The Paradox in Product Design (Part 1). Example – Instacart

Instacart is a grocery delivery app that ties up with traditional retailers such as Wegmans, Krogers, Sam’s Club, Costco etc. and brings their goods home to your doorstep. It raised $150 million in funding in April, so it must mean they’re doing something right, right? However, in trying to feature out every step of the customer journey, they face the dilemma that comes with creating a problem when trying to solve another problem. Take the following for instance-

  1. Instacart has a feature to “replace or substitute” a product in case it is out of stock at the store. The User decides which other products to replace with and sets the order at that. The real problem comes when the Instacart shopper is actually shopping, finds something is out of stock, and then you get a notification asking to approve the replacement. What if I’m a busy executive at a board meeting? A mom just taking a break at the spa (didn’t I use Instacart that’s why?). Why do I have to baby-sit the app (or the shopper) and worse case, what happens when I’m not available to approve any of the changes that the app keeps beeping about for the entire duration the shopper shops?
  2. I have scheduled my delivery for the next day (because that’s free compared to immediate delivery) and Instacart gives me a broad range of time as to when my order will arrive (2PM – 5PM). The next day, the time range changes to 4PM-5PM. At around 3PM I get a notification that my bags are on the way. Delivery arrives at 3.30PM. Not a slight chance I could have used my 2PM to 5PM to be anywhere but my home.
  3. I was afraid I couldn’t select the number of onions or tomatoes I wanted – I thought I’d have to order a set quantity. But Instacart isn’t so harsh. However, when my two onions came, they were huge! Something I was trying to avoid was wasting these vegetables and was trying to keep quantities really small, and that included size. The shopper had no way of knowing this.

These are all great features in Instacart, but in using them to ease the customer journey, they’re still causing inconvenience to a user another way. To put that in perspective –  I would need 3 hours maximum to do my grocery shopping at the store (taking the bus, shop, return by bus) . On Instacart, I take 1.5 hours searching and finalizing my order, 30 mins baby-sitting the shopper (not even adding the cost of leaving what I was doing to attend to the approve requests), and 3 hours forcing myself to do something indoors. I’ve lost 5 hours on Instacart vs. 3 if I went myself.

In my next post, I will resolve these product paradoxes with some Design Thinking. Till then, feel free to comment below if your grocery delivery app faces the same paradox. is a blog where I share thought-provoking 1 minute business bytes. Follow the discussion!

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