How Does Instacart Work?

In this article, you’ll learn what the entire online grocery shopping process with Instacart looks like, how much it all costs, and whether it’s right for you.

Going grocery shopping takes a lot of time and effort every week. You have to plan out your meals to list ingredients you need and survey your refrigerator for items you’re low on. Then you have to drive to the grocery store, search out each item, make it through the checkout line, and then haul it all home.

There’s actually a fairly low-cost solution to avoid all that hassle. It’s a grocery shopping service called Instacart. But how does Instacart work?

In this article, you’ll learn what the entire online grocery shopping process with Instacart looks like, how much it all costs, and whether it’s right for you.

How Does Instacart Work?

The concept of Instacart is very simple. You’re essentially paying someone to do your groceries for you. You can choose from any grocery store that’s supported by Instacart in your area. In most cases, that includes every major grocery store chain you may prefer.

When you first sign up and log into your account, you’ll see a list of suggested grocery store chains, and whether they support the full at-home delivery experience or pick-up only.

  • Delivery: This is full service. A shopper will go through the store, find the products you’ve requested, pay for you, and deliver everything to your front doorstep.
  • Pickup: This is partial service. A shopper will gather your list of items throughout the store and it’ll all be ready for you to drive over and pick up.

The list of grocery stores displayed on the page is from your local area.

grocery store list

You aren’t limited to grocery stores either. Instacart recently started adding other stores like electronics and home goods.

other stores on instacart

Once you choose your preferred store, you’re ready to start shopping.

1. Browsing to Items

You have several options to choose from while shopping. You can just scroll down the list of categories, expand them, and add the ones you need. Or, you can focus faster on the items you need by selecting Departments from the menu.

If you want to take the time to hunt down deals, you can select Savings from the menu.


The fastest way to find what you need is by browsing specific departments on the Departments page.

departments page

Once you get to the product listing page, you’ll see many more options.

2. Browsing Product Pages

Product pages themselves let you filter down the search even further. Use the dropdown to filter the list by popularity, product price, or unit price.

product pages

You can also use other dropdowns to filter further:

  • Nutrition: Select organic, fat-free, vegan, and more.
  • Brands: Choose from individual brands currently listed on the page.
  • Sales & Promotions: Any available savings, like coupons, will show up here.
  • Tags: use any of the tags to narrow down the category of product you want.

Once you’re done filtering, choose the item you want and select the green + icon next to it. This will add the item to your cart. As you add each item to the cart, you’ll see the number in your cart icon increase by one.

adding items to cart

If you see an item you’re interested in, but want to specify more details before you buy, you can select the item itself to see more details.

selecting item options

Here you can select the flavor, size, quantity, and other options before you add the product to your cart.

3. Paying for Your Cart

Once you’re done shopping, select the Cart icon to see everything you’ve bought so far.

browsing cart

You can update quantities, remove items, or change preferences from the cart. Once everything looks good, select Go to Checkout to pay for everything.

instacart checkout

For the checkout process, you’ll need to work through the following steps.

  1. Provide your delivery address, including any special instructions.
  2. Choose your delivery time (you can usually choose in as little as 2 hours, or later in the week).
  3. Add any special delivery instructions, like which door to drop off the delivery.
  4. Provide your mobile number for any questions your shopper may have along the way.
  5. Enter your payment details.

Once you’ve made the payment, your order will enter the shopping phase.

What to Expect After Payment

Once you submit your order, you can track the progress your shopper is making as they’re shopping in the store. This is what you can expect during the shopping process.

  • Up until shopping starts, you can update your order.
  • Once your shopper is looking for items in the store, you can chat with them at any time using the Instacart app or website.
  • If your shopper can’t find a specific item, they’ll suggest a replacement. You can either accept it or select a refund instead.
  • When it’s time for delivery, you’ll see an estimated time of arrival as well as a map showing the driver’s location.

Once the driver arrives at your house, they would normally knock on your door and deliver the groceries to your kitchen counter. In times like COVID-19, this may change for your safety. In this case, the driver will deliver the groceries to your doorstep and text you that your order arrived.

How Much It’ll Cost

Let’s talk about how much more shopping with Instacart will cost than it would by going to the grocery store yourself.

instacart costs

There are special times when Instacart will offer free delivery fees. This is one of the best deals you can get. It’s like having someone get your groceries for free. However, most of the time you’re going to need to pay the usual Instacart delivery fee.

Here are all of the fees you’ll have to consider when ordering Instacart delivery:

  • Delivery Fee: Typically starts around $3.99 for same-day orders if you’re buying more than $35 worth of groceries. You need to buy more than $10 worth of products or you can’t order Instacart delivery.
  • Heavy Fee: If the combined weight of your groceries is over 50 lbs, which isn’t typical, you’ll also have to pay a “heavy fee”, which varies.
  • Service Fee: Amounts to 5% of your order, and cover Instacart’s operating costs.
  • Sales Tax: On items where you need to pay sales tax, they’ll all get added up here and displayed.
  • Delivery Tip: This is where you can show consideration to your shopper by offering a small tip. 15% is a good rule of thumb, but many customers offer as much as a 20% tip.

If you plan on using Instacart for all of your weekly grocery shopping, you might be better off signing up for Instacart Express. The cost of this membership is $99 per year or $9.99 per month.

This membership could pay for itself in as little as two or three months. Benefits from Instacart Express include:

  • No delivery fees
  • Reduced service fees
  • Avoid higher fees during peak delivery hours
  • Get free delivery with participating stores

Is Instacart Right for You?

To decide whether to use Instacart, there are just a few things to consider. The most important is how valuable your time is. Grocery shopping can easily eat up a couple of hours of your day.

Using Instacart is like paying someone only $10 to $15 (depending on fees) to get your groceries for you.

However, there are other things to consider. Often, when you order meat, the shopper may purchase near-expiration packages. In this case, you pay the price on Instagram’s website, while Instagram pockets the difference. You could get fresher meat at the same price by shopping at the store yourself. The same goes for any in-store discounts on non-meat products. In the end, you still know what you’re paying (the prices on Instagram’s website, which generally match normal store prices). But you don’t get the benefit of any additional store discounts.

Taking all of this into account, the time savings and convenience of the service is usually enough reason for most people to use Instacart.

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