As a grocery shopping enthusiast, I usually look forward to my weekly shopping trip. I live in an area of Baltimore that is essentially a food desert and even though the nearest decent supermarket that has reasonable parking accomodations is about a 20 minute drive, I still make the trek out every weekend. It has never entered my mind to order my groceries online. Certain circumstances, however, prevented me from making my weekly pilgrimage this weekend and I decided to give Instacart a go. Despite my love for grocery shopping, the e-commerce giant may have me converted due to the indisputable convenience, app that keeps track of your order status in real-time and open communication between the customer and personal shopper. Additionally, Instacart recently reduced its delivery fees from $5.99 to $3.99 and replaced its 5% service charge with a personal shopper tip defaulted at 5%, which I opted to boost to 15% for someone who had just carefully picked out my groceries for the week. The e-commerce company also recently lowered its annual membership fee to $99 a month, which grants free delivery. Here’s a walkthrough of my Instacart journey.
First, I selected my grocery store of choice through the app, which had several options. I decided to go with Whole Foods because I am most familiar with its offerings. I was also given options such as Harris Teeter, Giant and Safeway, as well as options I hadn't expected, including Costco, CVS and Petco. I then spent some time doing one of my favorite Sunday activities: researching which recipes I would be making this week, and I was able to add each item into my cart as I came up with it. This grocery list-making process was a lot less stressful knowing that I did not need to jump in the car and haul myself out of the city proper to pick up the items. Once I put my order through, I was able to decide whether or not my personal shopper would replace certain items that were commonly out of stock and, if so, what they would be replaced with. For example, the default replacement for poblano peppers was serrano peppers, but I was looking for a spicy pepper that I could stuff with rice and cheese, not a heat additive, so I opted for “don’t replace.” I was also able to add last-minute items as I waited for shopping to commence.
Once shopping started, which was about two hours after I had first placed my order, I was able to see each item as it was placed into my cart. This gave me an idea of the status of my order and how much longer I would wait. This was at about 6:30 p.m. and Instacart had given me a delivery window of between 7 and 8 p.m. I kept holding my breath for the poblano peppers to enter my cart, because I was really hoping to make the recipe I had planned for them.
At one point, my personal shopper messaged me to let me know they were completely out of salad (I had ordered spinach and arugula), which I blame on the romaine lettuce recall as shoppers scramble for alternatives. I appreciated the communication instead of just receiving my groceries without salad after I had already whipped up a vinaigrette. I found some solace, however, in the fact that the poblanos were in stock.
The app also notifies you whenever an out-of-stock item is replaced and gives you the opportunity to approve the swap, request something else or ask for a refund of the item. For the most part, my swaps yielded great alternatives. However, in one case my personal shopper swapped two small one-use containers of chicken broth with two large sizes, which more than doubled the cost of the item I had originally ordered. Not to worry, however, because the app has a function that allows you to easily chat with your personal shopper in real time and clear up any misunderstandings. In this case, I requested one container of the large-size chicken broth instead of two and my wish was easily granted. I also realized that I had missed the details of the swap when approving them earlier.
Once shopping is finished, the app sends a notification ensuring that your items are being stored in a temperature-controlled setting until delivery, and then notifies you again when they are on their way, with an estimated delivery time included. For me, it came right on time. (Yes, I do listen to cooking podcasts while I’m waiting for my groceries, in case you were wondering.)
Even as someone who likes to grocery shop as long as I am not spread too thin, Instacart’s convenience, updated pricing and interactive app have won me over. I also feel like I spent less money on the groceries themselves because I was able to keep track of my cart's total as I shopped, and I was removed from temptations such as cookies and frozen mozzarella sticks. That being said, I think this works for my lifestyle as someone who lives far away from their favorite grocery stores and shops only about once per week for a two-person household. The delivery fee and tip were basically what I would have spent on gas getting to the store and, along with the time saved, I felt it was totally worth it. For an individual who has easy access to a grocery store and shops multiple time per week, however, there might not be as much of a return on investment.