Instacart: The Good & The Bad

Instacart, a grocery delivery service, has popped up in cities across America. They tout “same day” delivery of groceries from stores in your area brought to you by independent personal shoppers. For my area these include Safeway, Whole Foods, Costco, and Bianchini’s, a small local market.  Sounds great, but while there are so many wonderful conveniences and pluses for this up and coming company, there are  major drawbacks that simply cannot be ignored and have unfortunately led me to parting ways with Instacart.

I have been a member since Dec. 2013, and paid an annual membership of $99 to get free express delivery for any bill over $35.   I have yet to receive any of my grocery orders within their “express” time window, mainly because express is never available. Beyond their express delivery time slots (within 2 hours), they offer various one-hour time slots (at least 3 or 4 hours from the time you order) for delivery.  If shoppers are busy, and often times that does seem to be the case, you may wait hours and hours for your delivery.  If you wait until mid afternoon to purchase your groceries you may possibly have to wait until the next day.  I’m not a genius or anything, but I would say that next day delivery doesn’t equate to “same day delivery”. But it sure does beat not having any groceries in your fridge for the next week.  Sometimes whenever is okay.  On the other hand many of us have busy lives with jobs and families needing our groceries delivered when we are actually home from work or from living life.  What’s the point if it isn’t convenient and timely not to mention pricey?

How do they make money?  Markups.  Some prices seem to be 20% more than retail. It’s arbitrary. These prices vary wildly from store to store on their own website.  I typically order from Costco, Whole Foods, and Safeway at the same time. I compare each store for the lowest price.  Each store I order from has a different shopper.  If you’re an express member and your order in a particular store is under $35, expect to pay a $6 delivery fee for each store on top of the markups. If it’s over $35 it’s free.  And if you aren’t an express member, well expect to pay a delivery fee plus the markup.  And of course, you’re expected to tip.  I tip between $5-$10 for each shopper depending on the size of the order.  In an area where the smallest shack will set you back $1 million, I think their fees are probably reasonable, and would even guess that many of these shoppers are breaking their backs for near slave labor.  For the sake of clarity and honesty, I think a fee should be determined based on the number of items a customer purchases.  Time is money, and it would, in my opinion, be a more fair way to assess the costs involved. 

Ordering what you want online with ease.  I must say that I’m thoroughly impressed with their user interface.  Choose the store you want to purchase from and toggle back and forth from store to store, peruse various aisles:  produce, dairy/eggs, frozen, babies, canned goods, etc, etc.  It’s as easy (or easier) to navigate than the aisles at your bricks and mortar store, minus the walking, lifting, and of course your time.  Need gluten free, organic, kosher, or vegan?  Just check off the boxes on the left hand side of whatever “aisle” you’re in and a picture and the price of the available products show up.  Want more details on that product?  Click on it and find out ingredients.  Need something that isn’t listed?  Easy.  Just type it in, and if the shopper can find it, they will charge you retail for it (not mark up).  You can even upload images of products to better ensure that your shopper can find the product you need.  Don’t want to look up the products you order over and over again?  Just go to past orders, find the products you want in an easy to navigate list and add it to your cart.  When you’re ready to check out you’re prompted to choose replacement items for any groceries that may not be available.  You can also opt not to replace items if your needs are specific.  Shoppers will automatically call you for each and every replacement if you do not uncheck the box at the top asking for the shopper to call for replacements.  9 times out of 10 I choose not to have them call.  It can be annoying. 

I'm a stay at home mom to a one year old.  I have a spinal condition, and grocery shopping can be a problem.  Instacart for the most part has provided me with a convenient solution, saving my back and my precious time with my daughter.  Despite so many pluses, I cannot remain a customer. Recently I learned that perishable items can sit in a cart for hours and then in a car for hours more as shoppers make their numerous deliveries.  After receiving spoiled unopened, unexpired milk intended for my toddler, I decided it was time to let other consumers know of this practice.

My last delivery with them was ordered two days before Thanksgiving of 2014.  After the delivery window had come and gone by hours, I decided to contact the company, whom you can only contact by email.  Customer service informed me that the shopper had delivered my items and left my order on my doorstep, including a gallon of milk for my one year old , eggs, yogurt, and various other perishables.  Well, I had been home the entire time and no one called me. I checked in front of my home- nothing.  Again, I emailed customer service  and waited an hour for a response.  They offered to send my order out again the next day and to specify a delivery time.  I told them late morning.  The next day late morning had come and gone and still no groceries.  Again, I was forced to use email to contact them and wait an hour for a response.  By 1:30 my order was in and I was told now that I would have to wait because there were other orders ahead of me.  Ahead of me??  I’m sorry I placed my order early the day before.  After complaining about this, they informed me they were doing the best they could and unfortunately did not have an easy way to bump me up in line.  Ridiculous.  I thought about canceling the order and contacting my bank for a refund.  I was finally given a delivery time of 8 pm!!  By 4 pm a shopper had contacted me asking about replacement items on my list.  Great it seemed my groceries would be earlier than I was told.  Ehh, yep, no.  At 8 pm my groceries arrived. Which meant that all my perishables had been without refrigeration for 4 hours.  I did not even think about it until I opened the milk for my baby and almost vomited from the rotten smell.  Perhaps a call to food and safety should be in order?