The Rideshare Guy is starting a new series: Driver Feature Friday! We’ll highlight a driver who has reached out to us to share their driving strategies, earnings (good and bad!), and advice for other drivers.

    In this article, we have Eric from California, an Instacart driver who picked up delivery when he was laid off from his job. He shares how his earnings have changed throughout the pandemic, his strategies for success and more.


    Want to share your own driver (including delivery!) stories and experiences? Make sure to sign up for our newsletter – we’ll put out the call there for future Driver Feature Friday stories!

    Eric* from California lost his job, or as he says it was an “involuntary early retirement” when the pandemic hit. He had been collecting unemployment and getting by, but then he thought to himself that he’s young and healthy…he could be doing something more.

    *Name changed at Eric’s request.

    At that point in the pandemic, many people were unable or unwilling to leave their homes, and online ordering was becoming the only option for several. After doing research, Eric discovered that Instacart was likely his best option for real opportunity in his area.

    Now he’s making $30-40 an hour with Instacart – and driving during hours he chooses! His tips below.

    Ready to sign up for Instacart? Get started here!

    Why Instacart? The Perks of Knowing Your City

    With realizing that each market has different strengths and weaknesses when it comes to rideshare and delivery, Eric was able to figure out which app would be most profitable for him in his market.

    “We have DoorDash, we have Grubhub, you know all the various apps down here. For all of its faults and foibles, Instacart always floated to the top of that list,” he said.

    “This was something I could definitely do and feel good about,” said Eric. “I’ll try the self-employment thing.”

    Throughout March, April and May of 2020, Eric was earning around $35-$40 an hour. Plus, the tips were really good back then, according to Eric. “A couple of really generous people can skew your earnings way up,” he said.

    He explained, “It hasn’t been as busy or as lucrative as those original months of Covid, but it’s been worthwhile enough to stick with it for over a year later.”

    Eric has learned that knowing certain stores well has helped in maintaining decent earnings on the app. He also has learned traffic patterns for certain times of days and areas, so he knows what to expect and what to avoid.

    Prefer shopping at warehouses like Costco and Sam’s Club? Learn how to increase your Instacart efficiency with warehouse shopping.

    This includes avoiding certain stores if it’s nearing a bad traffic time. Eric said, “There are stores I will refuse to shop at past a certain hour in the afternoon because traffic coming back will be absolutely abysmal. Unless I can get myself engaged in a delivery on the way back and get paid to sit in that traffic, it’s not worth the time or the gas to do the one direction unless it’s a really significantly good tip.”

    Now that things are opening up and with the Prop 22 changes, Eric estimates he’s earning around $30 an hour gross, with tips making up about 30% of those earnings, and including the health subsidy he earns each quarter.

    One thing he was sure to point out, however, is that he’s not 100% dependent on this income. He has low monthly expenses and is a naturally frugal person. Eric will continue down the path of self-employment because he’s really been enjoying the freedom and flexibility it provides.

    Tips for Success

    “Communication is huge,” said Eric. “One of the most frustrating things is when customers have 10 things that they wanted and 3 or 4 are not in stock or not the specific brand or flavor that they wanted, so just always open that line of communication. Take a picture of the shelf, here’s what’s out there. I want to make sure you don’t end up empty handed, but I also don’t want to get anything you don’t like.”

    Making logical replacements is best if you don’t hear back from a customer, but Eric also said, “A lot of shoppers don’t know that you can refund items after the fact. So maybe you substituted for a different brand of bread and you get all the way through checkout and you’re halfway to the customer’s house and they say ‘I can’t have that brand.’ You can still refund up to the point of delivery.”

    Eric takes advantage of that whenever he hasn’t heard back before checking out. He also said that you don’t necessarily have to take the food back to the store. Most stores won’t take food back unless there’s something wrong with it, and no matter what the food would be destroyed as opposed to being put back on the shelf.

    Eric said that Instacart basically eats that loss and support will tell you that you can either return it to the store, donate it, or dispose of it however you see fit. “It doesn’t happen often,” Eric said. “It’s largely not been a problem as long as you stick with things that make sense.”

    It’s Not Perfect: Customer Challenges, Pay Transparency

    One thing Eric was sure to point out is that Instacart has its faults and flaws. Plus, there are some unscrupulous customers who do whatever they can to get out of paying for the food they ordered.

    He explained, “Some customers out there have figured out that you can just claim that half your items were missing or damaged and then you get them for free, but then it shows up as an ugly black mark on your shopper. Too many of those can get the shopper deactivated.”

    If something like that were to happen and you have photo evidence that you delivered the items, Eric said it can still take months before it’s dealt with on Instacart’s end.

    He’s also frustrated with the lack of transparency that Instacart has around some issues. That said, the pay is decent and he enjoys the freedom this gig provides, so Eric is happy to stick with it for now.

    Readers, how does Instacart shopping in California differ from your experience? What questions do you have for Eric about his Instacart experience?

    You can sign up for Instacart here!

    -Paula @ RSG

    Paula Gibbins

    Paula Gibbins

    Paula has been writing for the Rideshare Guy since the fall of 2018. The main focus of her articles has been breaking news, reviewing new apps, driver experiences and more. Prior to her time with the Rideshare Guy, Paula worked as a writer and editor for various publications including local newspapers, sporting goods catalogs, online merchandise and more. She currently has a full-time job editing for a top beauty company and enjoys reading, playing board games and participating in weekly trivia.