Instacart (www.instacart.com) is a San Francisco-based grocery delivery company serving major cities and suburbs in 19 states. Instacart users create an online account, enter a delivery zip code and shop from the available stores in that area. When you submit an order, you select the delivery date and time and a tip amount, and let your shopper know the best way to contact you. Instacart delivers in as little as 2 hours and allows users to schedule deliveries several days in advance. My family and I have used Instacart often over the past year and a half, and here’s what we’ve learned.
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You don’t have to go to the store. This is good for housebound people and those who don’t drive. It’s also helpful when you’re sick or your car isn’t working. You may be able to buy non-grocery items, too, depending on the stores available. In my area, users can order cat carriers, dog beds and other pet items from two nearby pet stores.
You can use Instacart to send groceries to relatives and friends in the company’s service areas. That can help with small crises like shopping for a sick parent who’s too far away for an in-person visit. Because prepared foods are available in most markets, you can send a meal or two—no cooking required.
In my family’s experience, Instacart’s shoppers have been meticulous about calling when they have questions about items, replacements and unexpected problems. Last spring my shopper called because the chocolate bunnies I’d ordered were very different in size; she worried that if they were for different kids there would be jealousy. At my request she chose same-size bunnies and spared me an Easter-morning brawl. More recently, a shopper texted to say the butcher couldn’t cut a 2-pound order of brisket. She recommended a 4-pound order, with half set aside to freeze for later, as an alternative to canceling the item.
If you don’t see what you’re looking for, you can describe it (and include a digital photo if you have one) and your shopper will try to find it. If Instacart delivers from Costco in your area, you can order from them even if you aren’t a Costco member.
My teen mentioned there’s no button on the site to edit a submitted order. To make changes, you can chat with your shopper through the website or follow Instacart’s order change process.
When there is a problem (squished bread or a missing item, for example), it can take a few minutes to a few hours to hear from customer service, but they always follow up and have been prompt with replacements and refunds.
Alcohol purchases are not available in all markets.
All orders must total $10 or more. If you cancel or reschedule after a shopper has started collecting your order, you may incur a $15 fee. (Your original order total is refunded when you cancel.) Instacart Express subscribers can cancel their membership any time by emailing customer service.
Depending on the store, your items may cost the same as they do in the store or there may be a markup. A notice near the top of each store’s page will spell out the policy. Delivery fees vary and usually range from $5.99 to $7.99 in our area. With an Instacart Express membership ($99 per year), all deliveries over $35 are free. Tips are optional and you can adjust them after you get your delivery.
Seniors who don’t drive or can’t get out and shop; caregivers and relatives who want to shop remotely for a loved one; people who don’t mind paying extra to avoid grocery shopping.