We were recently graciously offered the chance to try-out and review Instacart. My wife and I have actually never used any grocery delivery service – so we welcomed the opportunity and wanted to offer our take on their service.
What is Instacart?
Instacart was started in 2012 by Apoorva Mehta, a former Amazon employee. Mehta had previously started some 20 businesses before his eventual success with Instacart (can you say persistent?!).
The service began in Silicon Valley – but now operates in all 50 states, covering almost 85% of all American households. They also offer service in Canada. They partner with a wide variety of stores including major retailers such as Target, Costco, and Sam's Club; grocers like Albertsons, Kroger, HEB, Publix, Loblaw, and Aldi; and specialty retailers such as Petco. You can see local offerings before signing up by entering your zip code on the main page.
Our first experience with grocery delivery
Instacart wasn't the first home grocery delivery service to enter the market.
I remember years ago when home grocery delivery made its way into our city and thought, “how lazy does someone have to be to order groceries to their house?” and “why would someone want to pay more for their food?”
It seemed like such a novelty at the time – and my thinking was that it was only for those wealthy enough to afford such a service, shut-ins or busy parents.
But, as I've aged and discovered how important time is and how almost everything we purchase today has become “deliverable” – I've started to see a real value in home grocery delivery.
Though, I've really never given it a serious try.
So, when a representative from Instacart reached out to us and offered us a $50 credit – I was excited to give it a whirl.
Instacart Review – Ordering Products
What you'll find when you first visit their website (or app if you prefer) is their focus on usability. On first visit, you'll be presented with a pop-up box asking for your zip code and then also stores they serve (here's a look at the Austin market):
Since Costco is one of our main grocery destinations, we chose to pick some items from their store. Items are presented very simply and clear – and everything we searched for was available.
We eat / purchase a fair amount of chicken, so we were pleasantly surprised to see they even had our packs of chicken breasts available to order.
Once you get to the checkout steps, Instacart will ask you to validate replacement items for anything that could be sold out. You can opt to approve their recommend replacement, choose your own replacement, or choose not to replace the item.
Another great discovery was that prices were very much in-line with what we'd see at the store. It is worth noting that each retailer sets their own pricing policy. Some charge a similar rate to in store prices while others add a significant market. Fortunately, Instacart offers transparency by retailer. You can see an individual retailer's policy by clicking “View Pricing Policy” below the retailer's logo on the shopping page.
When we had filled our cart with the goods we wanted to purchase, and went through check-out, we saw a “service fee” that had managed to find its way into our total. There was also a link by it titled, “Choose”. I clicked on it and it gave me the option of waiving the service fee (of $4.95) or not. I thought that was interesting – and decided to opt-out of the fee.
Instacart has this to say about their service fees:
At checkout we show you the estimated order total, including all fees, taxes, and item totals. Changes to your order, such as replacing an item, may adjust the final total. The service fee is based on the final order total at delivery.
It's important to note the service fee is not a tip – but (as they say) “to operate our service and provide you with the best service possible.” But, it is an optional one.
Some Instacart shoppers have stated they don't receive a tip IF the customer waives this service fee. Kinda strange, if you ask me and this is only speculation from what I've gathered on Reddit.
After we confirmed our order, a screen displayed showing us our shopper and the time when we should expect our order. Again, the whole ordering process was very smooth and transparent.
While our shopping cart was on the smaller size – the whole delivery took less than 1.5 hours. This was amazing to me. We also received email / text alerts on the progress and estimation of when we could expect our groceries.
All in all, the whole shopping experience was seamless and (even) enjoyable. The only issue we had was that we received more chicken than we had ordered. We expected only one package – and got three. I reached out to the customer service department (also well done) and they indicated we could keep the extra items – no charge.
Some things to keep in mind while shopping with Instacart
Here's a couple things I would have liked to have known prior to using Instacart.
- Have a general idea of in-store prices. This is key to “saving” money via home delivery. No sense paying more for what you could spend if you just hoped in the car and went to your grocery store.
- Time is money. If you are paying $5 in a tip and $5 for a service fee, what is the value for that in your time / travel of not having to go to the store?
- Instacart does take some coupons / promocodes.
- First order delivery is free. After that, you can expect fees based on your order size. All orders must be over $10.
- Fees for busier times. Much like Uber, Instacart could charge more based on busier times of the day / season. But they also have a Instacart Express membership available which offers no delivery fees, no “busy-time” fees for orders over $35 ($149/year).
- Sign up friends / fam, earn $. Instacart will give you up to $50 ($10 each) for every new referral you provide them who signs up and orders.
Have you used Instacart or another grocery delivery service? What has your experience been?
$35 minimum order to receive free delivery. All views expressed are our own. TTG may receive a commission on any sales made via the links above – at no cost to you. Thanks for helping to support our site.
Update 5/18/18: My wife and I used Instacart again and we were a bit surprised at all the fees we encountered. The tip is an optional fee you can pay but the service fee on top of service fees are what “get you”. In all we paid close to $10 in fees for our order just over $50. So, when deciding on Instacart, it is either a convenience for you, you have the money OR you are shut-in that needs this service. They also had to replace a couple of our items in our cart which we weren't too hip on. I'm not entirely sure we'll use the service again.
Update 3/18/2020: As we've gotten busier and busier, we have increased our usage of Instacart. The service has improved a bit over the years. There are more options for delivery times, and overall reliability of the service is very good. The service fees have changed a bit. They are no longer optional, but Instacart has clarified that these are to cover operating expenses such as insurance, background checks, and customer service. They've also confirmed that driver's receive 100% of the tip amount. Finally, they've added an option to indicate the driver can leave groceries at the door. I've found this to be a life saver when I have an unexpected errand or the baby is sleeping.
The service is obviously more expensive than shopping yourself, but I highly recommend occasional use of the service when you just can't fit in time to grocery shop.
Update 3/23/2020: Instacart has discontinued their offer of free delivery on new accounts due to higher demand during Covid-19.
- Groceries delivered to home!
- Prices similar to in-store
- Easy to use
- Fast (as little as 1-hour)
- Save time
- Sometimes can be charged a "busier time" fee
- If you're picky, cannot hand-select items
- Items will get replaced without your consent