If you shop for Instacart, are you missing out by not accepting warehouse orders? Guest writer Robert goes over his tips and tricks for earning more by shopping warehouses for Instacart with his wife.
My wife and I left our corporate careers in our 30s and moved to a beach community in 2019 to enjoy a slower-paced life. Restrictions on our traveling and recreational activity due to COVID and our general enjoyment of grocery shopping allowed us both to start shopping for Instacart.
We made over $19,000 in 2020 shopping part-time for Instacart and focusing on orders from warehouse clubs.
- Find items faster, increasing your efficiency with shopping warehouses that have limited quantities
- Earn more with “Heavy Pay” for orders with heavier items
- Shop weekends when families are more likely to be ordering in bulk
Why Did We Choose Warehouse Clubs?
Higher Dollar Orders and Lower Total Number of Items
Let’s face it, the number one reason to shop for Instacart is to make money. The higher dollar amount the order is, the higher the potential tip.
Customers are ordering in bulk for a reason, they want a lot of stuff! Instacart defaults to tip as a percentage of an order and the higher dollar amount on the order, the higher our Instacart pay is.
The average Costco only carries 3,700 unique products, many of which aren’t available through Instacart. Compare this to a traditional full-service grocery store, which carries 30,000 unique products, all of which are available through Instacart.
This means the warehouse club either will have the specific product or not and usually there’s not a substitution. Compare this to a traditional grocery store that may carry 20 different types of pickles!
More “Heavy Pay” Opportunities
Instacart pays both a base pay and additional money for orders where the combined weight of the number of unique items over 8 lbs. is greater than 50 lbs. We can quickly get into “heavy pay” thanks to the number of items the warehouse club sells greater than 8 lbs.
Occasionally, we’ll calculate above the 50-lb. threshold on an order without receiving heavy pay and message Instacart support and get a $5 or $10 increase to the payment for heavy pay. (I do cancel an occasional order if it’s low tip, a lot of heavy pay, and it turns out it’s a three-story apartment building without an elevator).
Related: Check out “Instacart Pay: How Much Does Instacart Pay Shoppers in 2021?” to see what you can expect as an Instacart shopper.
Challenges with Warehouse Clubs
Shorter store hours is one challenge. There’s a shorter window overall for shopping the warehouse clubs due to their shorter hours. You can start shopping at a traditional grocery store at 7 am, but the warehouse clubs don’t open until 9 am.
Also, there are fewer warehouse clubs, so many of the orders will have higher mileage than a traditional grocery store order. It’s important to know the maps of your area and where you will/won’t drive to for certain dollar amounts. We have a three-tier system in our head—one area for $30, one area for $40, and one area we need $60 to deliver to based on the distance/time.
There are no aisle directions in the app. Warehouse clubs can be tough for newer shoppers since the app doesn’t include aisle numbers. We’ve focused on a couple of stores to know where the items are and to deal with items being moved around.
Shopping the warehouse clubs may be a challenge if you’re driving a smaller vehicle. Deliveries can take up space and it’s difficult to quickly calculate space in the item preview since the good orders get snatched up by other shoppers quickly.
The largest I’ve ever delivered in a single trip was 173 items on a $1,700 order, which I completed in a crew cab pickup truck. (That was a larger family set up for an outstanding week at the beach!)
Finally, customers seem less likely to rate your service. This could be either good or bad, but we’ve noticed warehouse orders are less likely to rate the shopper compared to full-service grocery store orders.
Perhaps this is because there’s less overall interaction in a warehouse order, the store usually has 100% of the items and they are always delivered on time. A bad rating can be detrimental to you when Instacart is using its order priority algorithm.
Find some of RSG’s top recommended food delivery services to work for here.
Optimizing Earnings at a Warehouse Club
Always look at the first orders of the day. Sam’s Club and BJ’s Warehouse release their first orders at 9 am while Costco releases the orders around 10 am. When 4-6 orders show up on the screen right when Costco opens, we have our choice of orders.
You should also know what items might be out of stock and shop those first. Almost all of our stock issues in the warehouse stores are around meat and produce, so we go to those areas early in the shop.
If we have to communicate about replacements/out of stock, I want to give the customer as much time as possible to respond without me sitting at the store waiting at the end of a shop to address replacements.
We often shop the weekends because the highest paying warehouse orders in our market tend to be on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Many people may not be at home during the week to get their grocery orders.
Also, people are starting to throw parties again and want their supplies to come on Friday for the weekend’s activities. We have vacation houses in our market and those can produce some massive orders on the weekend to stock up a family’s house for a week or longer.
We recommend picking 1-2 stores and focus on knowing those stores. The better we know a store, the faster we are at shopping it. This is especially true for the warehouse clubs that don’t give the aisle indicators on the app when you’re looking for a product.
Act fast. The best orders go *very quickly*. I know in my head what miles/items are worth what amount of money at my local warehouse club. The order is pushed to all the shoppers who are looking for jobs at any given point (5, 10, 20?).
I see people try Instacart and say “all the orders are bad in my area.” That’s because they aren’t willing to look at their phone and refresh it for a few minutes. There may be some lost time looking at your phone waiting for a good order.
We also recommend joining a local Facebook group or using Reddit to ask questions and get help from other shoppers. We’ve found these forums to be both helpful and full of complaints. If you can get past the general complaints (who doesn’t want to be paid more!?), there’s great information to keep up with app updates, changes, and store issues.
Is Instacart a Worthwhile Side Hustle?
We enjoy shopping warehouse clubs for Instacart. We are completely flexible with our time, know the stores well, and can consistently earn $25+/hour in a gig I can do it in shorts and a T-shirt.
It is worth trying out if you live near a warehouse store or a full-price grocery store that participates with Instacart. Ready to sign up with Instacart? Get started here!
Robert is a financial blogger/early retiree who writes at Stop Ironing Shirts.