Getting Started with Instacart

Instacart Shopping 101: The top five things you need to know!

People at the grocery store

Let's be honest, we get limited real-life training on being an Instacart Shopper. Here my top five things that would have helped me avoid some horrible batches when I first started a few years ago that still hold true today!

I have a few more in-depth articles that'll help you even more like how much Instacart pays, I'll link to at the end of this page.

Yes, Instacart has some good resources on how to get started but those examples won't really prepare you for the more gritty scenarios you'll soon encounter.

Don't worry, once you get the hang of things, Instacart is a fun way to make extra cash! 

Disclaimer. Some of the links in this post are affiliate links, This means that at no extra cost to you, I will earn a small commission if you decide to signup or purchase any products or services through those links.

How'd you come up with the top 5 things?

I've compiled the top five things based on my own experience and having talked to dozens of Instacart customers over the years.

It's essentially what customers wish you knew that'll better prepare you for life as a successful Instacart Shopper. I've completed over 1,200 orders with consistent five-star reviews since January of 2020 and I too had to learn the hard way.

I can't tell you how many five-star reviews I received that read something like "Checked expiration dates".... umm. Hello? That's literally your job.

If nothing else, checking expiration dates on things like packaged lettuce mixes and bread is literally Instacart 101. Then why do I have dozens of reviews and in-person customer feedback lauding me for checking expiration dates? Yikes guys.

I made this guide as a super quick reference. Like a quick and dirty roudup of things you need to know. 

I have links to more extensive info on how to succeed on Instacart and where to sign up to become a shopper in the Related Pages section at the end but this is just a quick and dirty roundup of things you need to know.

Let's dive right in!

1.   Know what good produce looks like

Picture of produce Instacart

So you've not really done a lot of grocery shopping and you have no idea what good produce looks like? You've looked through the Instacart Shopper training but it's really not real life enough, is it?

Well, perhaps you can Google some images for green leaf lettuce or kale to see what it should look like so you get a basic understanding of what you'll be tasked with more often than not.

I can't tell you how many customers lament the fact that Shoppers buy moldy and damaged produce all the time. 

Just because it's in the store, doesn't mean you have to grab it. I see many Shoppers grabbing strawberries without looking at the bottom of the package to check for mold.

They simply think it's enough to match the item on their phone with what's in the store.

Guys, stores depend on people like you to get rid of their not so great produce. And you fall for it...all...the...time. Produce should never be wilted, moldy or blotchy. I have dozens of reviews lauding my produce selection and it really does not take much to pick decent produce. 

Again, if you really have no idea what good produce looks like, just go on Google and see some of the images. Or check out my YouTube short that gives you the basics. And I mean, the BASICS. Check it out below.

2.  Check expiration dates

No, a packaged loaf of Wonder Bread or Sara Lee should not expire within 2 days so dig behind the first row of loaves to find something farther out or message the customer if you've found a comparable replacement with a better expiration date.

The same goes for fresh chicken or packaged salad mixes. Never get anything that expires that day. Just don’t. Always let the customer know if you're making a replacement (most customers don't have replacements so they leave it open) or the reason you refunded an item. If you message the customer and they don't respond approving that replacement, err on the side of caution and refund the item.

Salad mixes should be 5+ days out. The store usually hides the farther out expiration dates behind the ones due to expire soon. I always dig regardless and my friend in produce at my favorite grocery store says he always puts the close expiration dates upfront in hopes an untrained Instacart Shopper will just grab it. He says it usually works because only few Shoppers actually bother looking behind. So be part of the few!

Here's another YouTube short with the most common items and their expiration date range.

3. Beware of replacements

I've been in this game for a while and I've found that most customers don't bother adding a replacement but also don't like when a Shopper makes a replacement. Strange, I know. I've not been able to guess a good replacement even for something as simple as different ketchup sizes. I especially never follow Instacart's suggested replacements because they're usually off.

Instacart essentially encourages (read: pushes) you to make a replacement because they make more money that way but in my 1,000+ orders experience, Instacart is terrible at guessing what the customer wants as a replacement and so am I. During my first month, I made replacements based on Instacart’s suggestions that customers hated and I never listened to Instacart again. Since I stopped making Instacart-suggested replacements, I’ve never had a rating below 5.

I’ve suggested replacements for something as simple as organic baby spinach that was at a lower price but another brand and have had customers say nah, refund. I mean… is there really a huge difference in organic baby spinach containers?

People can be incredibly particular about their brands.

I've found that if I message the customer to suggest a decent replacement, the customer is more likely to say yes to that replacement because it seems like they're in control, whereas, if I add the replacement without running it by the customer, it usually gets bounced back to me.

I think it's just basic psychology so always run a replacement by the customer even if they don't respond. If they don't respond and the item is higher in price, refund it.

I know Instacart makes more money if we make a replacement but I don't care what Instacart thinks.

I'm in the business of customer service so I'm not just gonna force a replacement on a customer. And customers appreciate that. I've gotten dozens of reviews about how I suggested great replacements so go the extra mile here and run a replacement by a customer. If you receive no response, just refund the item.

This leads me to my next point.

4. Communication counts

Picture of message bubbles

Yes there are tons of customers who won't respond to you but it's still about you providing customer service and essentially also covering your butt in case the customer later complains to Instacart.

You want to have a trail of communication as to why you're making a replacement or refund even if you receive no response. 

Trust me on this. You're rated on communication so don't just blindly go through the store making replacements without seeing if the customer wants to be involved.

I usually send an intro as I start shopping, saying something like "great to shop for you today, I'll keep you posted about any replacements or refunds." I paste that from my notes so I don't have to waste time typing this every time. You'll soon know if you have a customer that wants to be involved in the shopping or not.


5. Shop frozen items last

Picture of a frozen aisle in grocery store

I know this seems like a no-brainer but apparently it isn't based on what I see at the store and from customer feedback.

I know Instacart still has at times priority items where there’s one flavor of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream as priority and then another at the bottom of your list.

Never shop for ice cream first. It’s meant to be frozen and if you have a 45-item order and you shop for ice cream first, that ice cream will sit in the cart for an hour, then go through checkout and then go into your (often warm) car.

By the time it gets to the customer, it’ll be a milkshake so please use common sense and start with dry or produce aisles first.

I usually knock out the deli first because let’s face it, that stuff is preserved beyond recognition so you don’t really have to worry about it. Plus the stores are generally cool (but not cool enough to keep ice cream frozen) so with stuff that just needs to be refrigerated, you can get it toward the beginning.

Same with produce, it’s fine to shop for that in the beginning, just don’t get anything frozen until the end. Trust me on that. I’ve had customers tell me they know a good shopper by the way they go through the aisles and shop for frozen items last.

Customers can see what you add so they know where you are in the store. See, it really is important to think beyond the “oh I have items on a list and I gotta grab them and then I grab another order.” It’s not DoorDash.

I love DoorDash and have completed over 1,300 orders but there’s very little beyond the picking up an order at a restaurant and delivering. Well, there is and you can go to related pages below to get more info on all the other food delivery services.

Related Pages

If you haven't signed up for Instacart yet, you can do that here.

Also, check out what to expect before you hit the store, here.

Again, if you are looking for something more in-depth that also check out my do's and don'ts of Instacart, here.

If you want to find out more about how much Instacart pays on average, check that out here.

For geting started with DoorDash go here, UberEats, here and Grubhub, here

I also have a comparison of DoorDash vs. UberEats vs. Grubhub, here.

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