Everything Instacart Shopper Need to Know About Deliveries
This is a post from guest contributor who goes by “Silver Lining.” He is a single father and a Postmates courier and Instacart shopper in Los Angeles who typically works 20-30 hours a week. He shares his experience as a delivery driver in Los Angeles.
If you would like to become a contributor to Rideshare Dashboard, email ridesharedashboard at gmail with a brief introduction about yourself, such as how long you have been driving on Uber, Lyft or delivering for Instacart, Postmates.
In continuing with my last blog post “Everything Postmates Couriers Need to Know About Deliveries,” once Postmates changed the payscale, I was definitely thirsty for another option to create a flexible income around building a business and raising my child. I was in Whole Foods months prior and saw an advertisement for to be an Instacart shopper. I had already started the application, but decided it was time to finally finish and attend an orientation. The orientation I attended a year ago was quite different than those held today. Last year, we meet in a group and were given basic info about Instacart and how shop for orders on the App. Currently, you will have to shop a “demo order” and fulfill the order in a certain time frame to pass as an Instacart Shopper. The orientation was full of useful info, but not a lot of nuts and bolts weren’t discussed about shopping for orders. I was a bit nervous before beginning my first shift, but fortunately a friend of mine had previously started working as a shopper a week prior. Her advice which proved to be very useful: ”Just follow the App, it will tell you exactly what to do.”
INSTACART DELIVERY ZONES
The Instacart shopper schedule is released weekly on Wednesday morning at 9am or Sunday morning at 9am for those with Early Access. During that time, you have the opportunity to choose time slots and zones where you prefer to work. The Los Angeles Area includes:
- Hollywood Area
- West LA/Culver City
- Downtown LA
- San Fernando Valley
My favorite zone is Hollywood since it tends to be the busiest and most lucrative. The San Fernando Zone is my next choice, because it’s more of a calmer suburban vibe and it can be quite lucrative these days as well. It’s just not as easy to get scheduled hours in this zone! I’ve worked a couple of shifts in the Downtown Area, but don’t prefer it due to parking difficulty and most orders being delivered to apartment and high rise buildings. However, the Whole Foods downtown where the Instacart hub is located for this zone is quite impressive and like a city in itself!
You may schedule yourself for more than one zone shift in a day. For example, you could work as an Instacart Shopper in the Hollywood Area from 8am-3pm, then be scheduled in the San Fernando Valley from 4pm-9pm. Once your shift starts in a particular zone, you won’t be scheduled batches outside of it. However, some zones in Los Angeles are quite large, and you could travel more miles than you desire to deliver a client’s order, and you may feel as if you’re in another zone!
In smaller cities like Seattle, there is only one very large zone. You are either assigned a batch at the start of your shift, or you are assigned a batch based on where you are. If you are in North Seattle, you will get a batch near there. If you are south of Seattle, you will get a batch there. There is a trade off. You will only get a batch based on location, so you may have to wait another 10-20 minutes for a batch in your area. It is best to just stay near where you think you will get a batch and then hope it’s close by. I wouldn’t go around driving around in search for your next batch, unless it has been a long time between batches.
Instacart has a partnership with Whole Foods and the main hub for the Hollywood Area is the Whole Foods on Fairfax/3rd. The “In store Shoppers” are stationed there, shopping for batches that “Full Service Shoppers” will do as a “delivery only” order. In Store shoppers are employees of Instacart, and only shop at Whole Foods to fulfill orders. The friendly and super helpful shift supervisors are stationed at Whole Foods as well to answer any questions and give assistance to all Instacart shoppers. I’m a “full service shopper” and an Independent Contractor of Instacart. I love the freedom of schedule, location and not being an employee or stuck in one location all day. This was one of the reasons I exited corporate America! I’m grateful to be in this situation that allows me to build my dreams and have more freedom in the process.
BEGINNING OF YOUR INSTACART SHOPPER SHIFT
You receive a friendly text 30 min prior to your shift. Instacart has become more hip with the lingo since we’re Independent Contractors. It will say “Your shift is starting at 10:00am. We are actively working to get a batch for you. Please refer to your zone’s (Hollywood Area) map for guidance. Or it’ will say, “Your shift is starting at 10:00am. Your first batch will be a Whole Foods Market at 6350 West 3rd St 90036.” It’s always nice to know you have a batch already waiting for you! If I don’t already have a batch and I’m working the Hollywood Zone, I head to the Whole Foods Market because it’s my top pick to shop at and I love getting “delivery only” batches as well.
If you happen to not be in your designated zone, you may get a text that reads, “It appears you are not yet in Instacart’s Hollywood Area zone to receive orders, so please consider heading there to indicate that you were able to provide services today.”
There is a map on our Instacart shopper App that shows you the zone and your current location. You will get a few more of these awesome reminders, and if you’re still not in the zone you will be taken off shift. However, Instacart gives you the option to jump back on shift for a certain time frame. If you happen to live in the zone in which you’re working you can remain at home and wait to receive a batch.
ACCEPTING YOUR BATCH
Once you’re assigned a batch and given the recommended Market to shop or deliver from, you hit ACKNOWLEDGE on your App. If you’re not already at the location, you can use your GPS service to guide you. If you don’t acknowledge in a specific time frame, you are taken off shift, and you loose the batch. Pay close attention, because I’ve almost lost a batch before because I thought I hit acknowledge, but was mistaken! You do have the option to jump back on if you choose and wait for another batch. Once the batch is acknowledged, another time frame is given to drive to the location and begin shopping. You’ll receive a warning if you haven’t started the batch in that time frame. It will give you about 10-15 more minutes to begin and if you haven’t you will be thrown off shift. You are then given this dirty little thing called a “strike” which if you have too many, you can be removed from the Instacart shopper platform. After 30 shopping batches a strike is removed.
HOW DOES THE INSTACART APP WORK?
Once at the designated shopping location and ready to begin, you hold down the HOLD TO START SHOPPING BUTTON. The picture list of items to shop for, separated by category, will appear. If it’s an item with a barcode, you scan the item and it’s added to your DONE category. This is a great feature because sometimes you may think you grabbed the correct product, but the client actually wanted the “gluten free” version, another flavor or size. The scanning is your backup check. Items such as produce will give you the requested quantity and weight. Once the produce is found, instead of scanning you enter this info manually. The app will alert you if you choose the wrong quantity or size.
TO REFUND OR REPLACE. THAT IS THE QUESTION?
Just as when shopping at the market for yourself, items can be temporarily out of stock or no longer available. This is when it’s important to pay close attention to the App. If you “can’t find an item,” or it’s “out of stock,” choose one of these above options instead of hitting scan. You will get an alert that says client wants the item “REFUNDED” or the App gives you suggestions for a replacement. Sometimes the replacement suggestions have no connection with the original item requested whatsoever. It makes my day when a client has chosen a first choice back up replacement in case the original isn’t available. Otherwise, it’s best to use common sense and choose the best replacement. Depending on the clients preferred communication method, I either text or call to confirm their replacement. If it states that the client “prefers not to be contacted” there is nothing more you can do.
THE NEED FOR SPEED!
As you’ve probably figured out by now, it’s all about your speed. Instacart advertises that groceries will arrive to your door in an hour, so time is at the center of everything you do as an Instacart shopper. From the minute you start shopping, you are timed on how long it takes you to shop and get through the checkout process. Even though we have no control over how fast the cashier completes our transaction, we are held accountable for that time as well. Instacart averages your shopping/ check out time and you are assigned how many seconds per item it took you to shop. The lower the number the better. It takes time to get acquainted with the App and process, so a new shopper may have higher shopping speed at first. Once you familiarize yourself with the store, learn techniques that help you utilize time and shop faster, you will see the shopping speed decrease.
HOW TO SHOP FASTER ON INSTACART
- Familiarize yourself with the stores you will be shopping at. Walk down the aisles and learn where items are placed.
- Before starting your batch, grab plenty of plastic produce bags and have them ready.
- Read through the entire list of items and make mental notes of what they are ordering
- Shop in one section at a time and complete everything from the list before moving to another area of the store.
- If you have deli items, try to drop off the list so they can be filled while shopping for other items
- If you have many produce items, find all of them and then enter/weigh them all together.
- Be kind and respect the store employees. They will be able to answer questions and help you find items you need. They will become your BFF!
- Try to keep communication with the clients brief and to the point.
- Don’t have personal phone conversations or get into distracting conversations with other employees or Instacart Shoppers while shopping. Since I’m a social butterfly, this was a challenge I had to overcome to decrease my speed!
- Don’t shop with someone else. Instacart claims it is a liability issue. It is the easiest way to improve speed, but if you are caught, you will be permanently deactivated.
CHECKING OUT AN INSTACART BATCH
Once you have completed your shopping list, you choose “Go to checkout” and find the shortest checkout line. This doesn’t always mean it’s the fastest, but you hope for the best! You will notify the cashier that you’re an Instacart shopper, or show them the App to scan the store barcode. The awesome cashiers at Whole Foods have the number memorized. When I began as an Instacart shopper, they had green cloth bags for us to use in the LA markets, but now we use regular bags. I always ask for double bags, and for EVERYTHING to be bagged, even items I would normally carry myself. Unless you are familiar with the clients drop off location, it could be an apt building, office building or up a hill!
You will pay for the order with a PEX card that Instacart provides. If you have multiple batches, make sure that you pay for the items in the order shown on the App. They are usually arranged with the highest price first, then go down in descending order. If you do it out of order or have any other issues with the PEX, you will need to use the App to contact Support to get your PEX card authorized. One of the recent issues I had was when I made a few replacements, but the order was now 30% higher (from $19 to $23). The PEX card wouldn’t go through because it was a large mismatch with what was expected. I didn’t know until I went through the next process.
The next screen is a receipt check. You will manually enter in how many bags were used, tax, order total (at Smart and Final we scan a barcode at the bottom of receipt) then hit the “Go to Delivery Button.” Your items per second for that batch will flash across the screen, then you click on the customer’s address and you will be connected with your GPS service. Be mindful that there is a time frame the order is due, and the App will keep you updated.
INSTACART SHOPPER DELIVERY AND PARKING TIPS
In a perfect world our clients would all live in houses with driveways to park on when we deliver their groceries, or at least in neighborhoods with an abundance of street parking. Unfortunately in an Urban jungle, you won’t always find this parking scenario. Especially in LA, half of my clients live in apartment buildings, lofts or large residential buildings. If it’s a large apartment building or resident community, there is usually guest parking with elevator access and the client will leave directions on their account. But this doesn’t always ensure an easy or quick delivery. Sometimes, the client will leave a note to give them a call, so they can meet meet at the front door to receive their groceries. Other times, it’s a huge order, and i have to load everything in/out of elevator and their unit may be a distance down the hall. This is when I’m definitely hoping for a large tip!
If it’s a regular apartment building, I try to find metered or street parking as close to the front door as possible. Often, I have to double park, put on my flashers and deliver. I don’t recommend this for long periods of time or taking chances by parking in the red. Also, make sure and pay your parking meters! I’ve received a couple of tickets by taking chances, or forgetting to pay and it’s definitely not worth it! Some large buildings have loading docks, but check with the clients because depending on where they are located in the building, this may not be the smartest place to unload.
Another option is to purchase a collapsible delivery cart that can assist you with large orders, cases of water or longer distances down halls Some of my fellow Instacart friends have done this, but honestly I haven’t made this investment and have managed without it so far. Sometimes, you can find the MagnaCart collapsible cart at Costco for $20 (much cheaper than the same cart on Amazon). Simon has recently bought the Cosco Collapsible Cart from Amazon and swears by it. It’s collapsible and folds flat like the one from Costco, but it is bigger and have more functions than the one from Costco. It is quite a bit heavier though, but seems to be more robust and handle more weight.
There are more items that I use or recommend in this post about what Instacart shoppers should consider getting.
INSTACART SHOPPER TIPS FOR COSTCO
Costco orders can be uneventful with a great return, or very frustrating and definitely not worth the tip you receive. Many clients avoid the Costco shopping experience, so this is why they pay us to do it for them! In LA, our Costco locations are very spread out and can be a great travel distance in itself, depending on what part of LA you find yourself when receiving the batch. Also, this is a wholesale store so your orders can include cases of water or soda, large packages of toilet and paper towel. Parking is usually a nightmare as well as the checkout lines. However, the payout is higher for shopping there, and you can generally expect a larger tip. Shopping for a “double batch” (two different clients at a same store) can be more profitable, and now Instacart implemented 3 client shopping orders. I like the 3 batch orders, because you are guaranteed a minimum payout of $30 and hopefully a great tip from all clients! Also, Instacart gives you a membership to Costco in order to shop there which would usually will cost you $70 for a year.
- If you’re not familiar with Costco, take some time to walk around and familiarize yourself with the sections of the store before starting your batch. Have an employee map out the different areas for you. The store is HUGE, and it can lower your shopping speed and cause anxiety if not familiar.
- Scan your order quickly after hitting shop to decide if you will need a large flat cart (many cases of water or toilet paper) or if an oversized Costco shopping cart will suffice.
- Do your best to complete one section at a time. The store is huge, so get your produce done before moving on to pantry isles, dairy, etc. Going back and forth in the store will cost you time.
- Weekends are the busiest for Costco and can adversely affect earnings.
- With a store this big, running is an acceptable mode of transportation.
- Try to find the shortest checkout line and good luck!
Instacart Pay Structure
Instacart pays you per item to shop, a base delivery fee and the client has an option to tip you on the App. Tips are the biggest chunk of your income as an Instacart shopper! The tip determines a high or low hourly for your day. The minimum you’re paid to shop and deliver items is $10.00. In Los Angeles, Instacart has a mile policy that pays you more once you pass a certain distance, but the distance is set too high and you would rarely pass this threshold. It’s up for debate, and Instacart shoppers have been asking Instacart to lower the mileage threshold. As most Los Angelenos are aware, this city isn’t about miles traveled, but time. A drop off could only be 4 miles, but take you 30 minutes to get there! I’m a happy guy when my shift earned me at least $20-$25 an hour and higher. There are some shifts where clients didn’t tip and I wasn’t able to complete many batches due to issues or longer deliveries due to traffic. My income was around $12-$16 an hour, but this doesn’t happen as often. (I will discuss the culture of tipping LA delivery and Instacart shoppers in another post)
INSTACART RECOMMENDED WARDROBE?
Instacart provides lovely green t-shirts for the shoppers to wear or lanyards with an Instacart badge. I wore my green T shirt about the first month until I noticed other shoppers were in their own personal wardrobe. After being questioned by other customers in the store because they thought I worked at that Market, I decided to loose the T shirt! Another aspect I enjoy of being an Independent Contractor is not having to wear a stuffy uniform, or uncomfortable corporate attire. However, Instacart requires you wear closed toe shoes, and you will be thankful when a can of beans drops on your toe!
THIS HAPPENED TO ME?
Whether you’re an employee or Independent Contractor, there will be certain issues on as an Instacart shopper. These are a few common issues that my fellow Instacart Shopper friends and me experience:
- Delivering gallons or cases of water down long hallways, or to office and apartment buildings.
- Apartment buildings with no street parking up front, or large orders to take up elevators.
- Client is nowhere to be found when you deliver
- Client doesn’t tip
- The market is out of items your client is requesting
- Long lines at check out
- LA traffic
- Checking out an order and your pex card doesn’t authorize the charge
- Wear and tear on your vehicle
- Certain situations when shopping at Costco
These Instacart shopper issues can all be overcome, and I feel the advantages of being an Instacart shopper in LA far outweigh the disadvantages. You’re an independent contractor who gets flexibility of schedule and income. I personally don’t recommend doing it for a long period of time, but using it to bridge the gap between where you find yourself now and where you’d like to be!
In my next post I will compare my experiences as an Instacart Shopper and Postmates Delivery Driver in Los Angeles.Have more questions about Uber or Lyft? Head on over to our Rideshare Driver Training Course!