Instacart and Retail Media: A Potential Growing Conflict
Instacart’s retail media network is growing.

They unveiled a range of new retail media-focused products late last month. The enhancements include brand storefront capabilities–which are both free to create and fully shoppable–as well as a suite of new digital display tactics. Ben & Jerry’s, Breyers, and Tillamook were noted as advertisers poised to take advantage.

While these new features and tactics are nice additions, their retail platform is no different from any other. Advertisers looking to capitalize on the type of first-party audience Instacart has amassed–younger, female-leaning, suburban-centered, etc.–will line up to access it. Just like with any other retail media effort, the audiences sell themselves if there are advertisers interested in reaching them.

However, unlike most retail media networks, Instacart isn’t attached to a retailer. Retailers have suppliers. Retailers hold inventory. Retailers sell products. Instacart isn’t a retailer.

Instacart provides a service to retailers (and, in turn, a retailer’s consumers). It’s a valuable service, but still a service nonetheless. This means that Instacart is in the–you guessed it–service industry.

This begs the question: How are Instacart’s retail media efforts viewed by the retailers they partner with? Despite the delivery-based relationship being symbiotic, one would think these newer efforts might be viewed more as parasitic–especially through the eyes of the retailers. At the root of it, a brand interested in buying digital space on one of Instacart’s retailer sites is likely to have interest in buying space on Instacart’s site as well.

Take Kroger for example. Their retail media arm–Kroger Precision Marketing (KPM)–offers both on- and off-site media tactics that utilize their wealth of audience data. Kroger also has the advantage of being heavily driven by loyalty cards. Roughly 96 percent of in-store transactions can be tied to their Kroger Plus card, which can be tied directly to individual consumers and households. It’s a compelling selling point, the idea of knowing your consumer. Put simply, if a brand sells in Kroger, they’re likely to find multiple KPM audiences that either align with (or expand upon) their key audience(s).

Kroger has also gone to exceptional lengths to make their audience data as pristine as possible. They know their offering (from a tactical perspective) is similar to other retail media efforts. There are some areas of differentiation (keyword-less search campaigns, transactional outputs via Roku, etc.), but overall, it’s the same basic formula: digital, social, search, email and in-store tactics to advertisers (both endemic and non) willing to pay for them.

Getting it to Your Door

As noted, Instacart is in the service industry. They provide a service to Kroger, among other retailers. They deploy an app-based, gig economy-driven collective of personal shoppers that bridge the gap between your local store and straight to your door.

Most grocery chains still have a sedentary mindset. Even when purchasing online, the closest most grocery store chains will come to your doorstep is, well, their own doorstep. The growth of BOPIS–especially earlier in the pandemic–has forced them to oblige by picking/packing orders for consumers. However, they sure as sugar won’t bring these orders to a consumer’s doorstep.

Focused on the Shelves

Since the inception of grocery, the largest daily undertakings have been ensuring that product arrives and shelves are stocked. This includes sourcing, warehousing, distribution, stocking, and more. And with each grocery location carrying upwards of 60k SKUs, one can understand the amount of inherent complexity associated with managing such a process. However, with all the focus on the miles traversed to get products on shelves, they never seemed to put much thought into the most important mile of all: the last one.

The Amazons and Walmarts of the world forced their hand, though. Amazon Fresh took the retail giant’s impressively complex supply chain practices and applied them to the grocery industry. Walmart, being the United States’ largest grocery chain, soon followed suit and offered free, same-day grocery delivery via Walmart+. Smaller grocery chains (smaller being a relative term) were forced to find a way to offer the same.

Grocery and The Last Mile

This is where Instacart comes in. They provide an immediate stopgap to cover that last mile for any grocery chain unable to close the loop on fulfillment. Before the pandemic, it could have been seen as a gimmick to most consumers. But with the shelter-in-place orders and mild levels of distance-related hysteria that permeated throughout 2020, it became a necessity.

The pipes connecting Instacart and grocery chains have existed for some time, but it was the pandemic that ratcheted up the water pressure.

A Potential Conflict

Instacart has become an indelible asset to these grocers. Over the past few years, it’s been an incredibly beneficial relationship for both sides. Instacart has seen its revenue (which tripled to $1.5 billion in 2020) and exposure to the average consumer grow, while the grocers they serve were able to continue driving sales even as the pandemic attempted to close their doors.

But within retail media, the relationship isn’t as copasetic. Instacart and Kroger, for example, are swimming in the same waters, hunting the same prey. All advertiser’s retail media budgets are limited in some way, shape, or form. They can’t fund every retail media network. Choices need to be made.

As it relates to advertising with Kroger or advertising with Instacart, for some advertisers, it might be a percentage breakout. For others, it might be a fork in the road. Either way, Kroger must be wary that their piece of the pie is tied so closely to one of their partners. On the flip side, Instacart has made no bones about its future plans around retail media.

First, But Not the Last

Instacart may have been one of the first service-based platforms to dive into retail media, but they weren’t the last. Since their launch, GoPuff, Shipt, and others have built up retail media networks as well.

GoPuff is unique in that it specializes in both alcohol and snack delivery. Their differentiator revolves around inventory. They don’t–as some assume–personal shop in convenience store aisles. GoPuff has warehouses. They own the inventory and deliver the goods. Instacart focuses solely on the latter. Therefore, a platform like GoPuff falls into a different category that is insulated from potential ire.

Who Flinches First?

It all comes down to the cost of doing business. If Instacart’s retail media revenue continues to grow and they continue to siphon dollars away from their partners, those very same partners might be compelled to build their own in-house version of Instacart. Building out a last mile delivery capability would require a great deal of effort, but it could be done.

If that happens, where does that leave Instacart?

A similar situation exists within the retail media sponsored search realm with platforms like Criteo and Citrus. They offer bolt-on paid search functionality to behemoths (i.e., Target and Lowe’s) that haven’t found the resources to build their own tech. It’s a great relationship, beneficial to both sides. It’s also a relationship that’s constantly teetering on the brink. For example, if Target decides one day it wants to build out its own in-house search program, where does that leave a platform like Criteo or Citrus?

Instacart’s unrelenting push towards retail media is the embodiment of poking the bear. Kroger has competitors (Walmart, Costco, Albertson’s, etc.) with retail media networks. The retail grocery industry is rife with competition. But how exactly should Kroger view Instacart? They’re not a competitor, they’re a partner. And now that partner is stealing a share of their potential ad revenue. If Kroger does any type of analysis that points to the cost of creating their own last mile offering being less than the revenue lost to Instacart’s retail media efforts, it’s a no-brainer.

And just like with Criteo and Citrus, what is Instacart without its retail partners? An even more pointed question, what happens to a retail media network when it’s no longer attached to a retailer?

Three Tips for a Successful Live Shopping Event
Live shopping has taken the retail world by storm.

Especially effective in reaching the Gen Z target, live shopping events have serious potential for brands. Each event is unique and completely customizable. Of course, there is no shortage of best practices, but what makes it so applicable to brands of all kinds is the level of customization. Factors like when, where, who, event duration etc. can all be catered to what you are selling or who you are selling to.

Having recently hosted our first events of this kind, our team wanted to share our top three learnings. These tips apply across the board and can help ensure you don’t miss the mark when it comes to the most important details of your event.

1. Hype Your Event​

Shoppers don’t typically stumble upon live events. Leverage your following across platforms to build awareness and create excitement leading up to your event. Partnering with a brand or influencer? Cross-promote and make sure to leverage their following, in addition to your own. ​Having a strong paid media plan in place will ensure that you are not just able to count those you reach, but efficiently reach those targets that count the most.

2. Create a Reason for FOMO​

Incentivize shoppers with limited-time or limited-quantity offers. Create an opportunity for your shoppers that does not exist pre and post-event. Think of your events as unique shopping events-not just a different place to buy the same thing for the same price. ​

3. Build a Connection with Event Attendees​

Storytell during the event and build interest by sharing product and insider-level knowledge. If your event host is not the product expert, consider bringing that individual in to co-host. And make sure the host(s) engage with the viewers by addressing questions posted in the chat, prompting polls etc.​

We’d Love to Hear From You

Interested in learning why live shopping deserves a spot in your media mix? Connect with us to learn more: commercetaskforce@empower2020dev.wpengine.com

From event planning and promotion to execution and post-event logistics, we have the expertise to ensure your first event isn’t your last.

Staying Ahead of the Influencer Game
The social media space is constantly changing.

In 2021, the use of influencers in marketing campaigns increased, TikTok became even more popular, and Instagram improved Reels to combat this competition. 2022 will be no different. There will be new platforms, optimizations to our current favorites, and viral trends that will have a lasting impact on social media entirely.

To get ahead of the game, here are Empower’s 2022 influencer trend predictions:

1) eCommerce Development Will Continue to Change the Influencer Space.
Influencers can optimize their content thanks to an increase in ecommerce functionality within social platforms. Shopping features allow influencers to connect the products they are using or promoting, thus letting their followers purchase directly on platform. eCommerce shoppers are estimated to grow from 80.1 million in 2020 to 96 million1 in 2022. The future of ecommerce on social platforms will inevitably change the influencer space with the ability to improve measurement and showcase ROAS (return on ad spend).

While Instagram Shopping has made significant improvements over the last year, it seems there is no stopping point in sight. For instance, Instagram began deep development on their live shopping opportunities. TikTok is not far behind with their extended partnership with Shopify and YouTube also activated live shopping events.

2) More Monetization Opportunities Will Arise.
We’ll see a rise in long-term brand partnerships and affiliate programs versus one-time deals as influencers monetize their content. Creators can make more money through link clicks, coupon codes, and purchases over time. The trust between creator and the viewer based on reliability and authenticity will support the implementation of long-term partnerships.

Platforms are prioritizing and investing in their creators. Instagram is introducing fan subscriptions that mimick subscription services like Patreon to give creators a structured monthly income. Meta’s other investment includes bonuses where they reward influencers creating quality content based on the views and success. Similarly, TikTok’s tip feature will benefit creators while Snapchat continues to do so through Spotlights.

3) Influencer Categories Are Expanding.
There are not strict lines between influencer categories anymore. Creators now produce content that ranges across a varying degree of categories. Limiting influencers to stay in their initial lane will become a thing of the past. Beauty influencers may start creating cooking content with no effect on their following, for example.

On the flip side, some influencers will become more niche. For example, rather than being just a fashion influencer, an influencer may specialize in only try-on haul content over traditional styling content. Smaller, niche categories will have a solid following of active users that can benefit these types of campaigns.

4) Video and Audio Will Prevail Over Photo and Text.
The popularity of TikTok has given a revival to sound on video content, with over 1 billion users worldwide. Video lets influencers keep their authenticity and allows for a purer connection between the creator and the viewer. Even Instagram announced their move towards prioritizing video content. They will focus more on Reels and increasing Stories to 60-seconds long vs. 15-second segments.

Podcasts will also be a heavy-hitting point for brands. If awareness is the goal, brands will lean towards podcasts and audio content. Audio-based platform Discord has gained popularity in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Originally marketed towards the gaming community, Discord’s online community rose from 45 million monthly users in 2017 to 140 million in 2021. Influencers now use their personal Discord server to interact with their followers daily.

5) Nano- and Micro-Influencers Are Here to Stay.
The trend to incorporate more nano- and micro-influencers in campaigns alongside macro-influencers continues to advance. Brands like the authenticity and high engagement rates of smaller influencers coupled with the reach of macros. Micros often have more reliable followings who are more likely to purchase from influencer recommendations. In fact, 70 percent of teens trust influencers more than celebrities2.

While nano- and micro-influencers tend to cost less compared to macro-influencers, we have seen a steady increase regardless of tier when it comes to usage rights. With higher rates comes an increased expectation of the results, which will require influencers to communicate past results with brands to determine overall value.

Final Thoughts

Brand and industry leaders need to proactively stay ahead of these trends to know when to implement and adjust influencer strategies. At Empower, we strive to be industry experts by staying up to date on how influencers further intertwine with ecommerce and social media, thus keeping us and our clients ahead of the game.



  1. Social Commerce Report 2022. (The Influencer Marketing Factory, 2022)
  2. 20 Surprising Influencer Marketing Statistics. (Digital Marketing Institute, 2021)


More Retailers Move to Online Marketplace Model
We have all heard the shocking statistics around ecommerce growth.

Though the exact percentages are hard to quantify, the pandemic has truly rocketed ecommerce trends skyward out of necessity. Most consumer-focused trends such as contactless or curbside pick-up, same-day delivery, and free shipping mostly benefit the shopper by offering convenience unlike before. Brands have been impacted positively and negatively by these trends, but retailers have mostly benefited from the influx of online orders.

The online marketplace model is not new or a result of the pandemic, as it has been around for years. However, this boom in ecommerce has caught the attention of several retailers as a potential avenue that can maximize growth and sales. Walmart switched to this model back in 2009 and saw its total GMV (gross merchandise value) sales double in 2020. This was a direct result of the pandemic and the new structure. Compare this to the much slower growth of 35 percent pre-pandemic, and the proof is in the pudding.

Defining an Online Marketplace

So, what exactly is an online marketplace? To put it simply, it is an open model platform that allows third-party sellers and brands to sell products on a retail site. The big players that come to mind are Amazon and eBay, which have been using this operating model since launching in the mid-90s. Many things have changed since the days of mood rings and neon windbreakers, including the way that large retailers operate. Over the last several years, more and more retailers have adopted this open model. The pandemic especially pushed retailers to have a robust online shopping presence.

Amazon in particular has driven this transition. In fact, they own an estimated 37.9 percent of the overall US commerce market in 2020. This percentage has most likely decreased as big box retailers like Walmart and Target have shown a boom in online sales since the pandemic. Kroger, J.Crew, Urban Outfitters and Express have also all transitioned to a marketplace structure within the last few years. Macy’s is planning to reposition to this model in H2 of this year as well. Macy’s plans on going from a traditional DTC site to a marketplace model where the company will charge a percentage of each sale to sellers.

Choosing Online Marketplaces VS The Traditional Route

Why exactly are retailers choosing online marketplaces versus the traditional route? With online marketplaces, the retailers themselves do not own the inventory in the traditional sense. Instead, they simply help facilitate the transactions. Retailers can benefit from this structure in many ways, but one of the big reasons is that retailers make more profit long-term by spending less on operating costs and holding inventory. Building and maintaining a full ecommerce site for high-traffic retailers come with heavy investment and is associated with a variety of costs, such as hosting fees, site maintenance and upkeep. Inventory costs in the traditional commerce model can make up a giant portion of overall assets and the storage costs associated with them can make or break a balance sheet.

Retailers might make a smaller profit off of each transaction by allowing third-party sellers to own their inventory and take a fee for each sale, but this method is much more flexible and often generates more overall sales. These sales fees are how the retailers make their money. Fees can vary widely, but as these fees go up, so do the services that the retailer offers each seller. Higher fees usually involve assistance with fulfillment services like shipping assistance, storage, and packaging customization. Advertising offerings usually come with higher fees as well, as retailers will include basic advertising services with expanded offerings for a higher fee or incremental charge.

What Consumers Can Expect

The ecommerce model has traditionally been very positive for consumers, as the inherent competition with marketplaces like Amazon or Walmart pushes down prices. Convenience is a key driver as well. A quick look at the beloved rapid-fire shipping rates–some low as 1-day delivery–proves how much of an impact convenience has in the world of ecommerce. Buying online and picking up in-store is another trend that emerged from the pandemic. This trend was also made easier under the online marketplace model.

With a number of retailers moving to the marketplace model, additional routes for selling should expand the variety and breadth of products offered to consumers. Some drawbacks for consumers are receiving poor quality or knock-off products from 3rd party sellers, something that has been a consistent theme on Amazon since they moved on from only selling books.

What Sellers Can Expect

Historically, online marketplaces have worked both in favor and against sellers. It is a bit of a mixed bag depending on the category, brand, and specific situation. The advantage is that sellers can quickly and easily list their products on a platform with large consumer bases and daily users without the need to build this traffic out on their own. Selling and fulfillment programs offered by retailers can help smaller brands navigate these larger concerns when selling online. As companies like Amazon and Walmart have rolled out their advertising offerings, brands have another route to reach consumers. Investing in SEO can strongly improve sales over time as well.

The main concern? Fees. Fees charged to sellers can vary widely and eat into profitability, especially when retailers can dictate the price point that these products are sold. Amazon has come under scrutiny for pricing requirements the last several years, even putting brands out of business for forcing price decreases. Brands building their own DTC site offer a separate route, giving them the autonomy to dictate the prices that their customers ultimately pay. Owning and operating a DTC site has its own challenges and requires a large investment by the brand, not to mention the need for fulfillment and shipping.

As more retailers switch to the online marketplace model, the hope is that it will give sellers more options and relieve stress on pricing. The higher number of options for sellers should also have a positive effect on pricing restraints, especially within categories like clothing, which already has several active marketplaces.

Online marketplaces can offer another outlet to sell products beyond utilizing Shopify or other similar selling platforms. For many upcoming brands, this open format offers less friction to launch products and reaches large consumer pools from the start. Not all marketplaces are created equal though. For example, it’s much easier for Amazon to initially launch a product than Walmart because Walmart operates as an invite-only marketplace.

Final Thoughts

At Empower, we always encourage our clients to invest in DTC capabilities, whether it be through a platform like Shopify or investing and building the structure internally. Having true ownership over pricing means more control over profitability and, ultimately, sales growth. This route may not be right for all brands, as each retailer and sales channel will have its own challenges, advantages, and disadvantages. Since the priority for brands is driving overall sales and pleasing consumers, always consider the associated fees and pricing requirements before diving into a new online marketplace.



  1. “Amazon’s Share of online retail sales” statista.com, 2022
  2. “Amazon’s Marketplace Model Coming to a Store Near You”, Wall Street Journal, article, 2021
  3. “E-commerce vs Online Marketplace: What Are the Benefits for SMBs?”, HP.com, article, 2020
  4. “Selling on Online Marketplaces: Best Platforms for Selling Your Products”, Bigcommerce.com, 2020


Living Unapologetically
Black Health and Wellness includes physical body along with emotional and mental health.

Shining a spotlight on the importance of self-care has been a focal point of many Black literary artists through time, with truly living unapologetically as the ultimate in self-care.

The early works of Langston Hughes are an example of the desire of people of color to live unapologetically, as he notes, in The Letters of Langston Hughes, “In all my life I have never been free. I have never been able to do anything with freedom, except in the field of my writing.” As James Baldwin wrestled with his own self-care, he shared in his 1984 article, “Go the Way Your Blood Beats” in The Village Voice, “You have to go the way your blood beats. If you don’t live the only life you have, you won’t live some other life, you won’t live any life at all…”. Both writers attempted to bring a collective voice to the struggles of being ones’ true self and how living unapologetically was something difficult to obtain for many Black people.

This collective voice continues to thread through current day as we hear Amanda Gorman share in her poem “The Hill We Climb” and it’s first line, “When day comes, we ask ourselves, where can we find light in this never-ending shade?” She sets the aspirational tone for us to accept and appreciate our differences. “For there is always light, if only we’re brave enough to see it. If only we are brave enough to be it.”

Being one’s true self can come with obstacles and roadblocks. The challenge to live unapologetically can put a person in fear of job loss, discrimination, violence, stereotyping, and even legal repercussions. If we are to seek a better tomorrow, we must be more open and accepting to what it means for all to live unapologetically or as we say at Empower…#LiveEmpowered

During this Black History Month, a question to ponder is how can you encourage others to live unapologetically?


For more on the featured artist noted above:

Langston Hughes

James Baldwin

Amanda Gorman


Local Black History Month events in your market:




Walmart Teaming Up with TalkShopLive
Before the holiday, Walmart announced it would be teaming up with TalkShopLive, a live shopping platform.

With this partnership, Walmart would provide shoppable, streamed content throughout its online environments. TalkShopLive–which itself has partnerships with brands, creators, and publishing hubs like Meredith and Condé Nast–will also be available via Walmart’s commerce API.

What Exactly is Live Shopping?

For those of you who have heard of live shopping but haven’t officially dug into it, think of it as QVC plus a little Instagram Live plus a dash of HQ. A live, online, interactive event hosted by a brand-aligned influencer, expert, or celebrity designed to:

  • Engage with consumers (awareness/consideration)
  • Move product (conversions)
  • Create lasting relationships (lifetime value)

Brands will often partner with a live shopping platform to help with planning, setting up, and accessing the tech required to execute. A seamless integration of all the above, as one would expect, is difficult to pull off. It combines aspects of social media, influencer, event planning, omni-channel commerce, consumer research, and beyond. This brings us to the need of a consolidated solution that helps pull it all off.

Walmart’s Interest in Social Commerce as a Whole

Everyone has been pushing social commerce as the future of commerce. It’s an accelerating space, with global sales reaching nearly $500 billion this past year, and expected to reach $1.2 trillion in 2025. It also encapsulates a few paths including shoppable social, influencer commerce, and live shopping. And when talking social commerce in relation to retail, Walmart is one of the names at the forefront.

Their interest in Live Shopping has been well-documented. They’ve been a pioneering brand in the space. Beyond the recently announced partnership with TalkShopLive, they’ve also curated live streaming events on TikTok, YouTube and most recently Twitter.

Walmart’s Live Shopping Efforts to Date

One of Walmart’s more recent forays into live streaming commerce was on the eve of Cyber Monday. They compiled a half-hour variety show hosted by Jason Derulo filmed at his L.A. home. The event promoted multiple products and offers leading into the heavy-up of the holiday season. Beyond that, Walmart also planned to host dozens of additional events during the holiday season across several platforms and publishers, including TalkShopLive.

The reason behind the big push on Walmart’s end is two-fold: Act as an early adopter within a growing space and connect with the younger audience that inhabits it.

Short vs. Long-Form

It’s a funny thing. Younger audiences (non-Geriatric Millenials, Gen Z) have been stereotyped as lacking attention spans. It seems each generation has less and less patience in compounding fashion. Gen Z carries this stigma, having grown up in a world defined by everything all at once. They’ve listened to music, consumed video, and accessed information on-demand for the vast majority of their lives. Most have never experienced the mortal struggles associated with dual cassette players, VHS recordings, or even researching something at the library.

They’re honed-in on what they prefer, and what they prefer is shorter-form content. Within online video, Instagram Reels and YouTube Shorts are two of the newer offerings from tech platforms designed to lure in Gen Z. This effort capitalizes on the ever-growing need for ever-shortening content.

Live Shopping’s Allure

Despite the younger generation’s goldfish-esque attention spans (a debunked theory, but great reference), the data still points to Live Shopping (which is long-form) being the next big thing for this subset. Live Shopping’s ability to blend–as noted–social, omni-channel, influencer and more into a neat, little package is part of the appeal. It’s also incredibly engaging for the right audience.

Solving the attention span issue specifically is pacing and interactivity. Keeping audiences engaged and keeping the content moving is where Live Shopping events shine. A golf equipment company, for example, can set up an event where a personality from the sport hosts, provides tips, engages with audience members, conducts relevant polls, etc. all while selling product (a line of putters) designed to fix the holes (no pun intended) in each attendee’s golf game.

Today’s teen spends much more time (56 percent of it) focused on user-generated content (UGC) than consumers aged 55 plus (only 22 percent of it). The data says they’d rather access UGC than sit through a studio-produced effort. Live shopping does its best to straddle this line. It’s a produced, polished effort hosted by a UGC-focused influencer. It gives the younger generation what they want in a format that older generations (relative term, of course) might find palatable as well.

Who Should Line Up for Live Shopping

Walmart and Amazon are just two examples of brands (retailers, specifically) diving head-first into the social commerce space. Being an early adopter in the space is a win for them, as well as the brands that sell on their marketplaces.

For any brand hoping to tap into these younger cohorts, Live Shopping should be a tactic that’s heavily considered. There are certain brands whose products lend themselves to this format (live selling, impulse-friendly, etc.) better than others, but the sooner a brand can get acclimated with this tactic (and its nuances) the better.