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Instacart yesterday introduced a program it is calling Connected Stores, described as "a bundle of six new Instacart Platform technologies that layer on top of existing offerings, helping grocers bring together the best of online ordering and in-store shopping for consumers."  The goal, Instacart says, is to "create a unified, personalized experience for customers by enabling them to move seamlessly between a retailer’s app or website and its physical, in-store experience."

As part of Connected Stores, Instacart announced "six new Instacart Platform offerings: the new Caper Cart, Scan & Pay, Lists, Carrot Tags, FoodStorm Department Orders and Out of Stock Insights – modular technologies that help retailers connect online and in-store experiences. These new technologies will connect directly with Instacart’s ecommerce solutions, including Storefront Pro."

Instacart said that these components have been piloted to varying degrees at retailers that include Wakefern and Schnucks;  the first Instacart Platform-powered Connected Store is slated to be a Bristol Farms in Irvine, California.

Fast Company writes that "Instacart executives say that because the technology can be purchased individually, and that the integrations support existing hardware solutions, retailers won’t have to shell out millions of dollars retrofitting their stores.

“The way in which we are building all of these technologies is to avoid retailers having to make a big investment,” says CEO Fidji Simo.

It needs to be pointed out that all these moves are coming as Instacart prepares for an initial public offering (IPO) in the near future, about which the Wall Street Journal offers some reporting:

"Instacart Inc. doesn’t plan to raise much capital in its initial public offering and instead plans to have most of the listing come from the sale of employees’ shares, said people familiar with its thinking.

"In meetings with prospective investors in recent weeks, Instacart executives said they didn’t plan to issue many new shares in their IPO, the people said. The sale of mostly employee shares would allow Instacart’s staff, including some of its earliest hires, to at last cash out of some of the shares they have been accumulating.

"The move could help Instacart, which was founded in 2012, retain talent by allowing employees more ways to benefit from their shares. Listed shares could also make Instacart more attractive to new employees than startups that have decided to wait for a better market to list."

KC's View:

So much of what Instacart seems to be doing these days, from its acquisition of Rosie (which gives it access to smaller, independent retailers) to the development of these new tools appears to be keyed to responding to the Amazon threat.  I say this has a positive - so much of Instacart's growth over the past few years has been linked to retailers needing ways to compete more effectively with Amazon.

Check out (pun intended) the Caper Cart, which was powered by its acquisition of Caper AI for $350 million and is described as being "similarly shaped to a regular shopping cart, but is equipped with a touchscreen, scales, and sensors so that shoppers don’t need to manually scan items. Users can simply drop items in the cart and check out right from the connected tablet. Retailers can stack the carts and use a single plug to charge them all, rather than plugging in each individual unit."

Sound like something being used at Amazon Fresh?

Instacart says that its various pilots have proven that stores equipped with these various technologies improve their sales;  the expectation, no doubt, is that when they all exist in concert, the math will work like this - 1+1+1+1+1+1=12.

The only thing I would ask the retailers about this is if these accumulated technologies are building their brands, or Instacart's.  I note that the logo on the Caper Cart is Instacart's … my assumption is that this is just for press release purposes, and that this won't be the case when the carts are deployed in any given retailer.  To me, that's the key to making this all work … finding ways to use it to differentiate and enhance the retailer's brand equity and connection to the shopper.

Fast Company raises the question this way:

"Simo makes it clear that the company’s goal isn’t to launch its own grocery store. 'The goal of this strategy is rooted in empowering retailers, we will not be a retailer ourselves,' she says.  'Our job is to build these technologies to empower them.'

"While it started out as a gig platform for users to get groceries delivered to their homes, Instacart has since started offering software services to retailers. Under the Instacart Platform umbrella (which now includes Connected Stores), the company offers software management for things like advertisements, e-commerce, insights, and other data for grocery stores. By moving past the gig-work model, which is traditionally a difficult place to make money, the company can likely create a larger revenue stream."

I think this is a legitimate argument - if retailing is a game, Instacart is saying that it allows retailers, regardless of size, to match the likes of Amazon move for move.