I followed around a professional grocery shopper to see if I had what it takes

Instacart shopperMadison Malone Kircher/Tech InsiderInstacart shoppers wander the store using this app as a shopping list.

Instacart, a digital grocery delivery service in the US, makes it easy to shop for food without ever leaving your apartment.

It makes money by charging around $4 to take your order and adding a mark-up of around 20 per cent on items. So a $200 shop would cost you around $244, which isn’t so bad when you consider transport costs and a couple of hours out of the house which could be better spent doing other things.

Instacart isn’t available in Australia yet, but aside from the big supermarkets which have their own free services for a medium-sized order, there’s a bunch of smaller operatoirs popping up such as GroceryRun and GroceryButler with a range of different pricing strategies.

But what happens between submitting your order online and your doorbell ringing?

We decided to find out and spent a morning shadowing an Instacart shopper at a Whole Foods in New York City.

Turns out, a lot of time and effort goes into getting your grocery order just right and delivered to your door in under an hour.

Keep reading to find out what it’s like to be an Instacart shopper.

It was a cold, rainy morning when I headed to the Whole Foods Market in the Bowery of New York City.

Madison Malone Kircher/Tech Insider

Inside, I met up with Sam Cruz, the Instacart shopper I'd be shadowing for the morning.

Madison Malone Kircher/Tech Insider

Cruz, 31, says Whole Foods is like his office -- he typically works there from about 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and fills about ten grocery orders each day. Shoppers earn a base salary that starts around $15-an-hour.

Madison Malone Kircher/Tech Insider

Orders come in on through the Instacart app.

Madison Malone Kircher/Tech Insider

This morning, Cruz was filling a 44-item order. Each item was listed on the app and Cruz checks them off as he add them to the cart.

Madison Malone Kircher/Tech Insider

The app sets a time limit at a little over an hour to complete the order.

Madison Malone Kircher/Tech Insider

While he shopped, Cruz told me he enjoys the 'odd job feel' of being a professional grocery shopper.

Madison Malone Kircher/Tech Insider

If an item is not available, Instacart shoppers can check with the customer and work together to replace it with something similar.

Madison Malone Kircher/Tech Insider

Here, Cruz swapped American cheese for Provolone and texted the customer to let them know. In this case, the customer was cool with the switch, but they are always allowed to opt out.

Madison Malone Kircher/Tech Insider

As a tip for those who still do their grocery shopping themselves, Cruz recommends itemizing your grocery shopping list to speed up the process.

Madison Malone Kircher/Tech Insider

I was really impressed at how quickly Cruz found things, like this specific brand of cold brew coffee a customer had requested.

Madison Malone Kircher/Tech Insider

Still, some specialty items can be trickier for a shopper to track down in a hurry.

Madison Malone Kircher/Tech Insider

It took some time for Cruz to track down these olives stuffed with peppers.

Madison Malone Kircher/Tech Insider

When he can't find an item, Cruz consults the Whole Foods staff. He didn't have much luck finding freeze-dried, instant coffee. Whole Foods didn't end up carrying the brand the customer wanted.

Madison Malone Kircher/Tech Insider

The woman on the right might look like your average grocery store patron, but she's actually an Instacart shopper as well. There were about 8 in the store while I was there.

Madison Malone Kircher/Tech Insider

Cruz says sensible shoes are a must for his job. I wore heels. After an hour of following him around, I started to regret it.

Madison Malone Kircher/Tech Insider

The second-to-last item on the customer's list was olive oil.

Madison Malone Kircher/Tech Insider

And green juice, which Cruz hustled through the store to find.

Madison Malone Kircher/Tech Insider

Once we finished finding the last few items, it was time to check out. I was confused when Cruz walked right past the store cashiers.

Madison Malone Kircher/Tech Insider

Instead, we took an elevator upstairs where Instacart employees ring up orders, bag the groceries, and send them off for delivery. The customers' link their credit cards to the Instacart app and pay that way. The shoppers don't handle money or cards.

Madison Malone Kircher/Tech Insider

Here's a look.

Madison Malone Kircher/Tech Insider

Before the groceries can be delivered, orders have to be labelled so nothing gets switched around by mistake.

Madison Malone Kircher/Tech Insider

Sometimes Instacart shoppers will fill orders hours before they need to be delivered, so they will hold them in this giant refrigerator.

Madison Malone Kircher/Tech Insider

While dry goods wait on these shelves.

Madison Malone Kircher/Tech Insider

Finally, a delivery person, or 'walker,' as Instacart calls them, will take the orders to the customer. This particular walker told me he delivers anywhere around nine orders each day and sometimes travels up to a mile for each order.

Madison Malone Kircher/Tech Insider

Whether you're a shopper or a walker, working at Instacart is a very physical job. I was tired after just an hour. Later that day when I considered hitting up the grocery store on my way home from work, I ordered take-out instead.

Madison Malone Kircher/Tech Insider

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