How Instacart Works

Kelly Hernandez
A smartphone's screen displays the Instacart app.

What Is Instacart?

Instacart is a food delivery company that allows customers to place orders online or through a smartphone app. Unlike other food delivery services, such as the Postmates app, Instacart specializes in delivering grocery orders from supermarkets, pharmacies, and warehouse retailers.

When you place an order, an Instacart shopper in your area is notified. The shopper is responsible for visiting the store, picking your items, and delivering them to your home.

Instacart allows consumers to stay home and have groceries delivered to their door. While the company offers a convenient way to have products delivered, orders are associated with delivery fees and tips, which make orders more expensive.

How Does Instacart Work?

Consumers use the Instacart app or website to browse products in their local participating stores. They create and pay for grocery orders using the site. When an order is created, it’s submitted to an Instacart shopper.

When a shopper is assigned an order, they go to the store and collect these items, then deliver them to the consumer’s home. Consumers, participating retail stores, and shoppers have their own roles in an Instacart transaction.

It’s the consumer’s job to initiate an Instacart order, either online or through the smartphone app. The consumer provides their contact and payment information. They also provide their location to see which stores work with Instacart.

The consumer chooses a participating store and browses through available products. They create their grocery list, then checkout and pay for their order. An Instacart shopper delivers the order to their door.

First Time Purchase Incentives

Instacart is currently offering a free 2 week trial of Instacart Express for new customers. Instacart Express offers free delivery on all orders over $35 and a reduced service fee on all orders, helping you save an average of $7 per order.

Be sure to check Instacart frequently, as their first-time purchase promotions and discounts may vary.

How to Use the Instacart Shopper App

To become an Instacart shopper, you must visit the company’s website or download the mobile app. You’re prompted to create an account with your email address and a unique password. Once you’re signed into your account, enter your zip code. This allows the site to provide you with a list of participating stores in your area.

Choose the store you want to shop with and you’ll see a list of all items available at that location. You can scroll through all items offered at a store, sort them by department, special offers, or type, or use the search bar to type in the product name you’re looking for.

Add items to your cart and provide alternatives to products, just in case the store is out when your shopper gets there. When you’re done shopping, go to your cart to check out. Choose a delivery date and time and provide special instructions for the shopper, if needed.

When your total is displayed, enter your payment information and confirm your order. Your Instacart shopper picks the items for you and delivers them to your door during the delivery timeframe.

What Stores Does Instacart Work With?

To learn what local stores Instacart works with, visit the locations page and type in your zip code. Participating stores include the following:

  • Publix.
  • Kroger.
  • Costco Warehouse.
  • BJ’s Warehouse.
  • Petco.
  • CVS Pharmacy.
  • Wegmans.
  • Safeway.
  • Aldi.
  • Target.
  • Sprouts Farmers Market.
  • Sam’s Club.
  • Price Chopper.
  • Total Wine & More.

How Much Does Instacart Cost?

When you check out on the app or website, your order total includes your items plus taxes, a delivery fee, and a service fee. Delivery fees start at $3.99 but may be higher if you place your order during a busy time. A 5% or $2 service fee (whichever is higher) is also added to your order. If you ordered heavy items, there may be an additional charge.

Retailers set their own prices for items on Instacart. However, if the products are listed on the site for higher prices than in the store, Instacart informs consumers with a disclaimer on the product listing. If you want to save money on groceries, consider these extra charges and compare them to visiting the store in person.

Is Tip Included?

The service and delivery fees go back to Instacart to help pay shoppers and maintain partnerships with retailers. You will see a default shopper tip on your order total, which is set at $2 or 5% of your order.

Shoppers work hard to choose the right items to fulfill your order and to deliver them on time. Instacart strongly recommends increasing the tip to compensate these shoppers. You can tip on your credit card through the app or provide cash to the shopper in person if you prefer; 100% of your tips go directly to the Instacart shopper.

Pros and Cons of Ordering Through Instacart

Before ordering through Instacart, weigh the pros and cons of your transaction. Some benefits to using this grocery delivery service include:

  • FREE 14 day trial of Instacart Express for new customers (incentives and discounts may vary)
  • It’s a convenient way to get groceries because you don’t have to leave your house.
  • You can order from wholesale clubs even if you don’t have a membership.
  • You’re not limited to groceries and can order from pet supply stores and pharmacies.
  • In most cases, the online product options are extensive and mimic what you find in-store.

However, some of the drawbacks to an Instacart transaction include the following:

  • You can’t choose your own produce and must trust an Instacart shopper to do it for you.
  • You won’t benefit from in-store sales or promotions.
  • You may pay mark-ups on some of your products.
  • You’re responsible for a service fee, delivery fee, and tip in addition to your purchase total.

If you have children at home, are feeling ill, or are too busy to shop for yourself, Instacart offers a convenient way to have your groceries delivered to your door. Before you place an order, ensure the products you want are available and review the fees associated with your transaction.

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