Instacart Wants To Turn Grocery Shopping Into A Game

The newest AI-powered Caper Cart will dole out rewards—and gather data on shoppers.

Loyalty is a virtue valued by romantic partners and fast food brands alike, and it seems grocery stores are no different. Just about every business has a rewards program these days, but Grocery Dive reports that third-party delivery company Instacart is aiming to take things one step further by gamifying the grocery shopping experience to unlock perks.


Instacart has been testing its AI-powered shopping carts, aka Caper Carts, since late 2022. One of the earliest features of the Caper Cart was that it allowed shoppers to synchronize their grocery list to the cart itself. The cart then tells the shopper which aisle each item can be found in, crossing each one off the list as they're added to the cart. The Caper Cart also lets you pay for your grocery haul using the touch screen on the cart instead of having to stand in a checkout line.

Instacart’s new Caper Cart features

Building on this technology, and seemingly taking a page from the fast food industry, Instacart recently debuted updates to its Caper Cart at a conference in New York City. During the demonstration, the cart's screen displayed the image of a wheel, prompting the customer to spin it for a prize. The resulting prize was $2 off the total purchase, presented with a message that read, "Spin for another discount next time you shop with a Caper Cart!"


The grocery games don't stop there. Instacart is looking to incentivize shoppers to use the service and plans to do so by rewarding frequent shoppers. This could mean giving rewards to customers who have shopped multiple times over the course of a few weeks or doling out "challenges" to people as they shop.

"If you know that that shopper generally shops at $70, and you want to get them to $80, you now have a mechanism to try to push them over the top," David McIntosh, vice president and general manager of Instacart's Connected Stores, told Grocery Dive. "Or maybe... this is the third time you bought a certain Dreyer's ice cream and you want to reward a consumer to get to that fourth streak."

McIntosh went on to note that the company is taking inspiration from the Starbucks Rewards program and mobile app, considering 80% of Caper Cart users shop with the store loyalty account linked. Under Starbucks Rewards, users accumulate points, or stars, with each purchase which can eventually be redeemed for things like drink customizations or a bakery item. On the Starbucks mobile app, users are often presented with challenges or tasks to earn more bonus Stars (aka reward points), like buying an iced espresso three times in one week, or placing an order four days in a row—classic upselling, made modern.


Like any lucrative rewards program, Instacart plans to use the technology and sensors in the Caper Carts to gather data on shoppers' behavior, the contents of their shopping lists, their prior purchases, and the manner in which they use discounts. All of this information will allow the company to serve up those "challenges" and prizes in a personalized way to each shopper.

"Ultimately, where we want to take it is Pokémon Go," McIntosh said.