Instacart's flat shopping orders could hurt ad growth - analysts

FILE PHOTO: Illustration shows Instacart logo

By Arriana McLymore

NEW YORK (Reuters) - As Instacart touts its hefty advertising revenue in its hotly anticipated IPO offering, purchases on the online grocery platform have flattened in the first half of 2023, a possible obstacle to future ad growth.

San Francisco-based Instacart's 5.1 million subscribers typically pay $99 a year or $9.99 a month for free deliveries on orders of $35 or more from any of the service's 1,400 retailers. Instacart also sells ad space on its site, including to Pepsi and Kellogg's, which want to promote products online.

In April, it formed a partnership with video streaming company Roku that aims to better track spending habits of those who use the services.

Instacart, valued at $9.3 billion, said its grocery orders remained flat for the first six months of 2023 at 132.9 million compared to the year-ago period, Securities and Exchange Commission filings showed.

Gross transaction value rose 4% to $14.94 billion over the same period, while ad revenue grew 24% to $406 million from $327 million.

When Chief Executive Fidji Simo joined the company in 2021, she aimed to sign up diverse retailers including beauty supply stores and convenience stores to attract more shoppers and advertisers.

Andrew Lipsman, principal analyst at Insider Intelligence, sees potential ad growth in video streaming, but wants Instacart to expand deliveries more quickly to enhance its appeal to major advertisers.

"If you have an increase in orders, there's also more ads to deliver on that activity," Lipsman said.

Many other retailers also sell ads on their websites to packaged food companies and consumer product makers.

"Most CPG (consumer packaged goods) brands are already advertising on Instacart. It's about getting them to spend more," which requires Instacart to prove that ads on the platform will boost sales, Lipsman said.

Gross profit grew faster than gross transaction value for products sold on Instacart, including merchandise, taxes and fees. The challenge is to keep shoppers returning to spend money, Lipsman said.

The company wants to increase the number of subscribers to its Instacart+ program who shop more frequently and place larger orders than non-members, its SEC filing said.

Some advertisers may not be as worried about Instacart's slowed order growth, said Nikhil Raj, retail media business lead at ad solutions firm Moloco.

As long as advertisers see results from buying ads on Instacart, they have no incentive to cut back, Raj said.

"If you have multiple players in a category, the way you would grow your business on Instacart is by advertising. If you don't do it, your competitors will."

(Reporting by Arriana McLymore in New York; Editing by Richard Chang)