11 min read

    11 min read

    We’re back with another update from RSG contributor Dash Bridges, who we sent to cover what it’s like delivering with Instacart. In Part II of his series on Instacart, Dash covers his first day on the job, how much he made and more.

    Becoming an Instacart Shopper

    In my previous article, I described how being an Instacart shopper has its own twist on the delivery space. As you may recall, instead of delivering meals or people, Instacart’s model allows the customer to order a detailed list of items from a big box store (Safeway, Costco, Whole Foods, etc) and have them delivered to their door.

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    Being an Instacart Driver

    Being an Instacart Driver

    Before I detail my experience, this is a good spot to remind you that Instacart only paid me for my shopping work. I don’t have any arrangements with Instacart and don’t know anyone who works with or for them. The entire article is solely from my perspective. Furthermore, if they paid for what I write below, they’d fire me and my PR firm. Haha

    In the previous article we left our hero—no—we left our protagonist at 4:01 Saturday on the way to the local Safeway. Upon arrival, I grabbed a cart and swiped the slider to begin:


    HERE WE GO! I’m shopping for Brian S. He has 9 items on his list. This is his 67th order and it’s due in about an hour. I’m fired up! Are you fired up? I’M FIRED UP.

    Shopping for Instacart

    My first item is a 20 oz container of Welch’s Grape Jelly. I went to the jams & jellies aisle, found the item and pressed ‘found item’.

    Immediately, the app went into camera mode and instructed me to show the UPC code on the back. The camera found it right away, scanned and approved the item. Then, to ensure order integrity, it forced me to type that I placed TWO items in the cart.

    This reminded me a lot of the Ibotta app, for which there is currently an Ibotta promo codes available.

    Making the shopper type in ‘2’, then pressing enter, is a smart way to confirm item totals. When I DoorDash, their app writes in the text, “Are you sure you have two items?” with ‘yes’ button. I’ve seen it so many times that now I consider it an annoyance and just half-glance/press ‘yes’ to move forward. Being an Instacart worker way is more effective.

    I picked up a few more items and quickly got the hang of it. I cruised to the personal hygiene section and picked up some whitening toothpaste, then over…


    …Whoops. The thing…uhhh…the thing doesn’t like the thing. The scanner paused while reading an item, then notified me that I picked up the wrong item. Apparently I concentrated so hard on specifically finding a 4.8 Oz Pack of 2 Crest 3D White Crest 3D White Whitening Toothpaste (it just rolls off the tongue!), I inadvertently picked up the 4.8 Oz Pack of 2 Crest 3D White Crest 3D White Whitening Toothpaste, Radiant Mint instead of the 4.8 Oz Pack of 2 Crest 3D White Crest 3D White Whitening Toothpaste, ARCTIC FRESH. ROOKIE MISTAKE! I replaced the Arctic Fresh, picked up Radiant Mint, scanned it, and moved on.

    While we can laugh about how trivial this error would be, it’s still an error. I imagine being an Instacart’s customer service team sees fulfillment integrity as a HUGE predictor of customer loyalty.

    My customer, Brian S., probably wouldn’t be on his 67th order if he received incorrect items every time. Furthermore, my side-hustle mantra is “it might be food delivery, but it’s still a job”, so I WANT to get the order right for my own satisfaction. And I did. So yay for everyone.

    What Happens When You Can’t Find Something?

    As you go through someone’s shopping list, you can quickly figure out why they’re shopping. If they’re picking up snack bars and Capri Sun, you know they’re making school lunches. If it’s fish and organic produce, they’re making dinner.


    I assumed this family had children, based on the request for a 20-pack of Cheez-Its. I went to the cracker section and….hmmm…it should be right…huh. Not here. Well maybe it’s in the kids’ lunch section with the granola bars and that stuff….nope.

    And then it dawned on me. They’re out.

    GAHHHHHHHHH! As a perfectionist who also freezes when faced with decisions (awesome combo, btw), I could feel my skin get hot with anxiety. I went back to the cracker section. Back to the lunch section. Not there. “Cheez-Its are probably the kids’ favorite part of lunch. They’re going to be mad and Mom & Dad are going to be furious! The shoppers around me can sense that I’m lost. I’m also wasting time. Should I make a break for it?” Finally, after spending probably 5-8 minutes looking high and low for this SKU, I defeatedly clicked on the ‘Can’t Find Item’ bar on the bottom of my phone.

    Instacart is well-prepared for such an event.

    The app immediately offered a list of replacement options. I found one and saw this screen when scanning it:

    Instacart notified me that it texted Brian S. with my replacement item. The default replacement setting is ‘approved’, but customers can confirm, return or offer alternate suggestions until I complete my shopping list. The app also offers direct texting so the customer can chat while I shop. It’s quite impressive.

    I didn’t hear from Brian S., so I completed my last item and went to checkout.

    Interested in signing up to deliver with Instacart? You can sign up with our referral link here!

    Paying with Instacart

    I went through checkout using my Instacart-provided credit card. The app then asked how many bags I used [in states where you are not charged for bags, you will not be asked this question]. Then it checked me out.

    I clicked the navigation button to get a route via Google Maps. I delivered without incident at 4:56pm, 55 minutes after I began.

    How did I do? The app breaks down your earnings for every order, doing it in real time so you can see how you’re doing mid-shift.


    I made over $19 in less than an hour. Considering this was my first order and I’m inexperienced, this is a huge win! Next order. Let’s go!

    Keeping Busy on Being Instacart

    Similar to DoorDash, when you’re between orders, Instacart uses a heat map to lead you to a high-activity location. When I used the app, the heat map navigation didn’t work. I tried to get routes to nearby hotspots and it directed me all over Northern California and beyond. Hey Instacart! Bug!

    After about 10 minutes of idle time, my second order brought me to a value supermarket called Smart & Final. Looking for items was easier than expected because many item screens included the aisle number where I’d find it. So helpful!

    Furthermore, Instacart orders its shopping list to conform to the general store layout. While I was there, I chose a replacement for an item that wasn’t in stock. A minute or two later, the customer (without texting me) rejected the replacement.

    That action became a new to-do on my shopping list and prompted me to return the item to the shelf. Once completed, I received this notice.


    I rolled though Smart & Final like a champ, or at least like a confident 2nd-order rookie.

    At 6:02, a little over an hour after my previous delivery, I completed my delivery. Here’s what I earned:

    Smart & Final 6:02pm
    Delivery Commission $5.45
    Item Commission (11 items) $4.40
    Tip $4.86
    Total $14.71

    Huh. Not as great. Moving on…

    Being Instacart Driver For Whole Foods Delivery

    After 25 minutes of idle time (Surprising, given it’s 6pm on a Saturday. And YES, I drove to a hot spot), my next order sent me to Whole Foods. However, it wasn’t to buy groceries. I was sent to pick up three sets of pre-bagged groceries and deliver them to customers’ homes.

    Maybe the order was placed to Whole Foods directly, fulfilled by a WF employee and Instacart is subcontracted to perform the delivery part? I don’t know. Anyway, MY job was to get the groceries from store to home, which I’m used to because of all the times I used the Fetch Rewards referral code.


    One corner of the Whole Foods market had a specific place for Instacart pickups, including open, refrigerated, and frozen sections to hold food awaiting pickup. I swiped my app and:

    I had three sets of orders to pick up, for Tricia, Julia, & ‘Order C’. When I clicked on an order, I saw a screen that noted how many items, and from what type of storage, I needed to pick up.

    In the above order, I needed to pick up one item from the dry shelf and one from the fridge. And below…


    That’s six bags from the open shelf and one from the fridge. Each bag had a large sticker with the bag number, customer name, four letter order code and barcode.

    I simply scanned each code and placed it in my shopping cart. I didn’t need to check out. I didn’t need to interact with anyone in the busy store. It was beyond simple. My only difficulty was the Tetris challenge of fitting 3 orders and 14 shopping bags’ worth of groceries in my Prius. I delivered all three orders in the sequence Instacart laid out for me.

    My earnings after 1:17 total (25ish mins downtime, 55ish minutes from order notification)

    Whole Foods 7:19pm
    Delivery Commission – Order A $2.85
    Delivery Commission – Order B $2.85
    Delivery Commission – Order C $2.85
    Tip – Order A $7.95
    Tip – Order B $5.11
    Total $21.61

    $21.61 for 55 mins of work is great. $21.61 for 1:17 of dedicated side-hustle time is…not so great.

    Also: $2.85 to pick up groceries, transport them and deliver to a customer? I understand the efficiencies in earning the same for the 2nd and 3rd pickups, but $2.85 is ridiculous! Being an instacart driver paid $8.55 for nearly an hour of my time, not including the additional downtime waiting for an order. I haven’t looked at the fee/tips comparison between IC and DD (I have to leave something for the NEXT article, right?), but IC relied on tips to account for 60% of the delivery earnings. Also, message to Order C: I see what you did. Or didn’t do. I’ll leave it at that.

    After 10-15 minutes of idle time, my final order brought me to another Whole Foods, this time to buy groceries.

    Whole Foods orders include a lot of items that require judgment. I wasn’t just finding boxes on shelves. I had to pick through fruit and vegetables to find the right ones. I asked a woman how an avocado should feel when squeezed. I checked bananas while wondering, “does the customer want this amount of ripeness?”.

    Furthermore, many of those produce items need to be weighed close to the amount the customer wanted, and many of them need to be photographed, I assume for customer satisfaction, before they’re checked off the list. It’s not HARD, per se. It’s more tedious.

    C:UsersscumaPicturesSaved PicturesIMG_3526a.jpg

    After a bit of a delay in finding the correct address I completed my evening at 8:28pm. That was another hour of work. How did that one turn out?

    Whole Foods 8:28pm
    Delivery Commission $5.45
    Item Commission (13 items) $5.20
    Tip $3.76
    Total $14.41

    Huh, another sub-$15 hour.

    I signed out. Upon signout, Instacart asks, “How was your shift? Good, OK, Poor” Once you provide your answer, you have an option to add comments. Here’s mine:


    Yeah, I really asked. With DoorDash, obviously you pull the food out of your own hot-bag and hand it to the customer. For groceries, it’s less obvious. Do I make them pay for bags and leave it? Do they not want to pay for bags and simply unpack their items when I arrive? I soon learned that it’s just easier to purchase grocery bags, but it wasn’t obvious to me at first.

    Then, Instacart stoked my competitive fire:


    Hey! Look at me! New guy zips through the aisles. He scans the shelves with precision. He’s better than average ON DAY ONE! He’s a solid performer!

    Interested in being an Instacart driver? You can sign up with this affiliate link here!

    The tally for the evening:


    $69.90 in 4.5 hours…$15.53/hr. Well, not great. Of course, I’m new. I had trouble finding items. I had more downtime than I expected. I’ll get better and it’ll get better.

    It’ll get better.


    Looks like my two-part being an Instacart series will be a trilogy. Next time, I promise to explain my takeaways from 26 hours of experience over a two week period.

    Readers, do you have questions about Instacart? Leave them in the comment section and Dash will try to answer them!

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    -Dash @ RSG

    Dash Bridges

    Dash Bridges

    Hey! I'm an independent contractor in Silicon Valley working Door Dash as a side hustle to my day job. I sincerely enjoy my work as a Dasher, but let there be no doubt, I am here to maximize earnings!

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