How does Instacart work? What to know about the grocery delivery service powered by freelancers

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When you order groceries on Instacart, gig workers shop for and deliver your order. Denver Post Photo by Cyrus McCrimmon
  • Instacart is an app-based grocery delivery service that works much like Uber Eats or Postmates.
  • You can order groceries from over 300 stores nationwide, and freelance delivery drivers will bring them to you.
  • Frequent users can sign up for an annual Instacart Express membership, which can save money on delivery fees.
  • Visit Insider’s Tech Reference library for more stories .

Instacart is like Postmates, or Uber Eats, or Doordash — but specifically for groceries. The service brings groceries right to your door, with no-contact delivery available for your safety.

Here’s what you need to know about it, including how to sign up and get started.

How does Instacart work?

To begin, you’ll need to download the Instacart app on your iOS or Android device, enter your ZIP code to find available stores near you, create an account, and start shopping.

You’ll be able to choose from a variety of different places — not just local grocery chains, but convenience stores, pet stores, and speciality shops. If you’ve used Instacart before, your previous stores will appear at the top of the screen for quick access.

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Your past orders appear at the top, under ‘Your stores.’ Grace Eliza Goodwin/Business Insider

The Instacart marketplace is vast and includes more than 300 retailers, including Aldi, Albertsons, Kroger, Sam’s Club, and Sprouts.

Once you’ve selected a store, you can browse what they have to offer. After placing your order, the app will match you with a “personal shopper,” or delivery driver, who will shop for you and deliver your groceries to your door.

Instacart will charge you a fee for the delivery, and you should also tip your shopper.

How to order on Instacart

Once you’ve downloaded the Instacart app, you can create an account using your Apple ID, Google account, Facebook account, or email address.

Quick tip: If you plan on using the service often, you can also sign up for an Instacart Express Membership, which costs $US99 a year.

With an Express Membership, you’ll get free deliveries on orders of $US35 or more and reduced service fees on all orders, regardless of cost. You can try the service free for two weeks and cancel if you don’t like it.

You can shop at all sorts of nearby stores. Once you’ve chosen a store, you can browse by category or search for an item by name.

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Browse by category like ‘Produce,’ or choose a subcategory like ‘Fresh Vegetables.’ Grace Eliza Goodwin/Business Insider

When you’re all done shopping, confirm and pay for your order. You’ll be notified once a shopper accepts your order and starts picking up your items.

Make sure to pay attention to the app while your shopper is working, because if there’s any issues with the items you ordered — if the store is out of stock, for instance — you may need to communicate with them.

Who brings my groceries?

Almost no Instacart shoppers are actually employees of the company. Instead, the shoppers who pick up and drop off your orders are independent contractors who don’t get benefits. Like rideshare drivers, their pay is dependent on the number of orders they’re able to fulfil and the amount of time they can work.

That means that giving tips is crucial. Make sure to budget for that every time you place an order with Instacart.

Instacart delivery
Instacart shoppers are paid by order, not a general salary. David L. Ryan/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Personal shoppers don’t just pick up your bagged groceries and go. They find and grab your items throughout the store, inform you if anything is out of stock, offer possible substitutions, and check out at the register with their Instacart debit card, which is automatically loaded with the exact amount of money to pay for your order.

Instacart shoppers are fast, and the company says they can complete some orders within an hour.

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