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What It’s Like Driving For Instacart [And How to Make More Money]

Last updated: May 25, 2021
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For people that don’t like to cook, Shipt, Uber Eats, DoorDash, and Postmates are great.

But for those people who like to cook, but don’t want to leave the house, there’s only one game in town – InstaCart.

InstaCart is changing the way people get their groceries. Unlike meal delivery services, InstaCart focuses strictly on grocery delivery.

If you apply to drive with InstaCart, you’ll be able to make some good money, but it’ll take some effort and you’ll need to be on top of things.

Today we’re discussing how you can increase your earnings and bring in more money by delivering groceries for InstaCart.

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What is InstaCart?

In case you’re not familiar with InstaCart, it’s a service that connects customers with people who shop for groceries at locals stores and deliver them to the customer’s home. There are two types of shoppers – independent contractors who shop and deliver and in-store shoppers who only do the shopping.

Want to sign up to work for InstaCart or learn more about the onboarding process? Read our guide on how to become an InstaCart driver.

As a full-service shopper, you work as an independent contractor. When a customer places an order, you go to the grocery store, locate the items, purchase those items, and deliver the items on the shopping list. You need your own car to make deliveries, unless it’s a small order that you can carry by hand.

Related: Working as a Deliv Driver

In-store shoppers don’t handle deliveries. They are actually part-time employees that simply shop for the items, bag the groceries, and prepare them for customer pick up.

As an in-store shopper, you do not need to have access to a vehicle. Whole Foods is a good example of a grocery chain that employs in-store shoppers.

How Does InstaCart Calculate Earnings?

Regardless of what type of shopper you are, all anyone really cares about is how much money they can make. So we’ve got some great tips to help you increase earnings and put more money in your pocket.

To fully understand the way full-service shoppers earn money, take a look at the Independent Contractor Agreement that you get access to once approved. This includes all the info you need to know on how earnings are calculated and how you make money. See section 3 of the agreement for in-depth details about how the payment process works.

Here’s a synopsis of how InstaCart calculates your earnings:

Full-service shoppers are paid for each delivery, plus they earn a “per item” payment and a “bump” payment if applicable. Current payment rates are posted in the shopper app, so you can visit the app to see the specific rates for your city or town.

One of the things that shoppers like about the app is that you can see the rate before accepting an Instacart delivery opportunity. You’ll know exactly how much a delivery will pay, so you can determine if it’s worth it or not for you to take that job.

There are also cases where you might only have to deliver groceries and not actually shop. In that case, you’ll be paid per delivery but not per item. Even with delivery-only orders, you can view the rate before you decide to accept and start that particular job.

How Much Do InstaCart Workers Get Paid?

Unfortunately, the terms and agreement don’t give any specific numbers as to how much money you can make. In order to calculate earnings, you’ll need to dig a little deeper and factor in a variety of things.

For starters, cities and neighborhoods are broken up among “zones.” And the pay rate per delivery varies depending on the zone you’re working in. For example, you might work in a zone that pays $3.50 for every single order. If it’s busy, you can make more.

screenshot of an instacart shoppers earnings
A look at u/SkyPieBaby’s earnings for a week

Similar to Surge pricing with Uber, when orders are in high demand and shopper supply is low, you can make more money. You’ll earn the flat delivery rate, any “surge” prices, and a cost per item, for example, something like $.40 cents for each item in the order.

To see what your zone pays, check the app. Some zones pay as much as $8.25 per order.

It’s also beneficial to deliver larger orders. With orders over $200, sometimes you’ll enjoy a $5 bonus. Long deliveries can also put more money in your pocket.

One driver on Reddit says that the rate for his zone is $3.25, but shopping in a zone just 45 minutes away pays him $8.25 per order. Know what your zone pays and look at surrounding zones – it might be beneficial to work in a zone that’s a little further away from home.

So how much are InstaCart shoppers making each week? InstaCart pay depends on where and how often you work, but the consensus seems to be that you can make upwards of $17 an hour, which is considerably more than the minimum wage in most states. You can make even more by earning tips while shopping and delivering.

Reddit is an excellent source of information, and delivery drivers are very forthcoming about how much they work and how much they’re earning. For example, ajames6421 says:

“I work around 50 hours a week. My zone still has $6-7 deliveries. I work 12 hours a day and usually have 10-11 orders and average $215 a day so for me it’s worth it.”

Based on those earnings and the number of hours worked, his wage breaks down to $17.92 per hour.

Sunshinedaydream2 echoes the same sentiment and say:

“I work about 30-40 hours a week. Comes out to $17-$20 an hour for me. Worth it! I love the hours I get to pick and choose, always available for my family first.”

Shoppers definitely love the flexibility and the ability to make their own schedule. But unlike other flexible gigs out there, InstaCart drivers actually seem to be making some decent money!

Tips to Increase InstaCart Earnings

As you can see from the reviews and comments above, some people are doing very well delivering groceries for InstaCart. $17 per hour is certainly nothing to sneeze at – but we’ve got four great tips that you can use to get your earnings closer to the $20/hour mark.

1. Accept Every Delivery

Shoppers make more money on larger orders, so it’s easy to see why people are tempted to accept large orders and ignore the small ones. But if you really want to maximize your earning potential, you’ve got to take every single order that comes your way.

Think of it the way you would any other job – if your boss gave you a list of ten things to do, you’d have to do them all. You wouldn’t be able to just do the five that you like to do and reject the five that you don’t enjoy.

Every order means more money in your pocket. Ytffghuytf on Reddit says:

“I do 30 hrs a week. I average $12-$14 an hr. But I skip the batches that are 1-7 items. So that’s prolly why. I noticed that people that make $800 to $1,000 a week take everything they can get.”

Take every order that comes your way. Remember, you get paid a flat fee for each delivery. So even if it’s a small order where you won’t make much on the “per item” side, you’ll still get that flat rate for the small order delivery.

Not every order is going to be a big one. When you’re slow, grab every one you can get. It’s the best advice if you’re looking to make the most amount of money possible.

2. Set an Alarm to Schedule Your Hours

It can be a challenge to get your delivery hours scheduled. There’s a lot of competition, so you’ve got to be on top of it if you want to secure yourself a good shift.

Typically, the new schedule becomes available every Sunday morning at 9:00 am. If you want the first crack at the schedule, set an 8:58 am alarm to remind you to look at the new schedule. Make it a recurring alarm that goes off every week at the same time and you’re sure to be able to get the schedule and hours you want.

The trick is to be one step ahead of your competition. In certain markets, InstaCart can be quite competitive. Set that alarm so you’re ready when the new schedule comes out and be ready to grab your shifts ASAP. If you wait until Sunday night or later in the week, you probably won’t be able to enjoy your ideal schedule.

3. Communicate With Customers

As with any job, when you work for InstaCart, communication is critical. And that means communication from the time you shop for the order to the time you drop it off.

Sometimes customers place orders for items that are sold out or unavailable. So when you’re doing the shopping and you see that an item isn’t available, what should you do?

In some cases, you may need to eliminate the sold-out item from the order. But if that’s a key ingredient to a meal your customer plans to make that night, they’re not going to be too happy. Rather than eliminate the item from the order, it’s best to replace it or find a viable substitute.

If you need to find a replacement item, it’s important to communicate properly with your customer. You can call or text them to let them know an item is out of stock and suggest a substitution. It’s important to have them confirm the replacement before you add it to their order. Otherwise, they could end up paying for something that they don’t want.

In some cases, it might mean substituting one brand for another. In other cases, it might be substituting a size or the type of item altogether. Communicate the issue and your customers are sure to respond positively and appreciate your dedication to the job.

With honesty, integrity, and good communication, you can increase your chances of getting a tip. And tips are one the best (and easiest) ways to increase your weekly and hourly earnings.

4. Offer to Bring Bags Into the Kitchen

When you arrive at a customer’s door, the first thing you should ask is “where would you like me to set your bags?”

Some customers don’t want unknown delivery people in their home. That’s completely understandable – and most of those people will tell you to drop the order right by the door. Other customers may prefer that you can carry their order through the home and place the bags in the kitchen.

In some cases, they might want the bags on the kitchen counter. Others may tell you to put them on the kitchen floor. It’s up to the customer – and it’s up to you to do what you need to do to please them and leave them with a good experience.

By asking that one simple question of “where do you want me to put your bags?” you significantly increase your chance to earn a tip. Be polite. Do your job with a smile. Take care with the bags – especially fragile items such as eggs and glass bottles. And, above all else, put them exactly where the customer wants them.

With a pleasant attitude and the desire to be as helpful as possible, there’s a good chance you’ll get a tip. And as we said before, tips are the best way to increase your hourly rate and put more money in your pocket.

There’s no doubt about it – gig workers that shop and deliver for InstaCart are making decent money, but there’s always an opportunity to make a little bit more.

In general, we are big fans of this grocery delivery service. InstaCart does good things for their employees, paying them competitive wages compared to Amazon Flex and other quality delivery jobs.

As a full-service shopper for InstaCart, the first thing you can do to increase earnings is to accept every order that comes your way. Don’t turn down the small orders in hopes of only doing the big ones.

If you have your choice of orders to choose from, bigger orders are always better. But when it’s not busy, you’re better off taking the small deliveries.

In some cases, if you can do multiple small deliveries in one hour, you might even be able to make more than doing one big order.

It’s also important to secure the schedule you need. Set an alarm to alert you that the new schedule is available so you’re one step ahead of the competition.

Communicate questions with customers, especially when an item is sold out or unavailable. Good communication goes a long way in getting tips.

And when you’re at the door for delivery, be polite. Smile and ask your customers where to place the bags. The more accommodating you can be, the more likely you are to earn a tip. And as everyone in the gig economy knows, good tips are the best way to put more money in your pocket.

If you do these things, InstaCart is an amazing full-time or part-time job.

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