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How Does Instacart Work? Step-By-Step Guide For (2023)

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Are you interested in the convenience of delivery platforms?

Or, do you simply want to branch out from Ubereats or Doordash? You’ve likely come across Instacart!

Like any other delivery platform, Instacart delivers your shopping straight to your door. It can be a handy service if you’re unwell or don’t have time to visit the grocery store.

Getting started can seem intimidating, so we’ve outlined everything you need to know before using Instacart.

We’ll take you through everything from account setup and placing an order, to fees and other costs. Let’s start shopping.

What is Instacart?

Instacart is the world’s largest online delivery service. It’s available in every state in America, and allows customers to order items straight to their front door.

There are over a thousand retailers on Instacart, so there’s plenty of options to choose from. You’ll be able to find stores such as Safeway, Walgreens, Costco, and Target.

A History of Instacart and Business Model

Instacart was started by a former Amazon employee who wanted to take what his previous company was doing with books and home goods and apply the model to grocery shopping.

Founded in the Bay Area in 2012, the grocery delivery company quickly expanded to major cities across the rest of the United States, including Boston, Chicago, New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia.

In 2017, the service also expanded into Canada, with the opening of a Toronto location.

Instacart is now available in 1,200 cities in 25 states and 16 Canadian markets, and in 2016 the company announced a major investment from and partnership with Whole Foods.

The business model was simple and has remained consistent through Instacart’s short but meteoric history:

Let people browse the goods available in local grocery stores and pharmacies on an app, place orders, let personal shoppers go and collect the goods and pay for them, and then have a delivery driver bring the groceries directly to the user.

What has changed quite a bit in the company’s history is the pricing method.

At the beginning of Instacart, personal shoppers would simply go into stores, buy items at retail value, apply a 10 to 20 percent markup, and deliver them.

As the business grew, however, it began to partner directly with grocery stores and allow users to buy items at retail value, then pay a small delivery fee.

The fee is currently $3.99 per delivery, unless you are an Instacart Express member – more on that shortly

How Does Instacart Work?

Instacart works by connecting customers with a personal shopper. The personal shopper handles filling out and delivering the order.

You’ll be able to talk to your personal shopper every step of the way and track its progress. Sounds convenient? Let’s get into account creation!

Account Creation & Setup

You’ll need to create an account before you start using Instacart. The process is much like signing up for any other service.

First, you’ll want to either download the Instacart app or make your way to the website at shoppers.instacart.com.

They’ll first ask for your location details to connect you with your local stores. You just need to put in your zip code, and they’ll show you the nearest stores in your area.

Before you make your first order, make sure you have a delivery address saved, as well as a payment method. You can do this through your account settings.

Browsing and Shopping

You can begin shopping on Instacart once you’ve set up your address and payment details.

Take a browse through the list of stores in your area. Once something has caught your eye, you can look through the items you can buy.

Items will be listed in different categories, such as household items, beverages, produce, healthcare, and kitchen supplies. You’ll also be able to look at nutritional information of food items, as well as other important details.

Start adding items to your cart by pressing the plus sign on the right-hand corner of the product image.

If you want a specific quantity of an item, click on the actual image and you’ll be able to adjust the quantity. Alternatively, you can do this later while checking out!

Instacart also allows you to shop from multiple stores. When you’re done choosing items from your first store, repeat the same process by looking up a different store.

Have an item you’re likely to buy multiple times? Instacart has an option to save it! On the app, you’ll find a bookmark button. On the site, this changes to a heart item. Both buttons will transport the item to the same place.

Checkout Process

Once you’re done with your shopping, the next step is to review the items in your cart.

Navigate to the dropdown menu, and you’ll see everything you’ve selected. You’ll have the option to remove items, change the quantities, and allow for substitutes.

The next step is to select a delivery time slot. You’ll get a list of available times to choose from. You can choose to get your order delivered today, or later in the week depending on your needs.

For example, you can place a grocery order on Tuesday to get delivered on Thursday. How convenient!

Instacart also lets you customize your delivery. You can add instructions for the driver, as well as choose an option for contactless delivery.

Once you select a delivery time slot, you’ll need to pay using your chosen payment method. Instacart will place a hold on the money in your account, which will go through when your order is completed.

Tracking Your Order

After placing your order, Instacart lets you track it. You can do this in both the app and on the website, under the ‘Your Orders’ tab. If you have the app, you can receive push notifications letting you know its progress.

You can also chat with your personal shopper in real time. They can let you know if they have to substitute anything, or if there are any other issues with the order.

While your order is in progress, you can check to see whether any items were out of stock or needed replacing. You’ll have the option for replacements, or simply to receive a refund instead.

When it’s time for delivery, you can track your personal shopper’s movements and get an estimate of your order’s arrival.

How to Use the Instacart App

The Instacart app is available for free on iOS and Android and is the way most people shop with Instacart. You can also shop with their website, Instacart.com, which has a similar interface.

The app works by using your location to identify local stores around you that work with Instacart.

You can enable your location by either allowing them to access your location services within your phone or by entering your home address. (You’ll need to provide them with your home address eventually for delivery service.)

Once the app has registered your location, it will pull up a list of local grocery stores and pharmacies available in your area that partner with Instacart.

(They aren’t just limited to grocery stores either – in some markets, Instacart delivers from Petco.)

How Does Instacart Work? Screenshot of grocery store options

On your app it looks like this:

Once you’ve selected the store you want to look at, you’ll next be taken to a screen where you can start to shop.

How Does Instacart Work? Screenshot of coupon savings

Instacart allows you to search for items, or just browse by category as you would at a normal grocery store.

Tapping on an item will bring you to a new screen which will allow you to select the amount of that item you want, either by weight or package amount (depending on the product).

How Does Instacart Work? Screenshot of avocado in shopping cart

You will also be able to “favorite” the item, which makes it easier the next time you shop to quickly find the items you want to add to your cart, look at related items, and provide instructions for your shopper. (More on that shortly.)

Find the items you want and place them in your cart.

When you’re feeling good about your order, tap on the shopping cart icon in the top right corner to review your order and head to checkout.

When you are reviewing your cart, you can also provide instructions for the shopper about individual items.

To do that, tap “instructions” underneath the item, and you’ll be taken to a new menu.

Once at the instructions menu, you’ll be able to provide detailed notes for your shopper.

How Does Instacart Work? Add special instructions

For example, if you prefer your avocados on the under-ripe side, you can tell the shopper to make sure they’re nice and firm.

Lastly, you’ll also be given the opportunity to select what the shopper should do in the event that the grocery store is out of the item you want.

The app gives you three options: Find the best match, pick a specific replacement (you’ll then be taken back to similar items which you can select from), or cancel the item altogether.

Once you’re happy with your order, simply tap “Checkout” at the bottom of the screen.

At the checkout page, you’ll be able to review the price of your order, confirm your home address, and most importantly – set the delivery time.

Some markets and stores give you more delivery options, including the option to get a rushed one-hour delivery for a higher fee.

Most allow you to set a delivery time within two hours, or schedule it in the future.

(Instacart’s same-day delivery option is what sets it apart from competitors like Amazon Prime.)

Lastly, you’ll choose your payment method.

Instacart works with Apple Pay on iPhones, but also works with major credit cards and debit cards on all platforms.

How Personal Shoppers Find the Right Stuff

Instacart shoppers are able to quickly and efficiently find your items because they are, by definition, professional shoppers.

Pairing you with a full-service shopper not only lets you find the best items but gives you someone who knows the stores intimately.

Their knowledge of the stores allow them to quickly navigate to find the items you want, and as pros in the field they know to check expiration dates, find suitable replacements for missing items, and where to look for additional stock.

On top of all that, the app gives you the freedom to insert in personalized instructions for every item in your order (including what to do if it’s out of stock), so the shoppers will not only know how best to navigate the grocery store, they will know exactly how you prefer certain items.

As for how they work for the company, personal shoppers and delivery drivers for Instacart are given the option in many markets to work as independent contractors or as part-time employees of the company.

To learn more about working as an employee of Instacart, read our article on the subject.

How Much Does Instacart Cost?

Now that we’ve covered the basics of Instacart, it’s time to look at the financial side of things.

Unfortunately, the convenience comes with a price! However, there are plenty of ways you can save money on delivery fees and utilize other cost-effective methods of shopping.

vector graphic showing an illustration of how to become an instacart shopper

Delivery Cost

Let’s start with the delivery cost. This is a default fee that covers the time and distance needed for the personal shopper to deliver your order which starts at $3.99. Please note that Instacart will only deliver orders over $10.

In general, the delivery fee is based on the time slot you’ve scheduled and how big the order is. For example, if your order is less than $35, you’ll be charged a higher delivery fee starting at $7.99.

On top of the delivery fee, you’ll also need to pay a compulsory service fee of 5% of your total order. The price is based on the number of items you’ve ordered.

This fee does not go towards the personal shopper, so you’ll still need to tip as well. It’s also important to note that there’s an additional fee for orders containing alcohol.

If you’re looking to save money on delivery and service fees, it might be worth checking out Instacart+. This is Instacart’s subscription service. All members get unlimited free delivery on orders over $35, as well as discounted service fees.

If you plan on using the service a lot, it might be a good way to save money on fees! The subscription can be paid annually or monthly. As of writing, the monthly price is $9.99, while the annual subscription is $99.

Shopping Cost

Now that we’ve looked at the compulsory delivery and service fees, it’s time to examine the other costs that might be related to your order.

Firstly, taxes: You’ll be able to see the taxes you’ve paid on the order total on your receipt, which is done on a state-by-state basis. The taxes you pay can include things like sales tax, bottle deposits, and bag fees.

Another important thing to note is that sometimes stores mark up their prices on Instacart compared to in-store. This may not always be the case, but it might be the reason why something costs more than it should!

Other Fees

There are a few other fees you may have to pay on top of delivery and shopping costs:

  • Heavy fee: This is only required when the estimated weight of your order is over fifty pounds. The fee covers the operational costs of the transport of the goods and will be made clear when selecting items
  • Long-distance service fee: This is only applicable for orders with a delivery time of more than half an hour
  • Priority fees: If you want your order delivered quickly, you’ll likely encounter a priority fee. This can vary based on shopper availability
  • Pickup fees: Instacart also lets you place an order to be picked up yourself. Some pickup orders may have an additional fee which is equivalent to a delivery fee
  • Busy pricing: In times of high demand, Instacart will apply an additional busy fee to your order. This will be made clear at checkout and helps to alleviate the shoppers fulfilling orders.

Tipping

Although tipping on Instacart isn’t compulsory, it’s highly recommended!

By default, a 5% tip is added to your order cost and is given directly to the shopper. You do have the option to leave a larger or smaller tip depending on the quality of the service.

You’ll also be able to modify the tip up to two weeks after your order has been completed.

Other Questions

How Are Fees Applied?

There is a service fee of $3.99 per order when you order using Instacart.

This does not include a tip for your driver.

You can save quite a bit using the app.

First-time users can sign up with this promotional link to save $10 off their first order.

And for existing customers, coupons also allow you to save on the store price.

To see coupons available for each store, use the coupon tab at the bottom of the screen when reviewing items.

Some coupons are special for Instacart users, and used smartly, can save you just as much and justify the service fee.

The other way to save on service fees is to get an Instacart Express membership.

What Is the Instacart Express Membership?

Instacart Express is their premier-tier membership, which gives users unlimited free delivery on orders of $35 or more with a $99 annual membership fee.

(You can also select to pay a $9.99 monthly fee.)

They also offer a 14-day free trial to try out the service and see if you like it.

What Stores Work With Instacart?

Every market is different, but major brands have partnered with Instacart, including CVS, Whole Foods, Costco, Publix, Safeway, Kroger, and many, many more.

If you have more questions, learn how you can contact Instacart to get an answer.

Conclusion

Instacart is a convenient way to get groceries delivered straight to your door!

Whether you’re a busy professional, a stay-at-home parent, or someone needing to save time, Instacart can be a very convenient platform to use. Happy shopping!

Sources:

https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/instacart-review#pros-and-cons

https://www.instacart.com/help/section/360007902851/360039162832

https://www.instacart.com/help/section/4524023334676

https://www.instacart.com/help/section/360007797952

https://www.instacart.com/help/section/360007902791/360039164252

https://gigworker.com/instacart-fees/

https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/instacart-review

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