business news in context, analysis with attitude

Got the following email from MNB reader Warren Solochek:

Kevin, age-wise I am a contemporary of you and Michael Sansolo. To-date I had never used Instacart at a grocery store or mass merchant because my wife likes to select her own fruit, vegetables, meat and poultry. But, given the current circumstances brought on by the presence of the coronavirus, we agreed to try using Instacart at Costco. I have to say, the overall experience was much better than I had anticipated- they exceeded my expectations in several ways.

1. Though I had a delivery window set, I expected that they would make the delivery towards the end of the 2 hour window. I was wrong. Not only did they tell us via text that they had started shopping for us, they also told us as they went through the store if they could not find items on our list. In the end, they arrived 15 minutes into the 2 hour window of delivery.

2. Frozen items arrived still frozen. Fruits and vegetables were of good quality (I know because my wife ok’d each item). I was told what the shoppers could not find as they shopped on our behalf, and what was substituted for an out of stock item if there was an opportunity to do so.  In the end, they got everything we had on our list, except for 1 item. Given our in-person shopping experience at local grocery stores in Chicago in the past month, this success rate was much higher. Parenthetically, our list included both paper towels and TP, which I had doubted we would get. Both made it to our doorstep. 

3. The delivery team was polite and was willing to bring each box/package up our front steps to the front door. They did not ask for a tip, it was included in my order. So, I knew a tip was provided up front, less to worry about. They dropped off their load and moved on in a very short amount of time.

This is not a service I would have chosen to use had COVID-19 not hit the US. But, now that I have used it, I plan to do so again. This experience has encouraged me to try more grocery shopping on line. I am an avid Amazon Prime customer, and have switched much of my non-food purchasing to Amazon because I appreciate their scheduling and updates to delivery dates if there is a delay-and for several items recently if the items are to be delivered sooner than originally planned. It is all about setting my expectations, which I have to admit are pretty high these days. Instacart certainly exceed my expectations on this shopping trip- hopefully they will continue to do so in the future.

To be clear … I have never argued that Instacart is bad for consumers.  What I have argued is that Instacart in the long run will be bad for its client retailers because it disintermediates the retailer out of the relationship … people think about shopping Instacart instead of the store.   And, as Instacart starts opening dark stores that will mean it won't need client retailers anymore, the threat becomes more serious.

MNB reader Tom Jackson reacted to my suggestion yesterday that temporary raises could create problems for retailers when they attempt to back wages down to previous levels, and my idea that care packages - toilet paper, sanitizer, etc. - could be used to reward employees:

Kevin ---I agree with you on the pay raises.  I suggested using bonuses or other forms of meaningful recognition---but not pay raises. You are so right ---2 months from now they are going to have some disappointed employees. Also, I like your idea of toilet paper, paper towels , etc. but not using it as compensation, but  more of a nice/kind gesture.

MNB reader Mark Heckman had a thought about the prediction that some distancing policies may last until 2022:

Prepare for the worst, and be pleasantly surprised when it does not occur.   In this environment,  two weeks is an eternity in terms of prognostication…two years is beyond conjecture, even if it is science-based.

And finally, one MNB reader reacted to yesterday's story about dire predictions by the International Monetary Fund (IMF):

I am sure the IMF will be able to persuade policymakers as long as they use Dan Briggs, Jim Phelps, or Ethan Hunt and their teams.


Kudos for knowing that in addition to the International Monetary Fund, IMF also can refer to the Impossible Missions Force (as in "Mission: Impossible").

And extra credit for knowing that in addition to the current leader, Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) and the previous leader, Jim Phelps (Peter Graves … I don't count Jon Voight's portrayal in the awful Mission: Impossible movie that turned Phelps into a villain), the original leader of the IMF was Dan Briggs, played by Steven Hill (who went on to play D.A, Adam Schiff in "Law & Order").