Instacart Inc. has an audacious plan to replace its army of gig shoppers with robots—part of a long-term strategy to cut costs and put its relationship with supermarket chains on a sustainable footing.
The plan, detailed in documents reviewed by Bloomberg, involves building automated fulfillment centers around the U.S., where hundreds of robots would fetch boxes of cereal and cans of soup while humans gather produce and deli products. Some facilities would be attached to existing grocery stores while larger standalone centers would process orders for several locations, according to the documents, which were dated July and December.
Despite working on the strategy for more than a year, however, the company has yet to sign up a single supermarket chain. Instacart had planned to begin testing the fulfillment centers later this year, the documents show. But the company has fallen behind schedule, according to people familiar with the situation. And though the documents mention asking several automation providers to build the technology, Instacart hasn’t settled on any, said the people, who requested anonymity to discuss a private matter. In February, the Financial Times reported on elements of the strategy and said Instacart in early 2020 sent out requests for proposals to five robotics companies.Bloomberg