Strained grocery delivery app Instacart is rolling out two new features to app users to try to process more deliveries at a faster rate, the company announced today.
The new features — including a more flexible delivery schedule, and the ability to order items up to two weeks in advance — are meant to combat the long wait times and order cancellations that users have been experiencing amid higher usage during the global pandemic.
In the app’s new “fast and flexible” feature that’s available now, users don’t schedule set delivery windows for their orders. Instead, the order is assigned to the next available shopper, according to Instacart. Customers receive an estimated delivery window of two to three days, and are notified when a shopper starts to work on their order. The feature does not apply to orders that include alcohol purchases, due to varying state regulations.
The order ahead feature, which is already available on the app, has been retooled to allow customers to place orders up to two weeks in advance instead of one week. It’s available now in a number of high demand locations, including the majority of New York City, according to the company, with a wider release to the U.S. coming in the next few weeks.
Instacart says the new features is intended to “increase delivery availability for customers across North America,” according to a press release, and “provide more choice” for those who are now doing all of their weekly grocery shopping online. The company works with over 350 regional and national retailers, including Wegmans and Costco, to deliver groceries to customers in over 5,500 cities across the U.S.
As grocery delivery has become an essential service due to COVID-19, Instacart has struggled to meet the overwhelming demand that appeared nearly overnight on the app. According to the company, customer order volume was up over 300 percent last week, compared to the same time period last year.
“The customer demand we expected over the next two to four years has happened on the Instacart platform in the last two to four weeks,” says Apoorva Mehta, Instacart’s founder and CEO.
While orders have skyrocketed, users have reported a myriad of issues with the app, including everything from nonexistent delivery windows to repeated order cancellations and orders arriving with only 50 percent of the customer’s expected items.
The number of gig workers delivering through Instacart’s platform has grown from 200,000 to more than 350,000 people, the company says. But for workers, the job is a low-paying minefield of health hazards. Some Instacart workers have led strikes to demand for higher wages and more access to protective gear.
It’s not just Instacart, either: Fresh Direct, Peapod, and Amazon’s Whole Foods delivery service have all been buckling under the crushing demand for grocery delivery.