Is Instacart Worth It for Shoppers and Customers?

Today’s world is all about convenience. With new technological innovations, we can now easily do things with our phones that previous generations would never have been able to imagine. Whether it’s summoning a private ride with Uber, getting lunch delivered with DoorDash, or hiring someone to clean out the garage with TaskRabbit, life has never...

Today’s world is all about convenience. With new technological innovations, we can now easily do things with our phones that previous generations would never have been able to imagine. Whether it’s summoning a private ride with Uber, getting lunch delivered with DoorDash, or hiring someone to clean out the garage with TaskRabbit, life has never been more convenient.

Another area that’s now more convenient than ever is grocery shopping. Well, actually, you don’t even have to shop anymore — you can get everything on your grocery list delivered with Instacart. The grocery delivery service is now available in cities across the United States, and it’s transforming the way people shop.

But is this service actually worth it? In this guide, we’re going to take a look. We’ll start with a look at whether or not the service makes sense for customers. Then, we’ll move on to see whether or not it’s worth it to work for Instacart.

What Is Instacart?

Instacart is a grocery delivery app. Users of the service just open up the Instacart app or website, browse items from local stores, and add the items to their cart. They then select a delivery time, input their address, and pay for the order with a credit card.

Once the customer has done this, an Instacart personal shopper will receive the order, go to the store, and shop for the selected items. They’ll then deliver them to the customer’s address during the requested time frame. After the customer has received the delivery, they can leave a review (and an optional tip) for the shopper.

But is this service actually worth it? Let’s take a closer look.

Is Instacart Worth It for Customers?

Is Instacart Worth It? Canvas bag of bread and flowers

You may have seen ads for Instacart, or you may even have a friend who uses it and raves about how convenient it is. But perhaps you’re still skeptical. Isn’t paying someone to deliver your groceries just lazy?

Here’s a look at how Instacart stacks up based on the following criteria:

  • Convenience
  • Cost
  • Availability

How Convenient Is Instacart?

The answer to this first question depends on your feelings about grocery shopping. If you hate going to the grocery store, then Instacart is immensely convenient. You get to shop from the convenience of your computer or phone, and you never have to set foot in the actual store.

There’s also the consideration of time. Instacart targets people who are too busy to do their own shopping. Whether it’s because you have a demanding job, a long commute, or family obligations, there are lots of reasons that getting two-hour delivery with Instacart might be a more convenient option.

The only situation where Instacart might not be convenient for you is if you have very specific shopping preferences. Instacart will let you specify the brands you want, but things can get trickier if you prefer a specific size or shape of tomato.

If you’re picky enough about these things, then you might find yourself micromanaging your Instacart shopper from within the app. If you’re spending this much time on the process, it probably makes more sense for you to go to the store yourself (unless, of course, you’re physically unable to do so).

Is Instacart Worth the Cost?

It’s not hard to convince people that Instacart is convenient. The real sticking point for most people is the cost of the service. After all, the company isn’t going to deliver your groceries for free.

In terms of pricing, Instacart has a couple of options. The first option is to simply pay for each delivery a la carte. If you go this route, then you’ll pay a delivery fee that tends to range between $3.99 and $5.99.

We say “tends” because Instacart does use what they call “Busy Pricing.” With this model, you’ll pay an additional service fee if you have your groceries delivered during a time of high demand (this is generally during the late afternoon and evening). To avoid this charge, Instacart recommends scheduling your delivery well in advance (as opposed to ordering same-day delivery).

If you don’t like the idea of paying a delivery fee for each order, Instacart has a membership called Instacart Express. With an Express Membership, you get free delivery on any order over $35. It costs $99 per year to become an Instacart Express member, so you’ll need to do the math to determine if it’s worth it. Generally, it makes sense to become an Express member if you place two or more Instacart orders per month (as your monthly delivery fees will add up to more than $99 over the course of a year).

Next, there’s the Instacart service fee. This is not the same as the delivery fee. While the delivery fee goes (partially) to pay the person delivering your Instacart order, the service fee covers Instacart’s operating costs. This includes things like background checks, insurance, and customer support. The service fee is 5 percent of the subtotal for each order, with a minimum service fee of $2. You cannot do anything to get the service fee waived, even if you’re an Instacart Express Member.

Of course, there are two other factors related to the cost of Instacart that aren’t so obvious. First, there’s the cost of the items themselves. Instacart does not guarantee that the price you pay within the app will be the same as the in-person store prices.

In some cases, the stores will deliberately set the prices higher within Instacart to make a bit of extra profit. Exactly how much higher the price is will depend on your location, the store, and the item. For an in-depth look at this topic, check out this article from New Food Economy.

Finally, you need to account for the cost of tipping your Instacart delivery driver. You aren’t required to do this, but it’s a nice gesture to reward great service. You should especially consider leaving a tip if your driver had to lug your groceries up several flights of stairs or trek through the snow. Ultimately, however, you can choose not to tip if you prefer.

So is Instacart worth what they charge? If you’re busy and have a moderate amount of disposable income, then it’s probably worth it. If you’re on a tight budget and have more time than money, then Instacart probably isn’t worth the cost.

Instacart Availability

The final thing you need to consider when deciding if Instacart is worth it is the service’s availability.

First, there’s the issue of whether or not Instacart delivers to your location. This is fairly easy to figure out. Just go to the Instacart website and type in your zip code. You’ll immediately be able to see if Instacart delivers to you, as well as what stores are available. Check out an example of this below:

Is Instacart Worth It? Enter zip code screenshot

This brings us to the second aspect of availability: Does Instacart deliver from stores that fit your budget and food preferences? Depending on your location, you might have delivery available from Costco, Publix, Whole Foods, Kroger, Safeway, or a variety of other grocery stores.

It’s also possible, however, that you could be limited to just one or two stores. In general, larger cities like Chicago, New York, and Los Angeles will have more delivery options overall. Also, you’ll personally have more delivery options if you live in a central location with higher than average incomes (as these are the areas that Instacart tends to target).

If you’re not particularly price-sensitive and like the items that the available stores have to offer, then Instacart will make sense. If, on the other hand, the stores near you don’t suit your budget or store preference, then you should probably just go to the store yourself.

Is Instacart Worth It for Customers? (The Final Verdict)

Overall, it’s worth using Instacart if the following apply to you:

  • You value time over money
  • You have a decent disposable income
  • You have a demanding job or are otherwise too busy to do your own shopping
  • You’re not picky about specific items or stores
  • You don’t mind paying a bit more than you would in-store

If this doesn’t describe your situation, then you’re better off doing your own shopping.

Is Instacart Worth It for Shoppers and Delivery Drivers?

Is Instacart Worth It? Yellow grocery carts in parking lot

In the first part of this guide, we looked at whether or not Instacart was worth it for customers. Now, we’re going to look at whether it’s worth it to work for Instacart. After all, there are lots of gig economy jobs out there competing for your time and attention. If you choose the wrong one, you could be missing out on both higher income and other perks.

To avoid wasting time, let’s start with the question on everyone’s minds: What does Instacart pay? The answer depends on what type of Instacart shopper you are. The company has two types of shopper jobs available:

  • Full-Service Shopper
  • In-Store Shopper

Full-Service Shoppers are independent contractors. As a Full-Service Shopper, you get paid based on your deliveries. For each delivery you make, you get a percentage of the delivery fee that the customer pays. You also get 100 percent of any tips that customers decide to leave. As independent contractors, Full-Service Shoppers do not receive an hourly wage or any benefits. They’re also responsible for withholding and filing their own taxes.

In-Store Shoppers, in contrast, are part-time employees of Instacart. Unlike Full-Service Shoppers, they do not make deliveries; they only shop for and bag items for pick-up within a set store. As an In-Store Shopper, you’ll earn a set hourly wage. The precise amount will vary based on your location, but it tends to be a bit higher than minimum wage.

So what can you expect to earn doing each of these jobs? Instacart doesn’t provide any data on their website, but we can get an idea by looking at self-reported earnings on Glassdoor. According to Glassdoor, the average hourly pay for an Instacart delivery driver (which is to say, a Full-Service Shopper) is $13. However, this does not include tips or bonuses, which can substantially increase pay.

Looking at earnings for In-Store Shoppers, Glassdoor reports that the average hourly pay is $14. However, you should consider that In-Store Shoppers don’t receive tips, so it makes sense that their base pay would be a bit higher on average.

Benefits of Working for Instacart

Of course, pay is just one thing to consider when deciding if it’s worth it to work as an Instacart delivery person. We also need to examine what the job itself is like. As with most gig economy jobs, one major benefit of working for Instacart is the ability to set your own schedule.

Full-Service Shoppers have the most flexibility, as Instacart cannot legally tell them when to work (otherwise, they’d be considered employees). Practically, of course, it pays the most to work when demand is highest, as this will boost your earning potential. You’ll need to experiment with which times make the most sense to work, as demand can vary based on your city and area.

As an In-Store Shopper, you don’t have quite as much flexibility. You’re a part-time employee, which means that Instacart can tell you when to work (within reason, of course). However, if you prefer a consistent schedule and a set hourly wage, then it might be worth the flexibility tradeoffs.

Another benefit of working for the service is all the exercise you’ll get. Compared to sitting all day as an Uber or Lyft driver, Instacart is a physical job. You’ll be running around the store to find the right items, carrying the groceries to your car, and then carrying them to the customer’s door. Even if you’re an In-Store Shopper, you’ll still be moving a lot as you hunt for items, bag them, and bring them to the pick-up area.

Downsides of Working for Instacart

While Instacart has benefits, it also has downsides. You need to consider these carefully when deciding if it’s worth it to deliver for the service.

The main downside of working for Instacart is your earning potential. If you’re a fast delivery driver and provide great customer service, then you can certainly earn higher than average. But you’re fundamentally limited by overall delivery demand in your area. If Instacart isn’t that popular, or demand isn’t high when you’re available, then your earnings will be lower. This is in contrast to an app like Uber, with which you can simply move to a different location if demand isn’t high enough in your current location.

We should also note that while your schedule can be flexible with Instacart, it isn’t quite as flexible as some other apps. Deliveries tend to be available when stores are open, and people also tend to order groceries during the day. If you prefer to work late at night, then Instacart isn’t the best option. You’d be better off with a food delivery or rideshare app, as demand for these services tends to be 24/7.

Finally, working for Instacart can be a bit too fast-paced and stressful for some people. Delivering the groceries on time is critical, and Instacart can therefore put lots of pressure on drivers to work as quickly as possible. This isn’t inherently bad, especially if you like a fast-paced work environment. But if you prefer something that’s more relaxed, then Instacart is not the app for you. You’d be better off looking at a rideshare app or some sort of task-based app.

Is Driving for Instacart Worth It? (Our Conclusion)

Is Instacart Worth It? Hand picking grapes from a box

Overall, we think that driving for Instacart can be a good way to get started in the gig economy. You don’t need any special skills or equipment, and the company has a high demand for drivers as they continue to expand across the U.S.

That being said, earning potential for Instacart isn’t as high as some other gigs out there, and the schedule flexibility is lacking compared to apps like Uber or Lyft. The job can also be too fast-paced and stressful for some people, which can lead to burnout and dissatisfaction. You’ll need to carefully consider your income needs and job preferences before you commit to delivering for Instacart.

So, Instacart Is Worth It?

We hope this guide has helped you understand whether or not you should use (or work for) Instacart. If you’re looking for more information about how Instacart works as a customer, check out these other guides:

If you want more information about working for Instacart, then these guides will be useful:

Happy shopping!

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Owner of Gigworker.com 

Brett Helling is the owner of Gigworker.com. Since an early age, he has started business ventures and worked various side hustles in many different niches. He has been a rideshare driver since early 2012, having completed hundreds of trips for companies including Uber and Lyft. In 2014 he started a website to share his experiences with other drivers, which has now become Ridester.com. He is currently working on a book about working in the Gig Economy, expanding his skill set beyond the rideshare niche by building and growing Gigworker.com. As the site grows, his insights are regularly quoted by publications such as Forbes, Vice, CNBC, and more.

1 Comment

I would like to add the following potential downside to consider as an Instacart delivery/full service shopper: Can you actually park legally in or near your delivery target? In San Francisco, for instance the answer is NO for the entire city. But the financial district is the worst and it’s no surprise that one finds herself delivering back breaking loads of flavored sparkling water to various companies / individuals up on the 18th floor of some building where the nearest parking was 3 blocks away and in a Tow Away zone. Why not surprising? these folks are using Instacart to accomplish what they themselves cannot possibly do- and that is to acquire and traffick their own comestibles to their domociles while parking their vehicle legally and close enough that it makes sense to buy 8 cases of LaCroix.

In my experience, and I loved Instacart, I made a good deal more than quoted- probably between $25-$40 /hr depending on tips, but tips were generally super generous, but here is the risk: To meet schedule and delight customer, I would frequently make my own parking spots downtown by simply driving up onto the sidewalk or leaving my car in any number of red zones, tow aways, etc. I got towed twice, and once my car was stolen- I left it running, my bad. It’s $600 minimum to get your car back from criminal orgsnization SF AutoReturn, unless they appropriate your vehicle and auction it off. So a $600 penalty is like most of your income for the week. Ouch. However, on good weeks, I routinely hit $800-$1100 and with 5 star ratings all the time, Instacart kicked down another $100/week as a bonus, which I usually got (and wasn’t trying for, so I’m very grateful for that).

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