What Is Instacart & How Does It Work? (Don’t Make These Mistakes!)

Most of us have better things we could be doing with our time, and that’s where Instacart has carved its niche into the grocery market.

But what is Instacart, and how does it work? What is its purpose, and who can benefit from it? If you’d like to find out, keep reading to see what I discovered!

What Is Instacart & How Does It Work In 2022?

Instacart is a grocery shopping and delivery service, available in all 50 U.S. states as of 2022. Using the app or the website, customers can create grocery lists for a local store, follow along with their personal shopper’s progress, and even leave a tip for the driver. Service and products are subject to availability.

There is so much more to cover, including what stores you can find on Instacart, how to place an order, and even what mistakes not to make while ordering. Stick around and read on!

Which Stores Does Instacart Partner With?

Instacart has a good mix of national and regional chains, and the latter in particular differ based on where you are located.

According to Instacart itself, the company partners with over 700 different retailers in over 5,500 cities in the U.S.

Some national chains you can expect to find on Instacart include the following:

  • Target
  • Sam’s Club
  • Publix
  • Costco
  • Aldi
  • Kroger
  • CVS
  • Sprouts
  • Wegmans
  • Albertsons
  • Family Dollar
  • Petco
  • Best Buy

If you live in an area with any of these stores, then chances are good that they have partnered with Instacart.

For a definitive list of stores you can shop at in your city, visit Instacart.com.

Enter your address in the location finder, and the list below will update based on what is available in your area.

What Fees Does Instacart Charge?

While you save time using Instacart, in most cases, you can expect to pay more than if you went to the grocery store yourself.

That said, Instacart charges a few different fees.

First, while Instacart doesn’t require a paying membership to use the service, it does offer one called Instacart Express.

For $10 per month or a single $99 yearly fee, customers can receive:

  • Free delivery for orders over $35
  • Free pick-up for orders over $10 (sometimes $35, depending on the retailer)
  • Reduced operating fees
  • Various other discounts

Regarding the last item, in late fall/winter 2021, Instacart began running a program where Express members earned back five percent of their order totals.

That “cash back” was then applied back onto the account as a credit, and it could then be used on the next order or saved and left to accumulate.

However, regular delivery fees can range from as little as $3.99 to $7.99. The higher-end is typical on busier days, like Saturdays and Sundays.

You can also pay $2 more for “Priority” delivery – the fastest type Instacart offers.

Pick-up fees generally stay at $1.99, but if it’s a busier time, sometimes they can rise to $3.99.

Other fees include the heavy fee, for – you guessed it – heavier items, like huge bags of dog food, the service fee (only for delivery orders), long-distance service fees, and bag fees.

You might not get dinged for each one every single time, but if you use the app enough, chances are good you’ll run into each at least once.

You can see what fees Instacart has charged by going into your Orders and opening up the receipt.

For more on Instacart’s fees (and taxes), you can check out the company page here.

Does Instacart Upcharge Items?

It’s quite common for there to be item upcharges while using Instacart, and the company does try to be transparent about that.

What you might not realize is that it’s actually the retailer setting those higher prices, not Instacart.

These companies will often do so to offset the operational fees on their end, as a result of partnering with Instacart.

For example, Wegmans’ store brand Wedge soda costs $4.29 on Instacart, while in-store it’s only $3.49.

Even stores like Aldi, which prides itself on having the lowest prices around, does upcharge on Instacart, to the tune of 10 or 20 cents at times, but others, up to a dollar more.

Overall, the Express membership is well worth it if you plan on using Instacart regularly for your weekly grocery shops.

How Do You Place an Order with Instacart?

How Do You Place an Order with Instacart?

To place an order with Instacart, you must have an account, but it’s free to join (unless you want to pay for an Express membership).

Enter your address so the site or app can show you what stores are available in your area.

Choose from the list and you can start shopping by scrolling through the Aisles section after selecting which store you wish to shop from.

Once your cart is full and you have everything you need, view your cart (always available in the upper-right corner) and select “Go to checkout.”

The next screen is where you select your delivery date and time from the available slots and choose your payment method.

If you need to leave delivery instructions, you can also do that from the check-out page.

If everything looks right, continue to the next screen, where you decide how much you want to tip your driver. You can change the tip after the delivery if needed.

Once you have finished that and hit submit, you will receive a notification that your order is confirmed.

It’s very important that your notifications for Instacart are turned on because the shopping process can actually be quite interactive.

Your shopper can text you in the app, and may even send pics when asking if you’d like a replacement.

If you miss those messages, you could very well end up with items you don’t want, so it’s important to be paying attention while your order is being shopped.

The app is very good about sending notifications during every part of the process, including when the shopper is done and has checked out.

You will also receive notifications when the driver is on their way (full-service Instacart employees do both shopping and delivery) and when they are close.

After, you’ll receive notifications that your order has been delivered (commonly along with a photo of the bags/items on your property), and later to rate the order.

Should You Tip with Instacart?

You should absolutely tip your driver with Instacart.

Though the shopper-drivers are compensated by Instacart for each order, your tips help round-out the amount they receive.

After all, Instacart employees are contract workers, members of the gig economy.

While $2 is the very barest minimum anyone should tip their Instacart delivery person, $5 is much better, and if you can swing more like 15-25 percent, it is vastly appreciated.

How Long Does Instacart Take?

Customers can pay for Priority Instacart delivery, where an extra $2 or so nets them the fastest delivery times and puts them ahead of non-Priority orders.

Otherwise, when you choose a retailer to begin shopping and toggle the button to Delivery (if it’s not already there), you will see the next available delivery time.

Where it displays the next available, you can press on that and a menu will pop up with more details about delivery and pick-up times.

The most common delivery window is within two hours. You can schedule it out later, too, like if you’re at work and want to be home when it arrives.

Sometimes it’s a busy day or time of year, and your order delivery time will get pushed back. You’ll receive a notification and an email about it.

There’s not much you can do in that instance, except roll with it.

Afterward, you can contact Instacart’s customer service in the app and it will make every attempt to remedy your unhappiness.

How Late Does Instacart Deliver?

Instacart generally stops taking orders for individual stores one-to-two hours before the physical store closes.

In a piece at GroceryDive, the site reports that in September 2021, Instacart announced that it was adding 24/7 delivery in partnership with some retailers in some of its stores.

The retailers include Safeway, 7-Eleven, CVS, Rite Aid, and Walgreens but again, only in select locations.

If none of these apply to your area, then you’re still constrained by normal business hours.

Make sure to check each individual storefront to see when their last deliveries are.

Also, most – if not all – stores are closed on major holidays like Thanksgiving, Christmas Day, New Year’s Day, and Easter.

What Mistakes Should You Avoid with Instacart?

When you are a new customer of Instacart, you can inadvertently make your shoppers’ job more difficult.

However, there are some of the most common mistakes you can avoid so that your shopping experience is smooth sailing

Insider spoke to a full-service shopper who highlighted customers’ need to pay attention to their phones during shopping.

While it’s billed as “someone else doing the shopping for you,” Instacart is actually more interactive than you might think.

Shoppers reach out all the time to ask questions, send photos, make replacement suggestions, and more.

So, it is important to schedule your order for a time or a day when you can monitor the app regularly, not on a busy day with many meetings.

Another mistake the shopper singled out was not leaving pre-written instructions if you have specific preferences for items.

Did you know that you can leave a note or instructions for every single item on your grocery list?

Customers under-use this feature, but it’s especially helpful if you have placed your order on a day when you know you can’t always give the shopper your undivided attention.

This also applies to the delivery instructions. Some drivers don’t know to knock if you don’t tell them to (instructions for delivery can be added at check-out).

The shopper also asked customers to consider not down-rating their orders because of something that the shopper can’t control.

A bad bag of wilted, slimy spinach? Okay, they could clearly have paid better attention when choosing.

However, as the example in the article says, a bag of grapes with a few smushed ones in the middle? That’s just produce being produce, i.e., imperfect.

Finally, her biggest admonishment is for customers to not leave skimpy tips.

Instacart is a luxury for many, so you pay more for someone else to do a mundane task for you.

Instacart shoppers can see how much of a tip you plan on leaving; though they know that can change, it still isn’t a great look for the customer.

If you continuously under-tip (below $5 frankly looks stingy), you could get a reputation among shoppers, especially if you order from the same store regularly.

Better-rated shoppers might ignore your order request, leaving you at the mercy of worst-rated shoppers who are less considerate and thoughtful.

So, if you can’t leave a serviceable-to-generous tip, Instacart delivery might not be for you. Some stores also offer Instacart pick-up, which is a great alternative.

If you are looking to learn more, you can also read our posts on Instacart gift cards, what is Instacart express, and if Instacart takes EBT.

Conclusion

Instacart is a thoroughly modern convenience for busy individuals and families, freeing up time by letting someone else do the grocery shopping and having them bring it to your door.

In order to fully benefit from Instacart, though, it’s important to be a good customer: facilitate open communication with your shopper and leave a good tip for great service!

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Cara Suppa

Cara Suppa has been freelance writing for over a decade and holds a BA in English and an MS in Integrated Marketing Communications. Outside of work, she is an avid cook, gardener, and discount shopper.

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