Instacart SQL Data Analytics Case Study

Let's apply all we've learned across the 30+ past SQL lessons to a real-world case study where we'll analyze data from Instacart. While there's no one correct solution to this open-ended Data Analytics problem, we've included a few sample SQL queries to help you get started.

Case Study Background: About Instacart

Instacart is a grocery delivery and pickup service. Users can select items from local grocery stores through the Instacart app or website, and then either have them delivered to their doorstep by a personal shopper or prepared for pickup at the store.

Instacart App Experience

For our non-North American friends working on this case study, Instacart is similar to India's Blinkit, Swiggy Instamart, or Dunzo app. In Europe, the comparable app is Getir and Gorrilas. In Latin America, Rappi serves a similar use case.

Case Study Background: The Data Analysis Task

You’re a data analyst at Instacart. Aside from the discounted groceries, you also get the benefit of solving interesting data problems.

In your 1-1 call this morning, your manager tells you that leadership wants to analyze the Instacart market data over time, to understand how the business is changing or staying the same.

Unfortunately, data engineering found some logging errors in the pipeline, and there are currently no date fields in the market data tables 🙃.

Your manager has a call with engineering tomorrow to work on fixing this so the team can track changes more closely in the future. But you’re already mid-way through Q3 and the data pipeline can’t be refreshed again until Q4. So for now, you’re stuck with the data you have.

The Task: find a way to understand how Instacart's business changed over time…without using explicit dates!

Before you panic about time-series data analysis without time-series data, take a deep breath, it's all going to be okay. Take a look at the data you have access to... things will start to click!

Case Study Background: Instacart Grocery Orders Data

Here are the schemas for all 5 tables in the Instacart market data. You’ll decide which ones are relevant and how to best use them throughout this case study.

: this table specifies which products were purchased in each Instacart order.

Column NameType
reorderedinteger boolean (1 or 0)


  • The 'reordered' field indicates that the customer has a previous order that contains the product.
  • Some orders will have no reordered items
  • None of these fields are unique to this table, but the combination of and is unique!

: this table contains previous order contents for all customers. This data was collected in Q2, verus which is data from the current quarter (Q3).

Column NameType
reorderedinteger boolean (1 or 0)

Note: the table has the same exact schema as . You'll likely want to compare these two tables!

: info about each item in the Instacart product catalog

Column NameType

: info about each department

Column NameType

: info about each aisle in a grocery store

Column NameType

Before you make any assumptions, explore the tables below and make sure you understand their structures. You can explore the Instacart data here!

Your Turn: Start Analyzing with SQL!

Given the above data and the task mentioned earlier, go to town and come up with a solution. There's no more instructions, rules, or constraints, go nuts!

Just remember – it's not really about finding the “right” answer; it's about finding some business insights that you can defend with confidence!

Our Solution

Here's how we'd approach this ambiguous data case study. Feel free to follow this approach, or adapt it to derive your own insights!

Our Solution: High-Level Overview

  1. Identify the two specific tables you should focus on to understand broad trends over time.
  2. Consider a phenomenon in the data that may have changed over time. Choose something practical that you can highlight to your manager.
  3. Define in plain ol' English how you plan to investigate the data to solve the data analysis task.
  4. Express that approach in SQL.
  5. If your observed phenomenon has changed over time, develop 2 or more hypotheses to explain potential causes of that change. If your observed phenomenon has not changed over time, develop 2 or more hypotheses to explain why this phenomenon has remained stagnant.
  6. Consider other relevant factors aside from just the Instacart data, such as food trends, seasonality, supply chain, etc.

BONUS: Based on your hypotheses, write a recommendation to leadership explaining how they should either:

  • Support this phenomenon if it’s helpful to Instacart business, or
  • Combat this phenomenon if it’s harmful to Instacart business.

If you want to check your work against our solution, scroll down to check the answer key below.

Remember, a successful case study simply means you developed a coherent process with a data-driven conclusion and defended your method! It doesn’t have to be the same as ours; it just needs to be similarly rigorous!

Our Solution: Analyzing Prior vs. Current Products.

The two tables we want to focus on are and .

As a data analyst, one surprising event you might want to investigate using SQL could be a sudden and significant change in the reordering behavior of certain products in the current orders compared to their behavior in the prior orders.

Specifically, you could look for products that were not frequently reordered in the past (based on data from ) but are now being reordered more frequently in the current orders (from ).

We can formulate the following query to investigate:

This query joins the prior and current orders tables to the product, department, and aisles tables. The crux of the query lies in the SUMs, which allow us to compare product reorders across the prior and current orders tables. We select a lot of other fields so that we can use them to aggregate later as needed.

Finally, in the HAVING clause, we filter on products that were previously reordered fewer than 10 times, and are currently reordered 10 or more times. 10 is a nice round number to start with but a different number (or a measure of percent change) would work for this methodology too.

You can execute the query here:

The first few rows of results should look like this:

8174Organic Navel Orange244producefresh fruits030
7948Organic Unsalted Butter3616dairy eggsbutter024
8193Russet Potato834producefresh vegetables024

Our Solution: Analyzing Changes in Reorders By Department, Aisle

Looking at this granular view won’t give us a broad picture of changes over time, so let’s do some summarizing. We can wrap the above query in a CTE (Common Table Expression) called and do some quick aggregation. We can aggregate by department, which shows that the majority of products with increased reorders fall under Produce.

We can aggregate by aisle to see if that data tells the same story:

According to the results, most of these products come from aisles that are related to produce (fresh vegetables, fresh fruit, and packaged produce).

Our Solution: Hypothesis Behind Re-order Change

Now it’s time for the actionable part of our work: figuring out what this data means for the company, and what we'll do because of the data.

We’ll start by developing some hypotheses to explain potential reasons for the increase in reorders of produce items.

First of all, we mentioned that it’s currently Q3, which means we’re somewhere between June and August in this scenario. Fruits and vegetables might become more popular in the summer months due to their freshness and nutritional value. So we’ll call hypothesis #1 seasonality.

It’s possible that limited-time discounts, bundle deals, or loyalty programs could drive higher reorders. We should check in with the marketing department and see if there were any deals or discounts related to produce recently. We’ll call hypothesis #2 deals.

We could also take a more skeptical approach to things and see if these products were even available before, or if a recent increase in supply chain activity has allowed for more reorders. When we see reorders go from 0 to 30 for the Organic Navel Orange, we have to ask if the conditions around those orders have changed at all. We’ll call hypothesis #3 availability.

We could keep going, but with the 3 hypotheses below, we’ve covered step 5 of the strategy framework:

  1. Seasonality: Produce is more popular in the summer due to its freshness and nutritional value.
  2. Deals: Discounts, bundle deals, or loyalty programs around produce could drive higher reorders.
  3. Availability: Recent shifts in supply chain and availability may have influenced consumers’ ability to buy produce.

Our Solution: Our Business Recommendation

Here is the bonus recommendation informed by our hypotheses:

After analyzing our current order data compared to previous order data, we discovered that the reorder rates for produce have significantly increased across both departments and aisles. Increased produce sales are beneficial for the company, so leadership should capitalize on customers’ higher propensity to reorder produce during the summer months.

If not already implemented, marketing should consider promoting bundle deals on produce to incentivize new buyers, who may then become repeat customers for those products. Additionally, team members working with suppliers and grocers should ensure the consistent availability of popular produce items, including Organic Navel Oranges, Russet Potatoes, and Cantaloupes, in order to maintain high reorder rates.