App Critique: Instacart

15-day App Critique Challenge: day 6

About the “15-day App Critique Challenge”: for 15 days, I’m going to critique a popular web/mobile app each day from critical perspectives.

Instacart is a phenomenon app that stands out during COVID-19. The innovative business model and unique services provided by Instacart make it a “must-have” app during the pandemic.

How Instacart works? Briefly speaking, it partnered with local retailers to sell their fresh products online. Customers could browse and order products from the app, and shoppers will pick the products on the order from stores and deliver groceries to customers’ houses. There are different stakeholders for the app: customers, shoppers, retailers, etc. In this critique, I’m going to critique from a customer’s perspective.

Core values of Instacart

Instacart Logo (source: Google)

Instacart is like “Uber Eats” for grocery stores. Instacart is promoting customized, fresh, and fast grocery delivery. A typical flow for a customer is:

  1. The customer picks a store.
  2. The customer browses the inventory of a store and adds items to the cart.
  3. Pick delivery date & time, add delivery instructions, choose a payment option.
  4. Purchase
  5. Post-order: item replacement, add-ons, Instacart Express option, invite friends coupon
  6. Wait for a shopper to pick up the order.
  7. See how the shopper picks the items in store.
  8. Delivery, done!

The flow design of Instacart reflects its core values: groceries are decided and picked manually by humans, the process is transparent so the customers know when and how their groceries are being picked. The fresh groceries are delivered immediately after shopping.

What are some typical personas of Instacart customers? In summarization, I think there are:

  • Busy office workers who don’t have time for grocery shopping and want fresh food.
  • People with movement inability: disabled, elderly, pregnant, etc.
  • Not able to go grocery shopping due to constraints: shelter-in-place, pandemic, etc.

How designs of Instacart serve its flow and align with its core values?

Now I will walk through part of the flow and discuss the designs of Instacart.

Instacart has a very simple onboarding experience.

The four illustrations used on the splash screen could easily engage the users and illustrate how the app works.

It worths mentioning the accessibility option for Instacart. By toggling the accessibility button the upper-right corner, the theme color will change from light green to dark green, providing higher reliability for certain target users like visual impairment and the elderly. This design indicated that Instacart is trying to accommodate for various user groups.

Splash & Home

Shopping groceries is normally an activity that people do physically: making a shopping list, driving to the store, picking the items, checkout, and drive back. This experience is highly personal —what to buy, where to buy, and how to buy.

Instacart is trying to make this process remote and digital, and delegating the process into finding the store, choosing items, pay, and actual shopping (by someone else). How Instacart make the experience adaptable and intuitive for customers?

On the homepage, users will see available stores in their areas. The visual hierarchy clearly showed that Instacart is store-oriented shopping. Users need to go to each “store” to browse items.


Under each store’s page, users will first see the estimated delivery time of this store. This essential information is highlighted because users care about the speed of delivery.

When viewing items, users will first encounter coupons/savings, then promoted items like “weekly saving”, “new arrivals”, etc. I found the organization of items on the “Home” tab resembles a grocery store flyer. This design makes it easier to browse inventory as it creates a shopping experience that is similar to physical shopping.

How to accommodate different shopping behaviors of different demographics? For example, some people might go grocery shopping with a clear list of items, while some people might do random shopping. Instacart has a search function and an “Explore” tab for easier items locating. If users know exactly what to get, they could use the search box. If users don't know the exact item/brand, they could use “Explore” to look for different categories. These designs could solve a big pain point in physical grocery shopping — spending too much time on finding items. To some extent, the search box is like a “helping staff” in a grocery store.

However, making grocery shopping online introduces a new problem — picking, especially for food. In physical shopping, users have multisensory inputs to know the quality and quantity of food: look, touch, weight the amount…while on the app the only input is picture and text. Instacart tried to solve this issue by specifying the unit for the price, such as Ibs, each, etc. I think Instacart could do better in helping customers make picking choices. For example, suggest a normal buying amount, show more pictures, or breaking abstract units into more understandable words (like # of servings).

Instacart introduces a new way of grocery shopping — delegating the actual shopping process to someone else. Making an order on the app doesn’t necessarily guarantee that your grocery shopping is done. A shopper needs to go to the store physically and pick the items manually.

This is a win-win design. For retail stores, they neither need to build their own application for online shopping nor need to hiring delivery staff. For customers, they don’t need to worry about receiving low-quality items because things will be picked by humans. For shoppers, they could make money by doing normal grocery shopping.

Making an order

Since shopping is personal, how Instacart make sure to accommodate for various user needs, and ad-hoc changes in actual shopping? Firstly, upon making an order, Instacart will ask customers to select replacements for low-stock items, to accommodate for the situation of an item running out. Furthermore, users could add instructions for each item — if the user has special needs, the shopper will know by reading the instruction. Finally, users could still make changes to the order after placement, by adding/deleting/adjusting items. These designs ensure that users could get a highly customized grocery shopping experience.

Product Designer