retail news in context, analysis with attitude

by Michael Sansolo

This column will contain some 450 words, but only one is going to stay with you … shades of “Rosebud” from the classic movie Citizen Kane. Only this isn’t fiction and the one word will hopefully make you think and should scare the hell out of you.

Here’s what happened. I was with a business friend from Atlanta discussing our supermarket shopping patterns. This colleague is a young woman - in her 30s with a young family and for countless reasons the very picture of the ideal consumer. You know, the shopper you want to win over and hold for 30 years.

I asked her where she shopped for groceries in Atlanta. She answered me with one word:

“Instacart.”

Let that sink in for a second.

“Instacart.”

Here’s a shopper who sits in the middle of the bull’s eye of the most coveted group of shoppers, and she perceives her favorite supermarket to be a third party service that connects her to her store. To be fair, she added that her Instacart orders are usually from Publix or Costco, but there’s no getting around which brand she mentions first.

Instacart!

Let me be clear. I have no problem with Instacart; in fact I admire those folks. They found a problem in need of a solution and creatively filled the void. For shoppers they provide the ease of electronic shopping and for retail companies they provide an accelerated solution to the omni-channel challenge. That’s a model of innovation in business. They created a better mousetrap and it is working.

My esteemed colleague, the Content Guy, on the other hand, has a big problem with Instacart, or at least with retailers falling over themselves to do business with the company. “Like lemmings going over a cliff,” is how he’s put it to me. He has hammered home this point repeatedly on MNB, questioning why retailers are turning over their best shoppers - all their information, loyalty and more to a third party operator who someday could be bought and owned by a competitor.

My Atlanta friend’s comment bears out Kevin’s concern. If shoppers start seeing Instacart as the brand to which they are loyal, those shoppers are gone. And, they were given away.

To be overly fair, yet again, I fully understand why retailers are using Instacart’s services. Going omnichannel is really hard. It requires investment in infrastructure, people and technology that are foreign to many companies. Instacart seems like the answer to a prayer, solving those problems.

But it comes as a price. And retailers need to know that, so they can decide if the price is too high.

Count this episode as a cautionary tale. You may want to dismiss it as an isolated comment from a single shopper that unfortunately made its way into MorningNewsBeat and therefore into public view. Or, you may want to consider it a glimpse into the changing world of shopper loyalty and brand recognition.

The choice you make could define your company’s ability to own the future, as opposed to mortgaging it in favor of a quick fix.


Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at msansolo@morningnewsbeat.com . His book, “THE BIG PICTURE: Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available on Amazon by clicking here. And, his book "Business Rules!" is available from Amazon by clicking here.
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