there.


So what is the right media mix to really stand out on Instacart?


1. Content/experience. This requires brands to think outside the box in terms of their typical content strategy and tailor experiences to meet the unique needs of Instacart shoppers when they need it most.


2. Targeted trial sampling is next. This is a new and innovative way to drive trial, tapping into Instacart’s ability to service more than 85% of U.S. households to expose more shoppers in real time to your products.


3. And the last is Promotions, partnering with Instacart to create truly unique programs that ladder up to your brand mission and ultimately increase brand affinity and sales.

What will be the result of applying this framework? Innovation-driven engagement, cutting-edge solutions and mission purpose-inspired marketing. Brands must be willing to try new things, to test and learn, to successfully partner with Instacart. In addition to driving household penetration and sales, you’ll be learning how best to engage with shoppers in this new environment.


Here’s one best-in-class example: Our client Tillamook recently became one of the pioneering brands to launch an Instacart brand page through a program introduced last December January. Creating an extensive brand page allowed Tillamook to drive shoppers to a curated, fully customized experience that gave the brand 100% share of voice and elevated its identity with shoppers by sharing its position and values.


It also let the brand give shoppers more reasons to try its products by delivering beautiful recipes that would inspire them and drive new usage occasions they might not have considered before — all while ensuring a best-in-class experience that let shoppers easily interact with the recipes and add the necessary products directly to their carts. (What’s more, it brought Tillamook some industry recognition as a pioneer in the space through an Instacart news release and media coverage.)

Next up: Brands will soon be able to utilize display ads to drive shoppers directly to these kinds of brand pages to help increase conversion and basket sales with Instacart.


Final Recommendations

Here a few recommendations for brands that want to become innovators in the space and effectively partner with Instacart:


1. Innovate now. Ask if something is possible rather than assuming it isn't. Don’t ask for permission first, just check with your Instacart account partners to see what might can be done.


2. Test and learns or pilot programs are a terrific, low-risk way to see what you're able to accomplish while building out your organization’s ecommerce chops. Try things that may never have been done before and help push them forward.


3. Look to leverage something that's unique and different about the Instacart platform to bring your ideas to life. At Instacart, one unique opportunity is its community of 500,000 shoppers and delivery personnel.


4. To generate as many ideas as possible, invite the right people into the brainstorm: brand, integrated marketing, sales, ecommerce, agency partners. You’ll generate numerous “out of the box” idea options that can drive your business forward.


5. Keep the pulse of the industry. Work with your partners to stay up to date on all the changes taking place.


6. Partner closely with Instacart to identify the custom solutions and first-to-market opportunities that can grow your business.


About the Author Kat Ussery is Director of Emerging Channels at The Mars Agency, where she stays on top of the latest trends to identify the best use cases for meeting unique brand needs.


Though her experience at Nielsen working directly with Walmart marketers to her previous agency work with CPG brands, she brings an expertise in bridging traditional retail with cutting-edge ecommerce. Reach her at [email protected]