Disclosure: I was given $50 worth of credit to Instacart in exchange for sharing my experience using the service through this post. My opinions are my own, and I've done my best to lay it all out for better or worse.
Grocery shopping has never been a favorite chore for me, but after CC was born it became even more of a hassle. Anyone who has ever had to take a small child out into the world knows that it can be a ridiculously involved process. First you have to time the whole thing just right so that baby is well-fed and at just the right point between naps. Then you have to get a fresh diaper on him, get him into the car seat, on the road and into the store before that window closes. If the timing is off, you end up being that parent that everyone just loves - the one with a wailing infant in the checkout line
While there's no shame in being that parent (we've all been there) it's no picnic either. Wouldn't it be great if you could just avoid going to the store completely? Thanks to grocery delivery services, like Instacart, you can - if you're willing to pay a little extra. I've ordered groceries from the service three times now, and it's fair to say that I'm a little addicted. Between my weekly CSA delivery, my bi-weekly meat delivery, and InstaCart, I could potentially give up going to the grocery store once and for all.
While Instacart is designed to let you shop from a number of local stores, (in Austin that means HEB, Whole Foods, Costco, Royal Blue, and Central Market) they just officially partnered with Whole Foods. To help spread the word about that partnership they asked a group of bloggers (myself included) to check the service out and write about our experience. They gave me $50 worth of grocery credit to shop with, which I made short work of in one good sized Whole Foods order.
How It Works
Instacart orders can be made online, either from a browser or an app. To get started, you choose the local grocery store that you'd like to order from, then search or browse the site/app to shop for items. I usually keep a cart open on my app for several days before finally pulling the trigger and putting my order in. When you checkout you can select a time frame for delivery - starting at 2 hours from the time you checkout. A delivery fee is added to the order: $7.99 for orders under $35, and $3.99 for orders over $35.
After your order is confirmed, you get an update to let you know that your order is being picked. So far, I've also received a phone call or text each time I've ordered to make some decisions regarding unavailable or out-of-stock items. Shortly after that, the groceries arrive on your doorstep in cute, green reusable bags. Tipping is optional, and can be given in cash or added to the order afterward, when you are asked to rate the service via email.
Apart from the convenience of having my groceries delivered, Instacart also helps me avoid impulse purchases, which in turn helps avoid food waste and accidental spending. While the groceries do cost a little more than they do in the store, I get to fiddle with my cart all I want to make sure my order falls within our budget. Having your groceries delivered is also very, very convenient - like indulgently, addicting-type convenient. Even order problems have a degree of convenience, since issues can be reported and resolved entirely by email. I hardly bother to return crappy groceries to the store, but I have no problem sending in a note on Instacart to report the same thing. Refunds are made promptly without fuss, which I appreciate.
Of course, shopping this way means that I miss out on sales and specials. The groceries on Instacart also cost slightly more than usual to begin with, plus there is a delivery. You are definitely paying a premium for convenience which may or may not be worth it to you, depending on your budget and your lifestyle. After shopping on Instacart three times I have noticed that another thing you sacrifice when shopping this way is quality control. While I'm sure the shoppers do their best to pick great produce they don't have any way of knowing how ripe you'd like your avocados to be, just like you have no way of predicting which variety of fish, fruit, etc. will look best this week when you place your order.
At the end of checkout, Instacart asks you to select substitutions for grocery items that are commonly out of stock. This is a great idea, but I still almost always get a call from the shopper asking about something else that is missing. While I definitely appreciate the gesture, I'm often not in a great spot for taking that call when it comes in. Either I'm putting the baby down for a nap, in the middle of a phone meeting, or elbow deep in recipe testing. The whole reason I'm using the service is to take the task off my plate. Having to micro-manage it from afar is a little annoying. I would like to see an option added to the service that gives the shopper permission to make those substitutions themselves.
Another thing that puzzles me is the re-usable bags the groceries arrive in. My first order arrived in the thick plastic bags available at HEB. That REALLY bugged me because in my opinion, those bags are a total joke - just a bulkier version of disposable bags. The following two orders arrived in pretty green reusable totes. This was much better, but if I were to use the service regularly I would be swimming in shopping bags. I'm not sure how Instacart can solve that puzzle, but there it is. Maybe paper bags would be a good solution, or re-usable bins for customers who shop with them regularly?
A final quirk that I'd like to see remedied is the communication of notes on the orders to shoppers. I always leave a note on the order asking my shopper to leave the groceries in a cooler at the front door. (Sleeping babies and doorbells don't mix.) Two out of three orders made it into the cooler, but the last one was just left at the door in silence. I knew it was coming, so eventually checked outside, but I don't really know how long it was out there. A text on delivery would be a great way to alert me without disturbing the household.
To Instacart or Not to Instacart?
All in all, the convenience factor of Instacart is high enough to make up for any of its little hiccups. For us, the extra cost would be hard to justify on a regular basis, but it is a great option when we get into a Hail Mary situation. Sometimes I just can't get to the store, and on those days Instacart is definitely worth the extra cost. For regular shopping I think I prefer picking out my own peaches, crying baby and all.
If you'd like to give Instacart a try, use the following link to get free delivery and $10 off your first order: http://inst.cr/t/vusaDR?rel=nofollow (I'll get $5 toward future orders too, so it's a win-win.