Even if you hadn’t already tried the Instacart grocery delivery before the pandemic, I bet you’ve heard a lot about it in the last year. You might be wondering, however, if an Express membership is worth it?
Americans were already showing a strong preference for delivery services long before COVID-19 started. Still, social distancing gave many of us the little push we needed to try it out for real. Instacart isn’t the only player in the game, but they were one of the first and still one of the most popular delivery services.
As a busy mom who runs her own business plus struggles with a chronic illness, I couldn’t have been happier when Instacart came to my city a few years ago. I’m not a super picky grocery shopping, so delegating these tasks took a huge burden off my plate.
I couldn’t care less that it cost me a little more because I had my time and energy back. Then, when the pandemic was in full swing, and I was isolating my family in our cozy bubble, we really relied on this service to keep us fed.
What Is Instacart, and How Does it Work?
Instacart is a quick and easy alternative to get your groceries delivered right to your door. Instacart partners with local and chain stores and their list is growing all the time. Widely available across the US, it’s one of the top delivery services in the app store.
Where I live in the midwest, Instacart delivers most local grocery stores plus warehouse shops like Costco, liquor stores like Total Wine, and even pet supply stores such as Treats Unleashed. They’ve even recently added makeup superstore Sephora.
Here are the details. You download the free app to your phone and set up a free account. The app will show you all the stores you are eligible to order from. Choose your store, and their entire inventory will be displayed as a menu. Select your groceries, select a delivery time, and pay. It sounds ridiculously easy, and it is.
For each item, you can also put in notes such as “I’d like a few green bananas, please.” When your shopper is selecting your groceries, you can see them add things to their cart in real-time and chat with them. I love getting a chat message from my shopper telling me they found a better deal on something and asking me if I’d like to make a change.
The shoppers have been fantastic. During the pandemic, you also get contactless delivery which is fantastic.
Instacart makes money by charging service fees, delivery fees, and charging you slightly more for groceries, although they try to be close to the in-store prices and sales. A standard Instacart order has a service fee of at least 5% and a delivery fee of $3.99. You’ll also be asked to provide a tip for the person the fills and delivers your order.
Upgrading to an Instacart Express Membership
If you use Instacart once a month, then the fees might seem like no big deal. In fact, you could actually save money by not throwing random impulse items in your cart, as you tend to do when shopping personally. However, if you use the service often, the fees will add up quickly.
Instacart Express is an upgraded membership that gives you free delivery service on all orders over $35. That’s not the only benefit; here are a few others:
- Reduced service fees
- No “busy” pricing fees or increases during prime shopping hours
- Shop more than one store in an order with no extra charges
- No pickup or service fees on orders you choose to pick up curbside
The Instacart Express membership costs $9.99 a month, or $99 a year (which comes to $8.25 a month). Since the saves are partially based on percentages, it’s hard to tell you exactly how much you will save per order.
The average order will save $7, so you’d have to use the service at least twice a month to start saving money with it. There is a 14-day free trial if you’re curious what your actual dollar per order savings will be.
The Pros and Cons of Instacart Express Membership
Even at a low monthly or annual cost, it’s hard to justify additional spending right now for many people. Here are the pros and cons of a paid Instacart membership to help you decide.
Instacart Express Membership Pros
- Instacart makes grocery shopping and some errands super easy. Going to the grocery store can take over an hour, so this service can potentially give you a lot of your time back.
- The waived delivery fee makes it easy to justify an extra order mid-week if you forgot a few items.
- Save around $7 or more per order, which will mean it only takes two orders a month to start saving money.
- If you have SNAP assistance, you can pay for all or part of your order using your EBT card.
- You can have alcohol delivered to your house from Total Wine or a local grocery store. An adult with a valid state ID or driver’s license will have to be home for the delivery.
- Save money by not indulging in impulse buys while you shop. If you’ve ever grocery shopped while hungry before, then you know what a pro this could be per order.
- There are a lot of store options, and new stores are being added all the time.
- Here is a huge pro that not many people talk about. You can order from Costco or Sams without having a club membership to either place. This tip alone can save you $45 or more per year.
Instacart Express Membership Cons
- Instacart isn’t available in many rural areas yet.
- You still have a small service fee.
- The prices are slightly lower in-store.
- You still have to pay for a tip, and we always tip well because the service is so valuable.
- You can’t personally select each item, so if you’re very picky with the ripeness of your fruit, then this might not be for you.
- There are a few things you can’t have delivered such as tobacco products, lotto tickets, and prescription medications.
Are There Other Options For Delivery Instead Of Instacart?
If Instacart isn’t available in your area, or you simply want to test out the competition, there are several other options to pick from. The closest competitor is Shipt which is very similar to Instacart in the way it works. Then, you have chains with their own delivery service like Walmart+ or Amazon. Here are how these services stack up.
|Instacart Express||Shipt Membership||Walmart+||Amazon Fresh|
|Pricing||$9.99 a month or $99 a year||$99 a year||$12.95 a month or $98 a year||$12.99 a month or $119 a year (actually is Amazon Prime membership)|
|Availability||Most metro areas in the US and Candia||Most metro areas in the US||In places Walmart is offering delivery services varies.||Most places in the US, also available in several other countries like Germany and India.|
|Pros||Free delivery on orders $35, reduced fees, a large number of partner stores||Free delivery on orders $35 from several stores, reduced fees.||Free delivery on Walmart orders $35, with no fees.||Unlimited free delivery service from Amazon and Whole Foods over $35|
|Cons||Some fees still apply, not open to all rural areas.||Some fees still apply and not as widely available as Instacart, fewer partner stores than Instacart.||Only works with Walmart stores.||Grocery delivery only available in select large cities, not open to all Prime members.|
Can you use coupons with Instacart?
While you can’t use the coupons you’ve clipped from the local paper, Instacart tries to include in-store deals and manufactures coupons in their menu. You can also find promotional codes that you can enter at checkout.
How do I cancel Instacart Express?
You can manage your membership in the account settings on the app or website. You can change your payment method or cancel your express membership.
How do Refunds, Returns, and Cancelations Work?
If an item is missing or damaged, you can request a refund through the Instacart app within seven days. If you wish to return an item to the store, you will do that directly. The best option is just to request a refund through Instacart.
You can cancel your order for a full refund only before the shopper starts filling your order. You can cancel the order on the website or using the app.
Is Instacart accessible to seniors?
While it’s mainly an app-based service there is a computer version and a phone number you can call if you need groceries delivered by technology isn’t your friend. Seniors or anyone that need additional help can call 1-844-981-3433.
Wrapping Things Up: Is Instacart Express Worth It for Your Family?
Whether or not Instacart is worth it for you depends on how often you plan to use it. Smaller families or single people might not save as much because they shop less often.
If you shop weekly or bi-weekly at one or more of their partner stores, then you’d be foolish not to get the paid membership because you will quickly come out ahead and save money.
My family of four usually places two or more grocery orders and one Costco order through Instacart each month, so for us, the membership is totally worth it.