Instacart CEO: Voice recognition is coming in the next 12 months

JP Mangalindan
Chief Tech Correspondent
Instacart CEO Apoorva Mehta has grand ambitions for the online grocery startup, which has rapidly expanded to over 190 markets in the last 12 months. Source: Steve Jennings/Getty Images for TechCrunch

Voice recognition is coming to Instacart within the next 12 months, Instacart CEO Apoorva Mehta told Yahoo Finance.

The move makes sense given the online grocery delivery service’s recent acquisition of Unata, a Toronto-based startup that gives grocers the software tools for making apps and websites. At the time of the acquisition, Unata was reportedly developing a voice-activated software tool that works with devices like Google Home. In other words, don’t be surprised if Instacart rolls out the ability for shoppers to place grocery orders with a few simple voice commands. Mehta would not specify or elaborate on Instacart’s plans for voice.

A push into voice makes sense for Instacart, given the significant uptick in voice assistants in people’s homes in recent years. More than 5 billion consumer devices supporting digital assistants like Alexa and Google Assistant will be in use in 2018, with almost 3 billion more added by 2021, according to IHS Markit. Of those devices, 39 million will be smart speakers, up from 27 million units shipped in 2017. With tens of millions of those devices sold last year being Amazon Echo speakers, many shoppers already have the ability to order products on Amazon.com. And it’s highly likely Amazon (AMZN) will eventually extend that ability to order items from Whole Foods, which the Seattle tech giant acquired last August for $13.7 billion.  

“We want to give customers the ability to order however they want, and customers can already do that on all the apps that we have on websites and so on, but voice is obviously a very interesting area and you’re going to see us do more and more in that in the next year or so,” Mehta told Yahoo Finance.

Voice is just one of many initiatives Instacart is working on to improve its comprehensive grocery ordering service, which has seen massive growth over the past 12 months. After raising roughly $400 million in venture capital last May from notable Silicon Valley firms like Andreessen Horowitz and Sequoia Capital, Instacart rapidly expanded from being available in 30 markets to over 190 U.S. markets. As a result, the company says its revenue grew a whopping 157% year-over-year. Meanwhile, users who pony up for Instacart Express, a program that offers unlimited ordering for a flat $14.99 monthly or $149 annual fee, now spend $5,000 a year on groceries — twice the amount non-Express users pay, Mehta told Yahoo Finance.

Stepping up social

Another area where Instacart could substantially evolve is social. Instacart has small social elements here and there, such as the ability to rate a product or letting friends and family share a virtual shopping cart, but they currently don’t have the ability to leave reviews for items, for instance. It’s an area Mehta is extremely interested in and one he sees becoming a bigger part of the Instacart experience.

“I’d say we are at the very infancy of social features in Instacart,” Mehta explained. “We think that grocery shopping can become a lot more social over time, and specifically what that means is, just imagine you following your favorite food bloggers on Instagram and understanding what the new recipes that they’re adding are or where the new ingredients that they recommend [can be purchased].”

And if stepping up social leads to more sales for Instacart, well, Mehta probably wouldn’t mind that, either.  

JP Mangalindan is the Chief Tech Correspondent for Yahoo Finance covering the intersection of tech and business. Email story tips and musings to jpm@oath.com. Follow him on Twitter or Facebook.

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