Instacart has officially launched its AI-powered search tool “Ask Instacart,” speaking directly to meal-prep fatigued shoppers looking for easy answers when it comes to breakfast, lunch, and dinner ideas.
The technology feature leverages the language understanding capabilities of OpenAI’s ChatGPT in conjunction with Instacart’s own AI models to create a data catalog that spans over a billion shoppable items across over 80,000 retail partner locations.
Instacart users will have access to the new feature starting May 31. The feature is embedded directly into the search bar of the Instacart app and offers product recommendations, information about food prep, product details, and dietary considerations, among other information.
The company also enhanced its search with personalized question prompts in order to anticipate customer preferences and remind them of their needs based on their shopping history. It will also aim to “inspire them to discover new products,” according to the company’s press release.
JJ Zhuang, chief architect at Instacart, said that by “supercharging Instacart search with generative AI we can create a truly inspiring experience that unlocks even more opportunities to engage and help customers as they shop online from their favorite retailers.”
Examples of the way a shopper may use the new feature include questions like:
- Ingredients or dishes that pair well with others (i.e. What kind of side dishes should I serve with lamb chops?)
- Alternative ingredients that can be swapped for one another (i.e. What fish is similar to salmon?)
- Cooking techniques (i.e. What are good sauces for grilling chicken?)
Additionally, brand partners will be able to include sponsored product campaigns to shoppers to help them discover new products.
“Instead of just limiting their weekly basket with the same staples, customers’ purchasing power will grow. They’re going to discover a greater number of products that meet their needs, their basket sizes will grow, and over time, we believe they’ll be more engaged customers for the retailers and brands we work with,” Instacart told SN.
The “Ask Instacart” launch is part of a growing suite of technology rollouts for the San Francisco delivery giant, including other AI-native initiatives. In March, it debuted a plugin for ChatGPT to let users “express their food needs in natural language,” with Instacart’s ability to make those products and ingredients shoppable and delivered in as fast as an hour.
Since then, the ChatGPT plugin has been made available to all Instacart+ subscribers, with plans to launch additional plugins with Microsoft Bing and Google Bard in the coming months.
As for the strategy behind the launch, Instacart said in the release that while generative AI technology is still in its early stages, the company “is committed to incorporating AI features into our products in a responsible manner, with a goal of enhancing the overall Instacart shopping experience and delivering more food inspiration to customers.”
“We’re excited about this space overall and its ability to transform the grocery industry. We’re laying the groundwork for AI-enabled experiences even years from now,” an Instacart spokesperson told SN. “The intersection of food and AI is going to be transformational from a consumer standpoint – and you can look at the popularity of early experiences like OpenAI’s ChatGPT to get a sense.”
Instacart also explained that in general, with the breadth of its catalog and 11 years of consumer behavior insights, “we have a real opportunity to integrate AI in an incredibly thoughtful and powerful way for consumers.”
Alongside the launch of the ask feature, the company is now also testing a “Favorite Shopper” feature based on feedback from its customers and shoppers. Instacart said customers and shoppers often ask about the ability to schedule orders with specific shoppers after they have a positive experience with that shopper.
The company will pilot the “Favorite Shopper” in various regions throughout the U.S. Select Instacart users will receive an email in the coming weeks letting them know that they’ll be able to test the feature. They will then be able to “favorite” repeat shoppers and then have the option to have future orders fulfilled by those same shoppers.
Instacart said that this test should give its customers the opportunity to customize their experiences and develop deeper connections with their shoppers in order to help grow their businesses.