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How To Make Money As An Instacart Shopper

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To be healthier, we should eat out less and cook more meals at home.

But for many people, part of the problem with not cooking is that shopping is something they utterly despise.

These people would rather have a root canal in the middle of a sweltering desert while fire ants nibbled on the more sensitive parts of their anatomy than to have to step one foot in a grocery store.

Table of Contents

Instacart’s Meteoric Rise

Instacart solves this problem by connecting people who need shopping done with people who want to do the shopping.

This is the market Apoorva Mehta and Max Mullen tapped into when they launched their business in 2012.

Very quickly, it expanded from a couple of sleepy California towns to a nationwide service and exclusive partnerships with big food retailers such as Kroger and Costco.

The company made the list of “America’s Most Promising Companies” in 2015 and “America’s Best Midsized Employers” in 2018.

Currently, it’s valued at 4.2 billion dollars. Stores that partner with Instacart are seeing significant increases in their revenue.

Making a Difference in People’s Lives

What’s great about the service is that it delivers groceries in as little as an hour.

But for some people, Instacart is more than mere convenience.

These include the elderly and those who are disabled.

These are the people who can’t get out to do their own shopping and have nobody to do it for them.

Sometimes, interacting with an Instacart shopper is the only social contact they’ll get all week. Knowing you’re making a difference in someone’s life can be so rewarding!

Be Your Own Boss While Losing Weight

With Instacart, you get to be your own boss. And, you can set your own schedule with no minimum hours required. If you love shopping, you might find this gig to be a supremely enjoyable one. It’s perfect for people who get an adrenalin rush from the hustle and bustle of fast-paced activities.

It’s an excellent workout too, and great for losing weight. All that hustling to beat your best time can kind of feel like being on a gameshow, so it can be fun. Increasingly, stay-at-home moms are using it to gin up a little extra cash in their free time.

Still A Good Opportunity

Everything is done through the app to make things super easy.

But, it’s not as easy as it used to be, because there’s a lot more competition than there was a few years ago. With the increase in customer demand for this service, Instacart was forced to hire a fresh crop of people to keep up with everyone who wanted to use the service.

Despite there being more competition, lots of people still manage to make a decent wage.

Some people who have the shopping process down to a science make $800 a week or more! But if you want to make this amount, you’re going to have to really work on your speed.

Problems with Payouts

There were some problems with transparency and tipping, but thankfully, these problems have been fixed with some recent updates. This makes the system a lot better for shoppers.

Tips used to count towards batch guarantees. But with the recent update, this is no longer true. Now, tips are separate from your what you get paid for the order. This is great because there used to be accusations that Instacart was stealing tips.

Full-service deliveries are now paying between seven and 10 dollars depending on your geographic area. Previously, these were as low as $3.00, so that’s a nice little increase. Retroactive payments were made for any time the batch incentives plus the mileage bonus didn’t add up to a total of $10.00.

After these changes, Instacart became one of the most transparent of all the companies in the gig economy.

Signing Up

When you work for Instacart, you’re what’s known as an “independent contractor.” This means you get paid per order, and time spent waiting for orders isn’t paid time.

You’re also not covered by federal, state, or local minimum wage laws. And, you’ll be responsible for self-employment expenses, such as taxes that would otherwise be paid by an employer.

To work at Instacart, you need to be 18 years old (21 in some states), have a phone running iOs9 or later or Android 5.0 or later, and be able to lift more than 30 pounds. If you’re applying for work as a driver, you’ll need a working registered vehicle with the proper insurance.

To get started, go to the Instacart “Become a Shopper” page to fill out the application. It takes about five minutes to complete.

They’ll ask you to enter your personal information. From there, you’ll be asked if you meet the eligibility requirements, including whether you have a vehicle and more than two years of driving experience.

You’re also going to need a background check. After you’re done with the application, give the company a chance to process it. If you’re accepted, you can start earning money in about a week.

How the Shopping Process Works

You can do both shopping and deliveries, shopping only, or deliveries only.  Someone who does both shopping and deliveries is known as a “full-service shopper.” Full service and delivery only shoppers can set their own hours without any limits.

In-store shoppers can’t work more than 29 hours a week.

Accepting Shifts

To start earning cash, sign up for shifts the day they become available. Grab them quickly because they go fast! Your shift has to be at least two hours long.

Sundays are an excellent day to work because the orders tend to be larger. This is because a lot of people prep their meals for the week on this day.

Look for “zones” on the app and try to get one near your house. This way, you can tinker around the house while waiting for orders.

If you cancel or edit the hours of your shift with less than six hours’ notice, you’ll get a “reliability incident.” This is a black mark that could lead to a shopper’s termination.

Sometimes, the app will ask you if you can start your shift early. And, if demand dies down, might ask you if you want to end work earlier than you agreed.

When you work a certain number of work hours, you’ll be eligible for something called “early access status.” This means you get to sign up for shifts before more recent recruits. So, you’ll be able to grab your shifts at 9:00 AM on Sunday, as opposed to 9:00 AM on Wednesday.

To maintain your early access status, you’ll have to work a minimum number of hours each week.

Accepting Orders

Log into your shift one hour early to see if Instacart sent you any messages. The company will also send you a message thirty minutes before the start of your shift reminding you when you’re due to begin work.

Once you start your shift, wait for the “batches” (Instagram lingo for orders) to come through. When one pops up, you’ll hear a “ping.” It’s your choice whether to take an order or not. Some might be too far away and not worth it to you.

Claim orders you want quickly before they’re assigned to other shoppers.

If you turn down more than four orders in a row, the app will think you’re inactive and kick you off. Then, you’ll have to wait 30 minutes to resume work. Try to keep your acceptance rate up, and the algorithm will take a liking to you by sending more orders your way.

At the same time, don’t accept too many low-paying batches, because this won’t be worth it for what you earn. Don’t take too many orders that pay less than $15.00.

While you’re waiting for an Instacart order to come through, make good use of your time by supplementing your income with other on-demand delivery services such as Amazon Flex or Postmates.

How to Shop

Get to the store as quickly as possible after accepting an order. But if you have to get gas or use the restroom, do it before you start shopping. Make sure you wash your hands thoroughly afterward.

Once inside, swipe the “SLIDE TO START SHOPPING” button. You have a strict time limit to complete the order, so don’t dilly-dally.

Usually, the time limit is an hour. To complete the order in the allotted time, try to be as efficient as possible by using the tips you’ll learn in a later section.

When you find an item, bring the bar code of the item up to your phone and scan it to make sure it’s the item the customer wants. Then, press the button that says, ‘FOUND ITEM,” and that will bring up your camera. Scan the barcode again, and it’ll instantly disappear from your list. Keep doing that until you’ve shopped for every item. If you scan the incorrect item, the app will tell you.

When an item has the weight printed on the package (for example, boneless chicken breast), you’ll have to enter this weight on the app.

Instacart gamifies your shopping experience by adding “Time” and “Goal” at the bottom right hand of your screen. “Time” is how long it’s taking you, and “Goal” is the time you should be shooting for.

If what you’re looking isn’t on the shelf, first check to see if there are any way in the back. If you still can’t find any, ask an associate to check the stockroom.

If you still come up empty, you’ll have to message the customer to approve a replacement. Instead of messaging the customer directly, you can also find a substitute, scan it, and wait for the customer to okay it.

Getting the Order Ready for Delivery

After you’re done shopping, ring the groceries up, and pay by using an Instacart debit card preloaded with the amount of the order. The debit card can actually recognize if an incorrect item has been selected and alerts the shopper.

Then, bag them and bring them up to the “lair” (this is a room above the main floor of the store where you add the finishing touches to your orders and get them ready for delivery).

You’ll print out labels so that orders aren’t mixed up and given to the wrong customer. Once orders are ready to ship out, a delivery person (otherwise known as a “walker”), brings the groceries to the customer.

If you’re a “full service” shopper, that walker will be you. After you’re done with the order, you’ll be given stats to show you how well you did. Use them to improve your performance.

How You Get Paid

You’ll make your money from the following order parts: a “Batch Payment,” a “Batch Incentive,” mileage reimbursement at $0.60 per mile, and a tip. Batch incentives are based on the number of units, types of items, the retailer, store location, special requests, and other factors.

To see how much you’ll make, look at the “earnings estimate” when an order comes through.

This preview will also show you the specific items requested in both units (its type, like a case of Pepsi), and the number of items, travel distance, the address of the customer, and if there’s a “peak boost.” This is extra money for working during times of high demand.

Peak boosts are only available in select times and places.

Adding travel distance and the customer’s address is a relatively new feature. Before, you couldn’t see this information before accepting an order. Shoppers would often say “yes” to an order only to find out that is was so far away, that it wasn’t worth their time.

Some say that before things changed, all you had to do to see the address was to click on the “eye” that appeared on the screen. But lots of shoppers didn’t know about this trick.

Decide if you want to accept the order after looking at the earnings estimate. You’ll also get a quality bonus on full-service orders for every five-star rating. And if you’re in the top 25% in a region, they’ll reward you with $100.

How Much Can You Make?

Although Instacart advertises that you can make up to $25 an hour, few shoppers actually make this much. Most earn between $7 and $20 an hour, with $20 seeming to be the average.

Unfortunately, there’s no hourly guarantee like there is with ride-sharing services. While the precise algorithm for determining shoppers’ pay is unknown, you’ll make more during times of high demand, like evenings and weekends.

Refer a Friend

If you’re already an Instacart shopper, you can make up to $750 by referring a friend. When your friend signs up, is approved, and completes 45 batches in 30 days, you’re paid a referral fee, which varies by zone.

Making Tips

The best way to increase what you earn is by tips. So, make sure you provide impeccable service, work on your shopping speed, and always have a smile on your face.

If your customer wants to tip you, he has the option to tip you through the app, or tip you in person.

If the customer chooses to tip you through the app, Instacart will include this money with your weekly payment. If you receive your tips directly from the customer, you can pocket this money as soon as the customer gives it to you.

Taxes and Other Expenses

The hourly amount you get from Instacart won’t be your net pay, because you have to figure in taxes and other expenses. Here is what you’ll have to deduct to arrive at your net pay:

  • Gas. If you have an economy class car, this won’t be as much of an expense.
  • Vehicle insurance. Try to get it as cheap as you can, so your net pay will be more.
  • Car payment. You’ll have one if your vehicle isn’t paid off, so figure this expense in.
  • Vehicle maintenance. It costs on average $99 a month to maintain a new car.
  • Taxes. You’ll need to pay the necessary federal and state taxes, and the best way to do this is to set up quarterly payments.

Tips for Becoming A Fast Shopper

If you want to make good money as an Instacart shopper, you’ll have to work on your speed. By shopping quickly, you can bump a $12 rate per hour up to a $25 an hour rate. Here are a few tips to proceed through the process more quickly:

  • Become familiar with the store layout. Improve your speed by learning where everything is before you start shopping.
  • Don’t start shopping right away. Take time to go over your list so your efforts will be more focused.
  • Check out deli and bakery first. If you have any deli or bakery orders, check out these areas for a line and if there is one, come back later.
  • Use in-store pickup. Skip the line altogether by pre-ordering sliced meats, cheeses, subs, and party platters on your phone.
  • Ignore the time the app tells you the order is due. This isn’t the time the customer sees, it’s a time based on your personal metrics, and therefore, it’s for your eyes only.
  • Bring larger bags that accommodate smaller grocery bags. Then, put your grocery bags into these bags to carry a bunch of groceries at the same time.
  • Use a laundry basket. Instead of the larger bags, you can use a laundry basket to load your grocery bags in.
  • Don’t buy the cooler bags that Instacart sells. They’re not very good, and they only fit one grocery bag at a time.
  • Park close to the cart corral. You’ll shave precious seconds off your delivery time and every second counts.
  • Don’t wait around if a customer isn’t at home. Instacart wants you to wait ten minutes if the person isn’t at home but leaving after taking a photo of the groceries at the door results in less waiting time.
  • Scan while you’re walking to save time. Easy to do once you get the hang of it.
  • Pick items off the shelf without stopping. This is another skill you can acquire with a little practice.
  • Walk fast without bumping into people. Peek around corners, so you don’t bowl anyone over.
  • Bring a battery backup. You’ll be doing so much scanning, there’s a good chance you’ll wear your battery down.

Tips for Driving

If you’ve driven for Uber or had other driving jobs in the gig economy, you’ll be at an advantage, because you can use the skills you learned in your old gig in your new one.

One of the disadvantages of driving is that it’s sometimes difficult to find a parking spot.

It’s easier to do this if you have a smaller car. Plus smaller cars get better gas mileage, so you’ll earn more if you have one.

To avoid parking tickets, bring plenty of change for the meters.


Working as an Instacart shopper won’t make you rich. But you should be able to make enough money to make it worth your while, especially if you live in an area of the country where there’s a lot of demand for the service.

If you follow the strategies in this article, you’ll significantly increase how much money you’ll make.

There’s a lot to like about Instacart. You get to choose your own hours. And, you don’t have someone standing over you watching every move you make. It’s perfect for those who love the adrenalin rush of fast-paced work.

There are intangible rewards, too. Knowing you helped a shut-in can be a great feeling!

So hop on the app and give it a trial spin. Who knows? You might end up loving it.

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