After Trying $2 Billion Grocery Startup Instacart, I'd Rather Just Go To The Store

Earlier this week, Re/code reported that Instacart, a startup that delivers groceries on demand, had raised $US220 million at a nearly $US2 billion valuation. 

Instacart hires shoppers to buy groceries at local stores and then deliver them to customers within a few hours. Unlike competitors, like Fresh Direct, who keep their own inventory, Instacart relies on grocery stores to fulfil orders.

I decided to try out Instacart to see if it lived up to the hype. 

To get started, first enter your zip code to see if Instacart delivers in your area. The entry page boasts that it will deliver your groceries in an hour.

You then get to choose the grocery store you want to order from.

After I chose Fairway as my store, the app showed me what food items I could buy from there.

Once I chose everything, it showed my total cost and estimated delivery time. Delivery was free because it was my first order, but it usually costs $7.99 for orders under $35 and $3.99 for orders over $35.

It also asked me if the Instacart shopper could substitute a different kind of pasta in case the one I had chosen was out of stock. Sometimes the shopper will call the customer to ask what they'd like to replace out-of-stock items with. I didn't get a call, but I've heard other people complain about shoppers calling them multiple times to ask about alternative items.

Same-day delivery is one of the biggest perks Instacart promises. When I ordered my groceries, though, there wasn't a delivery slot available until noon the next day. It wasn't exactly what I was expecting. Plus, I was going to be at work at that time, so having groceries delivered then wouldn't work.

I gave up and tried to order again two days later. My order still couldn't come that day -- it was New Year's Day, a big holiday -- but they offered me a delivery slot for the following day.

My groceries arrived at about 3:15 p.m. the next day, which was early in the delivery slot. They came in a canvas bag that touted one-hour grocery delivery. Hmmph.

The shopper who delivered my bag was friendly, but she left before I could really check out the contents. I only ordered a few basic things and soon realised that they had left out the pasta I ordered, which I had planned to eat for dinner that night.

I emailed customer service to see if I could either have my item replaced or get a refund. I was slightly annoyed that I would still have to go out to buy pasta for dinner. To their credit, customer service responded within minutes and said I would get a refund.

Instacart sounds great in theory, and it only cost me $20, but it seems like they still have some kinks to figure out. People with exceptionally busy schedules may find it's worth paying a small price to have their groceries come to them, even if the shoppers mix some things up in the process. Personally, I think I'll stick to regular grocery shopping in the meantime.

Now see what it's like to work for another on-demand startup.

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