Instacart Review – How Much Does It Really Cost?

When it comes to grocery delivery services, Instacart is King. If you have been on the fence about whether or not Instacart’s grocery delivery service is worth the cost then look no further than this complete and honest Instacart Review. 

What is Instacart?

Instacart is a same day shopping and delivery service available in 40 states across the US. While they specialize in grocery delivery it is also possible to shop from other stores depending on what is offered in your area.

In the spirit of transparency, you should know that some of the links in this article are affiliate links. That means when you click on a link and then purchase a service or product, I may receive a commission. Rest assured that commission doesn’t cost you anything to but it does help me keep the Pantry full of great, honest, information just for you.

How Does Instacart Work?

Instacart is pretty simple to use. You create a free account, either through their website or app, enter your zip code to see which stores are available, and then start adding items to your cart.

How Instacart Works

Image Courtesy of Instacart

When you have completed your virtual shopping you just head to the checkout to choose your delivery time, pay, and wait patiently for your groceries to be delivered.

After delivery you will receive your receipt by email and can add a tip anytime in the next 24 hours. Does it get any better than that?!?!

How Much Does it Cost?

This is probably the most common question I see about Instacart and for good reason. The biggest issue stopping most people from trying online grocery shopping is the cost or more importantly being unsure of the cost. 

I’d like to say that Instacart has simple pricing but really there are a lot of factors at play and some important fees that have changed within the past year.

To order from Instacart you have two options, you can pay a delivery fee or you can purchase a year long membership called Instacart Express.

Instacart Delivery Fee

If you choose to order without a membership you will pay a delivery fee, a service fee, and (if you choose) a tip for the delivery person. The delivery fee is usually $3.99, unless it is a busy day or time in which case you will see a higher delivery fee.

My delivery fee for a Saturday morning was $9.99!

Instacart review - Busy pricing

Next is the service fee, this is a variable fee that will be more or less depending on the total cost of your order. The minimum service fee is $2 no matter what you order, otherwise it is 5% of your order total (7.5% in New York). 

Instacart Membership Pricing

If that makes your head spin you can simplify the fees by paying an annual membership fee of $99 and receive free delivery for all orders. Instacart lowered their membership fee in 2019 in order to compete with other delivery services like Shipt and Peapod. However, instead of a $10 minimum order, the delivery with your membership requires a $35 minimum. 

There are also some locations where Instacart is only available with the Instacart Express membership. 

IMPORTANT NOTE – Until early 2018, Instacart Express members were allowed to waive the additional 5% service fee. Instacart recently changed this policy and now all orders (membership or not) are subjected to the additional fee.

While not all areas or stores offer alcohol delivery options, if they do there is an additional fee for that. This fee is based on the total cost of the alcohol and ranges from $2-$10. 

Regardless of whether you order with a delivery fee or through a membership you are able to leave a tip for your delivery person right through the app. At checkout, Instacart automatically adds a 5% tip. You can either change that amount right away or after delivery. I usually choose to adjust my tip amount after delivery but it is nice to have it there by default in case you get busy and forget.

Instacart vs. Store Pricing

Instacart claims to keep items at the same price as they are available in store but note that in some cases the price will be higher than the store price.

I’ve found that the price of the products from Instacart are usually about 3% higher than if I were to shop in the store. For example, you can see my cart for Instacart vs the actual grocery store HEB, where the Instacart total is noticeably higher.

Instacart Cart

Instacart cart

The Instacart total is almost $10 more than the store cart and it does not include the delivery or service fees. This is just to show the direct comparison of Instacart vs. in store item prices.

Store Cart

HEB Cart

What Can I Buy at Instacart?

While Instacart promotes itself as a grocery delivery service it also offers delivery from stores like CVS, Petco, and Sur la Table. I haven’t personally tried ordering from all of these stores but it seems to be that most anything in the store is available to be ordered through Instacart. 

Of course there are a few things that can’t be delivered due to driver safety or local laws. These including items such as prescription drugs, tobacco, lottery cards, and gift cards. In case you were thinking about it you also cannot order holiday trees, electronics, or live animals. 

As I mentioned earlier, you are also able to purchase alcohol for delivery in some areas, depending on local laws and availability. 

If for some reason you can’t find a specific item in the catalog you are able to add a special request. I was even able to upload a picture of the exact product I wanted.

What if I’m Unhappy?

Well, there’s good news and bad news on this one.

Let’s start with the bad news, I had some confusion with the delivery fee for my order. I had signed up for the 14 day free trial of Instacart Express and received the confirmation email. 

When I was checking out I noticed that I could choose a same day delivery window of 3 hours or an instant delivery with a 1 hour window. The first choice with the 3 hour window said that the delivery would be free and I would receive an instant $3 credit. So I proceeded with that purchase. 

Instacart delivery fee

After being stuck at the processing window for a while the cart reset and I had to choose the delivery time again. This time the 3 hour window showed a fee of $1.99, still less than regular delivery ($5.99) but not enough to make the uncertainty of the timing worth it for me that day. By this point I was needing to get on with my day so I quickly went ahead with the 1 hour delivery window. 

Instacart delivery fee

When I completed checkout I noticed that I was charged for delivery even though I had enrolled in Instacart Express. 

So naturally I contacted customer service just asking if they could explain the confusion that happened at checkout. I received a standard form email back explaining something about the free trial that really had nothing to do with my question. I replied explaining what happened and asked my question again.

I quickly received another email, with the same exact form message about free trials. Super disappointing.

huge disappointment

I sent another message politely asking that a person please read my email and then respond. I finally received a message back explaining that because I’d previously had a free trial (over a year ago, in a different state) that I wouldn’t be allowed to try it out again without buying the membership. Fair enough.

So I thanked them for reading my message and also sent a quick note about the confusion with the 3 hour delivery charge with a screenshot. Which of course received a very polite form letter telling my how important my feedback was. Clearly…

Now for the good news, they make canceling your membership easy as pie.

You can cancel anytime right from the app and you can even schedule a notification prior to the free trial expiration right from your membership settings.

So at least when you are unhappy you don’t have to try to contact customer service in order to cancel your membership.

Cancel Instacart membership

Pros and Cons of Instacart

What I Love About Instacart

One of the things that Instacart offers that I haven’t seen available anywhere else is the ability to order from membership stores without having a personal membership.

You read that right, you can order groceries from Costco or Sam’s Club without needing a membership of your own. In fact, this is probably my favorite part about Instacart. I already have a Sam’s Club membership but a Costco recently opened up in my area. Now, I don’t really need two bulk store memberships but there are a few things that Costco offers that I haven’t been able to find at Sam’s or my other regular grocery store.

So what’s a girl to do?

Order through Instacart. This is the place where I’ve felt like the fees were the most worth it.

What I Wish They Would Do Better

In my experience I think Instacart could really use some work with their customer service. I find customer service to be vitally important for services as personal as shopping for and delivering food to my family.

I also think that it is very easy to forget the personal touch to business in the online environment and something as simple as reading a message was overlooked by the customer service department at Instacart. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was actually just an auto response from a virtual robot until the third message.

I’ve always been and will always be an advocate for companies with exceptional customer service and unfortunately Instacart didn’t come through for me on this one.

Common Complaints About Instacart

The biggest complaint I’ve seen about Instacart is that the fees and process can be confusing. While I have only ever had one person working on my order (that I know of) I have heard many people complaining that their order was being shopped by one person and delivered by another. Or even that as many as three or four people somehow were involved in an order, although for the life of me I can’t figure out how that would even work.

I really think the biggest problem with that system is that it makes it difficult to know who and how to tip appropriately. Do you tip the shopper through the app or does that go to the driver? 

As far as the fees go, I’ve tried to make it as transparent as possible in this article but even I had a little bit of fee confusion near the end of my order. I’m still not sure how I went from getting free deliver with a $3 instant credit to paying $5.99 delivery and customer service really didn’t care to explain or rectify the situation.

Instacart Review – The Verdict

Meh…I could take it or leave it with Instacart.

The option for ordering from membership only stores like Sam’s Club and Costco is a huge plus and will likely be the only way I order from Instacart in the future. 

Between the disappointing customer service and high service fees I don’t think my family will use Instacart often enough to make the membership worthwhile. The good news is that I can order a la carte without the membership anytime I have the need. 

So basically, if I have to, I will use Instacart but I have other grocery delivery services I prefer head over heels that I will use first.