Friday, October 13, 2017

Instacart Review – Working as a Full Service Shopper

A few months back I was browsing job listings and found one for a company called Instacart. I had not heard of it before, but it turns out Instacart is a grocery shopping and delivery service that is available nationwide. It allows customers to order groceries from many of their local stores through the Instacart app or through the website. I enjoy grocery shopping and have some experience with delivery, so I decided to apply.

Applying and Getting Started
The online application was incredibly quick. As I remember, it did not even ask for much other than basic information. A couple weeks later I was invited to schedule an “in person” session. At this session, I was able to ask questions, do a practice shop, and get set up with an Instacart credit card. After this, I was able to start picking hours. From what I understand now, they have tried to phase out the in person session so you will be able to get your card by mail.

Before getting started, I did the tutorials, read all the information in the help center, and tried to learn as much as possible on sites like Youtube where other shoppers have posted about their experience. While Instacart provides you with the basics you need to know, there is a lot more information out there to learn. I eventually found a Facebook group that is active and has a lot of tips and advice from other shoppers.

First Impressions and First Day
On my first day, I was scheduled to work a shift from 8-10am. They send you a message 30 minutes before your shift starts that tells you they are looking for an order for you, or that there is an order ready for you that will start at a certain time and location. Since it was my first day, I did not really know where I was supposed to be so I went to the Whole Foods where I had the in store session. I kept an eye on the app and waited for an order.

Turns out, that day and time it was slow so I ended up not getting any orders. I soon learned that you do not have to head out to a store until they actually assign you an order. If you live within your zone, you can actually stay home until they have an order ready for you.

Shopping and Using the App
The next day I started getting orders. I was a little nervous at first, but overall the job is pretty easy. You are given a list of items to find in the store. Most of them will have pictures and details to help find them. Once you find the item, you use the camera on the phone to scan the barcode. This will tell you if you found the right item.

If you can't find something, or something is out of stock, you have the option to find a replacement or to refund the item. You can also message the customer during the shop to get feedback, for example if something they wanted was out of stock and there are a few other options available.

Once you are done, you go to checkout and use your Instacart card to pay for the order. Usually this goes pretty smoothly. So far there was only one time where I had an issue where the card got declined but customer support was able to fix it fairly quickly.

After you pay for the order, you pack up the groceries and navigate to the customer address given in the app. Once you get to the customer's house, you give them the groceries, mark the order as “Delivered” and you are all set!

Overall Impression
I have been working as a Full Service shopper for a few months now and I really enjoy it! I like the independence and flexibility of the schedule. Also the money is pretty good considering the job is not very difficult and does not require much in terms of qualifications or advanced training.

I got a lanyard case for my phone which is very helpful so you can keep your hands free while shopping and pushing the cart. I also recommend getting a car charger and even a battery power bank which can re-charge your phone on longer shifts. 

As a Full Service Shopper, you do the shopping and delivering. For some markets, they do have positions where you can do shop only or deliver only. I enjoy the diversity of doing both as it keeps you moving and makes it so it does not become boring.

How much you will like this job can also depend on your location and zone. Some zones are more busy than others. Also the pay rate can vary quite a bit depending on which market you are working in. My zone is somewhat newer so it is not very busy but they do offer an hourly guarantee so you will be guaranteed to make a certain amount per hour, even if you don't get that many orders during your shift.

When I worked at previous jobs I used to dread going to work each day. With Instacart I actually look forward to working each day. If you like grocery shopping and driving and it sounds like something you might be interested in, I recommend checking out Instacart to become a Full Service Shopper.

Update 4-25-18: 
I have been working for Instacart for about a year and overall it is still pretty good. They did eventually do away with he hourly guarantee which is to be expected. I believe they still offer this guarantee for new shoppers when they first start. Also the base rates per order did drop a bit in most of the markets but I have found they are still pretty good depending on which market you are working in. For now I am sticking with it, but I am also checking out other companies such as Shipt which is a similar grocery shopping and delivery service.

Update 11-21-18: 
Instacart recently changed their earnings structure from a fixed rate system to a variable rate system. They used to pay a base rate plus a per item commission, plus an occasional bump for large or far away orders. Under the new system they basically pay whatever they want to. Instacart said that the new system was designed to keep average earnings the same, but unfortunately with the new system we have found earnings to be much less.

Personally I have noticed and average decrease in pay of about 30% from what orders used to go for. This is very disappointing especially for veteran shoppers who have years of experience and are now being subjected to a large pay cut.

Many shoppers are upset by this change and have taken to social media groups to share their frustration. Since Instacart is not paying shoppers fairly, orders are going unclaimed and customer orders are being delayed if they even get picked up at all.

Personally I am only accepting orders that are paying at least close to what they were in the previous system. I feel it is the best way to make our voices heard. If enough shoppers stand up to Instacart and refuse to take orders that are underpaid, Instacart will have to make a change and start paying shoppers fairly.

Update 4-12-19:
The pay continues to go downhill. Instacart is now paying about 40-50% less than they were 6 months ago. This is a huge pay cut and as you can imagine, shoppers are not happy about it. It seems Instacart's plan now is to just keep hiring new people who don't know any better. Once these shoppers figure out the pay is too low, they will leave and Instacart will just keep hiring more new shoppers.

I understand they are a business and their primary goal is to make money, but it is not a good move to cut the pay of your best shoppers by 50% after they have provided years of service. In most companies, you get a raise with more experience, but with Instacart, we are seeing the exact opposite. With this current model, Instacart can expect to get what it pays for and unfortunately this will ultimately affect the customer experience.

Update 9-21-19:
Things seems to have stabilized a bit at least in my zone. The pay itself is inconsistent as some orders pay ridiculously low while others actually pay pretty good. You have to be selective and only take the orders that are worth your time.

They have now started incorporating the On Demand model which lets you log in and accept available orders even if you did not sign up for hours ahead of time. They continue to hire more workers which they probably need since they keep trying to get people to accept offers that do not pay as much as they should. Overall I am sticking with it but they still have room for improvement.

Update 1-14-20:
Instacart continues to go downhill. They keep hiring more people while dropping the pay to an all time low. It seems their business plan now is quantity over quality. They would rather hire a new person who has no idea what they are doing and pay them $7 to complete an order rather than pay an appropriate amount to someone who has been working with them for years.

My acceptance rate is at about 10% right now, which means if they offer me 10 orders, I only accept 1 of them because the other orders are simply not worth it. It is quite ridiculous some of the orders they try to send out. Were talking orders that would be about 30 miles of driving and would take about 1.5 hours to complete and they will try to pay you $7 for that. And that is not including gas or car expenses! So when you factor in those expenses, you would pretty much LOSE money by completing those orders!

At this point the only orders worth taking are ones that are at the store closest to your house or ones that have a large tip from the customer. And that is another thing. When the customer adds a good tip, Instacart uses that as a excuse to pay even less! So they are basically using the customer's money to pay the shoppers instead of paying the amount they normally would.

These examples show how Instacart only cares about making money for the company and does not care at all about the people who work for them.

So if it is so bad, why do I still work for them?

I still like the flexibility of the job being able to work when I want to. Every once in a while a decent paying order will come in so I still get some income during the week. This works for me because I have plenty of savings and few expenses so I'm not dependent on the income from Instacart, but for most people who have bills to pay and families to support, this job probably would not work out.

I hope that it will get better and Instacart shoppers are always fighting to improve conditions, but having worked for this company for years and seen how they are, unfortunately I don't see it getting better any time soon.

Update 2-18-20
As of today Instacart has gone all On Demand which means you can no longer schedule hours to work. Instead you pretty much just have to constantly check the app to see if there are any available orders. Every once in a while they may send you a notification if there is an order available but if it has a value that actually makes it worth taking, it will be gone before you even get a chance to see it.

So far today the only batches I have had a chance of getting are paying about $7-10 for a medium size order which is not worth it. It appears the only way to get a decent order is to constantly check your phone which is unrealistic and a waste of time.

If it stays this way, it looks like this may be the final straw that broke the camel's back as they say. I have stuck with this company for years but under this model it does not look like it is going to work out anymore.

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