Tek's Domain


Working as an Instacart Shopper: First Impressions

Table of Contents

As of the time of writing this (2020-03-28), I’ve just picked up Instacart as, well, my primary income stream for the moment until the whole coronavirus scare is over, and I can get back to a normal job. So first, big question, what’s Instacart?


Instacart is basically a grocery delivery app. You set the shopping list, what store to go to, and the time of delivery, and when available, one of the drivers will be pinged, who will go, shop, and deliver. Really, it’s operates like any other delivery app like UberEats, Postmates, DoorDash… I’m now one of the drivers, and here’s roughly how it goes.

The Process

First: Instacart groups orders to the same store, at around the same time, to around the same location, into a “batch.” You as a driver (“shopper” is what you’re called) do not accept individual orders, but batches, which indeed can be of just size 1. Before accepting you’re given the GPS routes (store to delivery), number of orders total, number of items and units (for example, one box of cereal and two gallons of milk are two items and three units), drive distance (store to delivery), and estimated pay. You can also view little thumbnails of the products being ordered, to give a rough idea of where to head once you’re inside and if it’s even worth it or not.

Getting to all the other stuff later, what happens once you accept a batch is that you’re given the store address (and a button to open google maps), and the list of people you’re shopping for. Drive up (this part is unpaid by the way), head inside, swipe the “start shopping” slider. Now you’ll see the itemized list, and customers will be notified that you’re shopping, where they can watch the progress in almost real-time if they wish. The app has a built-in chat feature, for shoppers to communicate to customers, especially if something isn’t right (e.g., “They’re out of X brand of salsa, is there any other that you would take?”) Most items have their codes in the app, so it’ll ask you to scan the barcode once you’ve picked it out. You can attempt a replacement if you can’t find the item, either picking from the customer’s picks, the app’s recommended replacements, or keying one in yourself. If all else fails, hit refund item. Any replacements or refunds notify the customer, where they can either approve changes, or suggest alternatives.

At the end, click finish, it will sync up, head to the checkout, and pay with either the physical Instacart card (once shipped), or it also works with Google Pay. Take the groceries to your car, hit start delivery, open Google Maps for their address, drive, and deliver. Press confirm delivery, and 30 minutes later, you get paid.

Sounds.. easy, right?

The Details


First: you’re timed on shopping and checkout (what?). Essentially the formula is Tt = (Ts / I) + (Tc / I) where Tt is the total time taken (what you’re graded on), Ts is total time shopping, and Tc is total time at checkout. I is the number of items in the batch. This means that it does scale the more you have to pick up, and then the average of your times is taken as the metric to be judged.


Shoppers can be rated on a 1 to 5 star system overall (I’m averaging 5.00 over 6 ratings, nice), and batches will be prioritized, though with the situation right now, that’s temporarily disabled.

Additionally there’s four yes/no sections to review:

  • Communication (Communicated well / did not follow instructions)
  • Replacing items (Good / bad replacement choices)
  • Quality of items (Good / bad item quality)
  • Finding items (Found everything / did not find everything).

If that’s not enough, customers can also leave comments, for, well, whatever they like, be it praise or a tip on how to improve.

There’s also two other internally-calculated metrics.

Cancellation rate is the number of batches that you canceled before starting to shop for any reason… this can make you eligible for deactivation. Unrelated or safety-related events don’t count against you.

Seconds per item, well, we talked about that. My average is 231 seconds per item, which is around the average for the locations that I’m at the most. This isn’t really a metric to grade like cancellation is, but it can be used for you because the quicker you shop, the more you can run in a day, and the less you’ll make customers wait.


Payment is divided into two parts: the Instacart payment and the customer tip. Here, Instacart pays about 54¢ per mile, minimum of like $7 per order. On top of that, the customer can choose to leave a tip which goes directly to the driver (or at least pretty much all of it).

Instacart’s payment can also feature boosts for things like batches accepted during certain times of day, but I’m not going to get into that. The main takeaway is that your pay is made of those two groups.


Every week, you’ll get a direct deposit to your account of any remaining balance inside the app, that’s pretty self-explanatory. If you want money now, there is a “cashout” button that will deposit all Instacart pay to your card instantly, for a $0.50 fee. Customer tips are not eligible for instant cashout.


As with most gig apps, you’re a 1099 employee, AKA an independent contractor. You have to manage your taxes, expenses, and fuel vehicle maintenance yourself. Therefore, the earnings from the app, while are what you can take home, are not what you should take home, expect about 1/3 to be taken as tax (expect the max, and unless a worst-case scenario happens, come tax time you’ll have more than you expected).

For example, over the last week I’ve made \$180.98 over 11.33 hours of work, or \$15.97/hr gross pay. This is split between customer tips (\$60.90), and Instacart ($120.08). Looking at this, pretty much all my customer tips (so far) are going to a tax savings account, the rest I’m free to spend (or save separately) as I wish.

I personally use QuickBooks Self-Employed to help manage everything (mileage gets tax deductions!), and it’s subscription is cheap compared to the amount of net income.


Not for everyone, though it’s a relatively easy job, all things considered, though other apps like DoorDash or Postmates are a little simpler since you’re just transport, not going around and assembling everything too. Additionally, you need to know how to manage your money or the IRS will come down hard, and remember that you’re going to have to pay for everything one day in terms of gas and repair costs. As long as you realize all this, Instacart or any other gig app is great as a sidle hustle or maybe some weekend cash, but I’d only advise having it as your primary income source as a last resort, because none of the apps like this are a solid, stable income source.