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What Is Instacart? Your Guide to the Grocery Delivery App

July 31, 2020 //

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Grocery shopping may not be a difficult task, but it’s certainly a tedious chore — especially if you already have a busy schedule. Between working, socializing, and caring for loved ones, it’s hard to find time to shop without giving up time for yourself.

Instacart can be the solution you need. But before you sign up, you’ll want to know the complete answer to one question: What is Instacart?

If you’ve already been seeking ways to save your time and sanity, grocery delivery services have probably piqued your interest. They’re everywhere these days, and odds are, you probably know someone who has tried one. But just because it’s popular doesn’t mean it’s worth it — or does it?

In this guide, we’ll give you a proper introduction to Instacart and give you an in-depth look at how it works and how much you can expect to pay for the convenient service.


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What Is Instacart?

Instacart is an on-demand grocery delivery service that connects customers to personal shoppers, better known as Instacart Shoppers. The platform allows users to take their grocery shopping process online and let these independent contractors do the actual shopping, driving, and unloading on their behalf.

The company was founded in 2012 by CEO Apoorva Mehta, along with co-founders Max Mullen and Brandon Leonardo, to help consumers get better access to fresh foods, pantry staples, household essentials, and more grocery store products. Since then, Instacart has become a leading name in grocery delivery, easily taking on competitors like Amazon, Walmart, and Shipt.

In fact, Instacart now has what’s likely to be the biggest lineup of grocery store partners out of any similar service. The brand offers delivery from local stores and popular chains like Publix, Aldi, Costco, Kroger, and Sprouts — all to make your life a little easier.


How Does Instacart Work?

When you join the grocery delivery service, you’ll immediately gain access to the Instacart app and Instacart.com. Through your mobile or desktop platform, you can build your grocery list and schedule delivery requests whenever you find a moment to do so.

Granted that your selected store will be open, you can actually choose any delivery window between 9 a.m. to midnight. Same-day delivery requests are definitely possible, though you are required to schedule at least an hour ahead of your requested delivery time.

Once your order is submitted, it will be made available for Instacart Shoppers to claim. Close to your requested delivery window, the shopper who claimed your request will be dispatched to your selected store.

While your Instacart Shopper is fulfilling your request, we recommend having your smartphone in hand. This way, you can respond to their texts — which hide the phone number of you and your shopper — in case any item is out of stock and alternatives or item cancellations need to be discussed. You’ll get notifications about their progress, including when they arrive at the store and when they’re heading to you.

Pick-Up Requests

More recently, Instacart started rolling out a “Pickup” option in select markets that allows you to save on fees by picking up your groceries at your selected store.

When you submit a request for a pick-up service, you’ll still be matched with an Instacart Shopper and be able to communicate with them as they prepare your order. The difference is, instead of getting your groceries driven to your house, you’ll need to pick them up once you’re notified that they’re ready.

The Instacart app will prompt you to confirm when you’re on your way and when you arrive, so your Instacart Shopper or a grocery store employee can bring your order out and help you load everything into your car. Your store should have designated spots for Instacart pick-ups, so you don’t have to worry about them finding you.


How Much Does Instacart Cost?

Having an Instacart account is free, but you will see some extra costs on top of what you’d expect from a typical grocery shopping trip.

Here are the factors that will impact how much you pay:

  • Grocery items: While some grocery stores offer the same prices on Instacart as they do in-store, others actually charge slightly more. Pricing policies are displayed or linked under each store’s logo, so you’ll always know if you’re paying more.
  • Delivery fee: This fee ranges from $3.99 to $7.99. Higher delivery fees are usually charged for orders under $35 and one-hour delivery requests, though the exact cost may vary by city.
  • Service fee: You can expect to pay a 5% service fee for all non-alcohol items in your cart, with a $2 minimum. If you order alcohol, you’ll pay an additional $2-$10 service fee ($2 for the first $35 of alcohol purchased).
  • Busy pricing: When demand is high, you may notice higher delivery fees in your area.
  • Tips: Instacart tipping is custom on the grocery delivery platform. Though your app will automatically suggest a 5% tip, tipping at least 15% is the standard.

If you opt to pick up groceries, you’ll be responsible for a curbside pick-up fee (in place of the delivery fee) that ranges from free to $4.99.

Saving Money on Instacart

Instacart does provide plenty of savings opportunities for its customers. The company offers its own deals and coupons on each store page, so you can still save even if in-store discounts aren’t offered. First-time users may also be able to take advantage of Instacart promo codes.

The best way for frequent users to save, however, is by taking advantage of the Instacart Express subscription program.

By becoming an Express member for $9.99 per month or $99 per year, you get free deliveries and pick-ups on all orders over $35, discounted service fees (starting at 1.9%), and no busy pricing fees. The program also allows you to order from multiple stores at no extra cost.

Due to massive demand in the midst of COVID-19, Instacart does temporarily require all users to spend a minimum of $35 per store. It’s unclear how an Instacart Express membership impacts this policy.


Placing Your First Grocery Delivery Order

After you’ve signed up for Instacart through the Android app, the iPhone app, or Instacart.com, you can jump on the platform to make your first order. To start, enter your delivery address and select a local store.

Once you’re on your desired store page, start scrolling through grocery items and add what you need to your cart. If you see any coupons listed under the items you’re adding, you can tap the “Apply” button to use them for your order. You can also sort by department and search for specific items to speed up your shopping process.

As you’re adding items to your cart, you may sometimes get a pop-up that requests for you to approve an alternative, if your item is low in stock. This helps your Instacart Shopper easily switch out the item if it’s gone by the time they get there without interrupting your day with texts. Alternatively, you can ignore the pop-up and leave a note for your shopper to cancel the item if it’s out of stock.

Once you’ve added all the items you need, tap on your cart. If you have any preferences for specific items — such as a maximum weight for an onion or the ripeness of bananas — you can add a note under each product. Otherwise, continue to checkout.

The checkout page is where you’ll be able to select your delivery date and time frame, add any delivery instructions, and review costs. As a new user, you’ll also be required to provide your mobile phone number and payment information if you didn’t do so in your account settings already.

Once you’ve entered all requested information, tap “Place order.”


Frequently Asked Questions

Understanding what Instacart is can help you figure out if the service is right for you. To learn more as you make your decision, read these answers to frequently asked questions:

1. Where is Instacart available?

Instacart is available all throughout the United States, including major cities like San Francisco, New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles, Seattle, and Washington, D.C. You can scroll through this complete list of Instacart’s U.S. markets or search by ZIP code at the top of the page.

The grocery delivery service is also available in Canada. You can scroll through Canadian markets or search by postal code on this page.

2. How old do I need to be to use the Instacart service?

Instacart doesn’t expressly state a minimum age for using its service in its terms and does not request your birthday upon signup. However, you do need to be at least 21 years old to order alcohol — or 18 in Alberta, Manitoba, and Quebec and 19 in other Canadian provinces. Your Instacart Shopper will request a government-issued ID upon delivery for age verification.

3. What payment methods does Instacart accept?

Instacart only accepts card payments at this time. This includes payments from most major credit cards — such as Visa, Mastercard, Discover, and American Express — as well as gift cards.

4. Does Instacart Accept PayPal?

PayPal is one of the accepted payment methods on Instacart. People who are not comfortable with sharing credit card information can use PayPal as their main payment method. Instacart will deduct the money for the order from the provided PayPal account.


Save Time for Yourself

When you sign up for Instacart, you can start grocery shopping from your smartphone and leave the hassle of the actual shopping process to someone else. Instacart deliveries and pick-ups are convenient services that reduce the time you need to spend getting the essentials, so you can focus on the most meaningful parts of your life.

If you need support at any time, whether you’re just starting the sign-up process or you’re an active Instacart user, the company has your back. Learn how you can contact customer service through the Instacart phone number.

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