I really love going to the grocery store. It’s kind of weird, but I enjoy it. So I was hesitant to try Instacart, even though my friends were giving me positive Instacart reviews and telling me how much time and energy they were saving with Instacart.
Eventually, I gave in and tried Instacart, and you’re going to learn exactly what my experience has been like. You’ll learn the basics, like how much Instacart costs and how to use the app. But you’ll also learn tips for making substitutions and how to save money on your Instacart order.
My 2021 Instacart Review | Is Instacart Worth the Money?
How does Instacart work?
Instacart is an on-demand grocery delivery service where customers place orders online or in the app from their favorite stores and an Instacart shopper shops for the order. You can have the order delivered to your home or, in some cases, pick it up from the store yourself.
You can track your order through the entire process – from when a shopper accepts it, what items they’ve put in the cart, when it’s been paid for, and when they’re on the way to your house.
Shoppers are trained on how to pick good quality produce (this was a concern of mine), and they’ll notify you if they need to make any substitutions. You’ll be able to confirm and approve any substitutions that are made.
You can place Instacart orders for as fast as an hour – there might be some limitations depending on the time of the day and shopper availability – or up to a week in advance. And delivery windows start at 9 am and can run as late as midnight depending on the store.
How much does Instacart cost?
There’s no simple formula to tell how much Instacart costs. You can place the same order at different times and have a slightly different total. That’s because what you pay is based on three different factors:
1. Delivery + service fees
You get your first order delivered for free, but after that, Instacart delivery fees start at $3.99, and they’re based on the size of your order and when you want your order delivered.
The fees can go up quite a bit if you order during busy times, but Instacart makes this clear when you place your order. Sunday is the busiest day on Instacart. During the week, between the hours of 3-6, can be really busy too.
If you do pay extra for an order placed during a busy time and it ends up being late, Instacart will refund the extra fees.
There’s also a service fee that starts at 5% of your order with a $2 minimum.
If you think you’ll use Instacart regularly, you can pay $9.99/month or $99 when billed annually for Instacart Express. It can make Instacart more affordable for you with:
- $0 order fees on orders of $35 or more
- No extra fees when you order during peak hours
- You can place orders for more than one store at a time and receive free delivery on your entire order
You’ll most likely make your money back in just 2-3 orders.
2. Grocery costs
Instacart does not set the prices on the items you see in their app; the grocery stores set those prices. Sometimes those prices are the same as the prices you would see in the store, but often they aren’t. Stores charge more for items to cover the cost of partnering with Instacart.
In-store sale prices are typically not reflected in the app, but Instacart does run it’s own sales pricing and coupons through the app. All of those deals are automatically applied to your order, so there’s no need to enter a sales or coupon code.
Instacart also warns you that the total you pay might be slightly different than the total you see in the app. That’s because they might need to make substitutions as they shop. In my experience, the order total is always slightly different, sometimes more and sometimes less.
Even though tipping isn’t required, Instacart strongly encourages you to leave a tip for your shopper, and shoppers get to keep 100% of their tips. The app defaults tips to 5% of your order total, and there is a minimum tip suggestion of $2 (same structure as the service fee, but tipping is different).
Instacart shoppers rely heavily on tips for their side hustle income, so it’s recommended that you tip your shopper well when they’ve done their job well.
Which stores does Instacart work with?
Instacart delivers for hundreds of major and local grocery stores throughout the country, including Costco, CVS, and Target. My two favorite grocery stores, Aldi, and a local one called Schnucks, both work with Instcart. And even two of the fancy, high-end grocery stores in my area have partnered with Instacart.
The only noticeable void is Trader Joe’s, who doesn’t work with any delivery services. Trader Joe’s VP of marketing recently explained that they would rather invest their resources in their people rather than invest them in the cost it would take to plan and implement delivery services.
What can I order from Instacart?
You can order groceries, pet supplies, essential items, and alcohol (only in some markets). Pre-COVID, Instacart was just groceries, but they’ve expanded their offerings to help people get the food and supplies they need to stay at home.
Heads up: If you do order alcohol from Instacart, you’ll need to be home to accept the order and show your ID. I made this mistake once and got a bunch of notifications that Instacart was trying to deliver my order when I wasn’t home. Fortunately, I was right around the corner, and the shopper was super patient with me. I tipped well for their time.
How to start using Instacart
Step 1: Sign up for your free Instacart account
You just need an email address and password, and you will be asked if you want to do the free 2-week trial of Instacart Express.
Step 2: Select the store you want to shop at.
You can see what the average order time is for each store. As I’m writing this Instacart review, most stores in my area have a 2 hour delivery time.
Step 3: Start adding items to your cart.
You can browse by department, sales, popular items, and even local products. You can click on the + sign to quickly add things to your cart, or click on the item to add special instructions or see the ingredient list.
Below you can see the instructions I gave when ordering deli cheese – sliced thin and with an approved substitution.
You can even scan barcodes to pull up the exact items you want instead of browsing the app. And Instacart saves previous orders in the app so you can reorder the same things in the future. Both of these options can save you a ton of time.
Step 4: Review what’s in your cart
Your shopping cart is in the top right-hand corner, click on it to review what you’ve added to your cart. You can make any last-minute adjustments and see your total.
Step 5: Head to the checkout
This is where you’ll add your delivery address or select your pickup location and time. You can add delivery instructions, like “leave on the porch.” You’ll also need to add your mobile phone number and payment information.
You can also see the total for your order, with a 5% tip added in (you can change your tip now or up to 24 hours after receiving the order), plus the service fee and estimated sales tax.
Just click the “Place Order” button and your order will be handed off to an Instacart shopper.
Step 6: Wait for your order to be delivered
The app will notify you when someone accepts and starts shopping for your order – make sure you enable notifications when you download the Instacart app.
Your shopper will notify you if they need to make a substitution, and most shoppers are pretty responsive if you need to make a last-minute adjustment to your order. Once your order has been paid for – Instacart shoppers are given a prepaid debit card to use at checkout – you’ll get a notification for that too.
After your order has been delivered, you can adjust the tip. I like this option because I’ve had some shoppers really go out of their way to make sure I get exactly what I want, and I like to tip them a little extra.
How to make the most with Instacart
Since we know that ordering from Instacart will cost you a little bit more, this wouldn’t be a good Instacart review if I didn’t give you some ways to save money with Instacart:
- Connect your store loyalty program to the app: Most store’s rewards or loyalty programs transfer the Instacart app. The app will prompt you to fill that information out when you log in and select the store for the first time. It’s saved in the app after that.
- Refer your friends: You and your friend both get a $10 credit when they sign up through your referral link. Your credit goes through once they complete their first order, and you can refer up to five friends.
- Take advantage of Instacart coupons: Even though you won’t see all of the same sales you would if you went into the store, Instacart automatically applies manufacturer's coupons when you select eligible items. It’s worth looking through the coupon section of the app to see if you can save money on any deals.
- Switch to Instacart Express: If you’re using Instacart regularly, you can reduce the amount you pay in delivery fees by becoming a member of Instacart Express. You receive free delivery on orders of $35 or more, and it’s cheapest if you pay for a full year upfront.
- Use the pickup option: You can still have a shopper shop for your groceries, but instead of having them delivered, you can save a significant amount by scheduling a pick-up window. You drive to the store and an Instacart shopper loads your groceries in your car.
But here’s a big one: use the time you’re saving.
Instacart saves you the hour or so it takes to go to the store, so consider using that time on something worthwhile. Some days it really might be sitting on the sofa drinking a glass of wine and scrolling through Facebook – we all need a break like that sometimes. Other days you can spend that extra time on your side hustle.
Instacart Review: My experience using the service
Full disclosure: I didn’t start using Instacart until COVID – we were trying to limit our exposure and I was also home healing from surgery. Instacart was a godsend for my family during those first few months.
The first time we used Instacart, I was surprised at how much more expensive it was than going to the grocery store. On our $150 order, it easily costs an additional $20, maybe more, once you factored in the delivery fee, tip, and in-app pricing.
During high-need times, like at the start of the pandemic, it was hard to find delivery windows that weren’t 2-5 days out. A lot of my friends were experiencing the same thing. But between an additional influx of Shoppers and more people feeling comfortable returning to in-person shopping, I can easily get same-day orders now.
One thing I’ve heard from lots of people, and it’s true for me too, is that you aren’t tempted by impulse purchases when you order through Instacart. We’ve all been there: you make a grocery list, try to stick to it, but you end up with 10 extra items in your cart.
Depending on how good you are at sticking to your grocery list, reducing impulse spending could more than negate the costs of using Instacart.
My biggest complaint about Instacart is that they bag all of your produce in individual produce bags, even things like a bunch of bananas that I would never even put in a bag. For someone who brings their own produce bags and hates that kind of plastic waste, it’s a big shock.
Tip on substitutions:
I highly recommend spending the time to put substitutions in the app when you place your order. You should also stick close to your phone when the Instacart shopper is shopping for your groceries so you can advise on substitutions. If I’d learned this earlier on and it could have saved me some money.
For example, on one of my orders, the store didn’t have the blueberries I wanted, so the shopper selected the organic blueberries, which cost $5 more. The shopper tried to ask if I was okay with the substitution, but I wasn’t paying attention to my phone. A similar thing happened when I ordered the generic version of Cheez-Its. The store was out and the shopper substituted with brand name ones, costing me $2 more.
Had I been shopping, I either would have found something close to the cost of the generic ones or left that out completely.
Pros and Cons of using Instacart
Instacart Review – Is Instacart worth it?
I’m really happy to have Instacart as an option for when I’m busy or don’t want to go to the store. It’s not something I will use for every trip (like I said, I kind of like grocery shopping) but I will use it in the future.
If you want to save time grocery shopping, Instacart can definitely help. Just be aware that it will take a little longer than average on your first order, but you’ll quickly get the hang of it.
Thinking about time as money, what is your time worth? Is it worth more than the $10-$20 extra you might pay for groceries? Is the in-store stress you’re saving more valuable? If your answer is yes, then Instacart is definitely worth it.