How to Save Money With an Instacart Subscription

There’s nothing in the fridge bar a sad-looking carrot and some pickle relish. You know you need groceries but can’t summon up the motivation to go and get them. You’re sure there must be an easier way.

And there is! Instacart allows users to order groceries and have them delivered direct to their doorstep. However, this convenience comes at a price that leaves many wondering, is Instacart worth it, and is the Express Membership worth the splurge?

In this article, we’ll look at how Instacart and its Express Membership works, their fees, and the stores’ Instacart partners to determine if it makes sense to use Instacart or if it’s better to do your own grocery shopping.

What is Instacart?

Instacart is a grocery delivery service that helps shoppers buy products without having to go to their local store. The service partners with a range of local retailers and uses personal shoppers to shop and deliver the items to homes.

Even though Instacart isn’t the only company that offers grocery delivery services, it’s one of the most popular. Studies show that about one in every four customers using grocery delivery services in the United States prefer Instacart.

Instacart is available in the metro areas of all 50 states in North America, including Washington D.C. The service is also available in nine Canadian provinces (except for Quebec).

The service may not be available in rural areas. Customers have the option of using the mobile app or website to shop for groceries and other household items.

How exactly does it work?

First, you have to create an account using your phone number, email, Facebook, or Google account. Then, add your address or zip code. You can access Instacart via their website or download the free app.

You’ll find a selection of stores that partner with Instacart in your area. Exactly which stores are available depends on your specific location, but here are some of the top retailers you could find:

  • Aldi
  • Best Buy
  • Bed Bath & Beyond
  • Costco
  • CVS Pharmacy
  • Petco
  • Sam’s Club
  • Sephora
  • Target

Costco and Sam’s Club are warehouse clubs where membership is usually required, but Instacart shoppers enjoy deliveries from these stores without a membership.

Screenshot of Instacart partner stores in the Philadelphia area

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Once you’ve picked out the store you want to shop at, you’ll browse through the items, which are sorted into categories with prices and product details displayed.

After adding all the items you need to your shopping cart, you can head to the checkout. At checkout, you can choose a delivery time and include your phone number and any specific instructions for the shopper.

You can schedule delivery within the hour or later in the day or week, depending on the time that fits your schedule. However, delivery hours are subject to Instacart’s operating hours.

The next step is to select how you’d like your order to be delivered — home delivery or curbside pickup at the store — and choose your payment method: credit card, debit card, or an electronic benefit transfer (EBT) card.

When your order is received, your personal shopper will start picking items for you, and you can view their progress in real-time. You have the option of chatting with your shopper and updating your order. It’s worth noting that alcohol and other high-value deliveries require a valid state ID card or driver’s license.

Chatbox showing conversation with Instacart personal shopper

As we mentioned, Instacart also provides a pickup option where you can choose a pickup time and collect your groceries from the store. This service is available at select locations.

If you find anything missing from your order, damaged goods, or incorrect items, you can request a refund through Instacart within 14 days. You can also return the item to the store. You can only cancel an order, using the app or on the website, before the shopper starts picking items to fill your order request.

What else can I order from Instacart?

Before COVID-19, Instacart focused only on grocery deliveries, but they've since expanded their order options to include household products, pet supplies, beauty products, and alcohol, which can be delivered in some locations.

How much does Instacart cost?

You can expect to pay three main types of fees when you order items through Instacart:

Delivery fees

This is the amount you’ll have to pay to have your goods delivered to you. Instacart’s delivery fee starts at $3.99, and this amount depends on the size of your order and the time your order was delivered. For instance, priority delivery costs an extra $2.

Service fees

The service fee starts at 5% of your total grocery order with a minimum order value of $2. If you order alcohol, you’ll get a separate service fee.

Tip

It’s customary to tip your personal shopper for each order. The Instacart app will give you suggested amounts based on the percentage of your total order, but you can enter your own amount.

Cost of items

Note that some items may be more expensive when compared to in-store prices. Instacart doesn’t set these prices, and grocery stores charge this amount to cover the cost of the partnership.

In-store sales and coupons are not covered in the app, but Instacart honors coupons listed on its platform and also offers discounts and promotions, which are automatically applied at checkout.

What is Instacart Express?

Instacart Express is an optional subscription service that offers premium memberships to Instacart users. The service costs $99 per year, but you can also pay $9.99 per month. Instacart Express waives the delivery fee for orders above $35 and also reduces the minimum service fee to 1.9% of your total order. Even more important, members get to save about $7 on each order.

Instacart Express may be the better option if you regularly use Instacart because the service fees tend to add up. It doesn’t increase prices for its members during prime shopping hours, and Instacart Express doesn’t charge service fees on curbside pickups.

Instacart offers a 14-day free trial period for its premium membership so Instacart users can determine how much they can actually save.

The pros and cons of Instacart Express membership

Instacart Express provides a money-saving option for people who often shop using grocery delivery services. The service has its fair share of benefits, as well as some potential drawbacks.

Illustration table of Instacart Express pros and cons

Pros

As an Instacart Express member, you’ll get free deliveries on orders above $35, and the service fee will be reduced considerably to 1.9% rather than having to pay 5% on orders. You can also order items from multiple stores on the same shopping trip without incurring additional charges.

Instacart charges a “busy” pricing fee during prime shopping hours, but Instacart Express members don’t have to pay this extra cost when shopping during periods of high demand. This means it’s more flexible than the regular Instacart option, as you’re not penalized for last-minute shopping requirements.

Another perk is that Instacart Express members get to save $7 on each order compared to regular Instacart users.

Cons

Instacart Express is also more expensive compared to in-store prices or having curbside pickup, even if you get free delivery fees and reduced service fee charges. So, if you’re on a tight budget, the most cost-effective option is likely to be doing your shopping yourself.

Another downside is that Instacart Express may not benefit someone who doesn’t shop with Instacart regularly.

In summary, if you frequently use grocery delivery to do your weekly shopping and tend to spend over $35, Instacart Express will help you save on delivery and service fees. So the subscription would likely work well for a big family.

However, if you only shop using a grocery service app occasionally, the regular Instacart service is the best way to go.

Instacart’s curbside pickup option

Instacart provides curbside pickup at select locations. You only need to go to the app or website and choose a pickup time as you place your order. The shopper will pick and pack your items and have them ready for you at your scheduled time.

When you get to the store, you’ll use the app to notify Instacart, and the shopper will bring your order to your car or the designated location.

Regardless of whether you’re a regular Instacart user or an Instacart Express member, you won’t be charged service fees for curbside pickup orders.

How Instacart compares to its alternatives

If you’re wondering how Instacart stacks up against its competitors, or if Instacart isn’t available in your area and you’d like to know other options to consider, here are some Instacart alternatives to consider.

Table illustration showing how Instacart compares to its alternatives

Shipt

Shipt offers a very similar service to Instacart in that it partners with other local grocery chains even though it’s owned by Target. The stores it partners with include CVS, Kroger, Costco, and Office Depot. It’s available in 9 states and 27 metro areas in the United States.

Shipt has a membership program that costs $99 annually or $14 per month. Just like Instacart, you get free delivery for orders over $35 but pay $7 for delivery with a regular membership. The only downside with Shipt is that it doesn’t allow you to use coupons for the retailers you’re purchasing from.

Walmart +

Walmart+ allows you to use the website or app to get orders delivered to you. Membership is required to access this service, and it costs $98 per year. There is also a $12.95 per month option.

Just like the above services, you’ll get free delivery for orders above $35, but you’ll pay between $7.95 to $9.95 if your order doesn’t reach that threshold. Walmart+ is available in most locations that have a Walmart store.

FreshDirect

FreshDirect sources its products directly from farmers, fishermen, and artisans in an effort to eliminate the middleman. Apart from groceries, you can also buy baby items, beauty products, beverages, and some locations allow you to buy alcohol. Other locations offer prepared meal delivery.

If you want free delivery, the Delivery Pass membership costs $129 every year. If you’re using regular delivery, the delivery fee starts at $5.99 per order with a minimum order size of $30.

Amazon Fresh

Amazon Fresh delivers groceries to Amazon Prime members. Amazon got rid of the $14.95 members were charged to use Amazon Fresh, so Amazon Prime members can use this service for free.

The Amazon Prime membership costs $119 per year, or $12.99. Just like Instacart, deliveries over $35 are free, but any orders below this level get charged depending on location.

Real user reviews

Looking at people’s overall sentiment on Instacart, here is how people feel about the grocery delivery service.

 Screenshot showing most people rate Instacart 5 stars

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Let’s look at what some shoppers had to say about Instacart.

(Image Source)

How to maximize savings using Instacart

To save money with your Instacart subscription, look through Instacart’s coupon selection and find out where you can save money on available deals. Instacart automatically applies manufacturer coupons when you select an eligible product.

If you’re a regular user, Instacart Express’ free delivery and reduced service fees are worth every penny. If you need one-off flexibility and can’t get to the store, Instacart may be worth it.

The curbside pickup option can come in handy if you only use the grocery delivery service occasionally.

about the author

Marc Mezzacca
Marc Mezzacca is CEO of CouponFollow, a consumer savings engine that surfaces popular coupons. He has been in the coupon and deals industry for over a decade with a deep interest in evolving e-commerce technologies.