Instant Pot relied mainly on Amazon to introduce its high-tech pressure cookers, and now that it’s better known is selling to such retail chains as Wal-Mart and Williams-Sonoma.

Instant Pot has a history of success on Amazon

When Amazon.com Inc. reported the top-selling items on its first two Prime Day mid-summer sales, the list included Amazon devices, products from popular consumer electronics brands like Samsung and Bose—and a pressure cooker from Instant Pot, a company founded in 2009 that has relied mainly on Amazon to introduce its products to consumers.

Robert Wang, CEO, Instant Pot

Robert Wang, CEO, Instant Pot

In fact, an Instant Pot cooker was the second best-selling item on Amazon Prime Day in July 2016, behind the Amazon Echo voice-activated device and ahead of a Samsung TV, according to Slice Intelligence, which tracks online sales.

Instant Pot sold 215,000 cookers on Prime Day last year (July 12, 2016) after selling 24,000 units on the first Prime Day (July 15, 2015). The company would have sold more in 2016 except that Amazon ran out of the cookers an hour before the 24-hour sale ended, says Instant Pot CEO Robert Wang.

While Instant Pot may not have the brand recognition of Samsung or Amazon, it has sold 2.5 million pressure cookers since the company launched in January 2009—mostly relying on Amazon, No. 1 in the Internet Retailer 2017 Top 500, to introduce its high-tech pressure cookers to consumers.

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Last year, 80% of the company’s sales were on Amazon sites in the U.S. and around the world, Wang says. However, he expects that to drop to 60% or less this year now that such retail chains as Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (No. 3 in the Top 500), Target Corp. (No. 20), Williams-Sonoma Inc. (No. 23) and Sur La Table Inc. (No. 245) are selling Instant Pot cookers in their bricks-and-mortar stores.

Why Instant Pot chose Internet over in-store

Wang says it made sense to use the web to create buzz for Instant Pot, whose features such as wireless connectivity to smartphones on certain versions have made it sufficiently well known that consumers now go into stores looking for it. “For an innovative product like Instant Pot, online sales is the very first place you want to get started, because people do not know to go to Wal-Mart or Target to look for a Bluetooth-connected cooker,” he says. “They learned about it and heard about it on the internet.”

What makes Instant Pot so innovative

Wang and two partners turned to consumer products after the stock market crash of 2008 sunk a previous high-tech startup. Their market research suggested to them that many consumers were too busy to cook using conventional methods, but they wanted to eat healthy foods and save energy. They tout the Instant Pot programmable pressure cooker as ticking all three of those boxes.

Bluetooth-connected Instant Pot pressure cooker

Bluetooth-connected Instant Pot pressure cooker

Wang, who had a decade of experience in the wireless industry, recognized that it was sensors in smartphones that enabled appealing new features for his cooker. In phones those sensors affect the screen display, reorienting it based on how a consumer is holding the device.

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For Instant Pot, the company builds at least three sensors into each cooker—one to detect when the appropriate pressure is reached, another that measures the heat at the bottom of the vessel to prevent burning and a third at the lid to keep it from blowing off and possibly hurting someone.

The most advanced versions of the cooker also connect to mobile devices via Bluetooth technology to allow a consumer to program her own recipe. Wang says putting a keyboard on a pressure cooker to allow extensive data entry was not practical.

The mobile app includes frequently used recipes  that, when selected automatically control the temperature, cooking duration and heating intensity. The app also allows an Instant Pot owner to use her smartphone or tablet to program complex recipes. For example, it can cook an Indian curry wrap recipe that requires the wraps to be soaked at 60 degrees Celsius for eight hours, then pressure cooked for 40 minutes and slow cooked for a few hours.

If you want to achieve high volumes, Etsy won’t cut it and your own warehouse won’t cut it. You have to partner with Amazon.

Instant Pot rather use Amazon than in-house fulfillment

Consumers can buy the pressure cookers at Instant Pot’s own e-commerce site, InstantPot.com/store, but Wang says he puts little emphasis on promoting sales from that site. His company, based in Ottawa, Canada, only has 40 employees, and he would rather they spend their time improving the product and serving customers than handling order fulfillment. He prefers to leave fulfillment—and marketing—to a giant like Amazon, which since 2013 has been buying Instant Pot products in bulk and selling them on its sites. Before that, Instant Pot sold its products itself on the Amazon Marketplace.

“Our sales have listed up substantially since we started wholesaling to Amazon back in 2013,” Wang says. “If you want to achieve high volumes, such as selling 215,000 in one day, Etsy won’t cut it and your own warehouse won’t cut it. You have to partner with Amazon, stock up with inventory and then you can achieve your sales goal.”

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Wang won’t disclose his plans for this year’s Prime Day, other than to say, “Instant Pot will be part of Prime Day.”

Amazon hasn’t announced when it will hold its Prime Day sale this year, but sources tell Internet Retailer it will be a 30-hour sale this year, instead of 24 hours, and take place between July 10 and 16.

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