Considering a side hustle as an Instacart driver?
With Instacart, you can make money shopping for — and delivering — other people’s groceries.
If you have a car and extra time during the week, why not put both to work? That’s the pitch, anyway.
Let’s take a closer look at how their grocery shopping program works, and how much money you can expect to make. (With insights from a side hustling Instacart Shopper earning $480 a week!)
Instacart Shopper Review
Instacart Shopper Summary
Becoming an Instacart shopper won’t make you rich, but it is a legit and viable side hustle option. Check out the full review below to learn about the pros and cons of Instacart, how to maximize your earnings, and possible alternatives.
What is Instacart?
Instacart is an online grocery delivery service, and one of the fastest-growing companies in America.
Customers can download the app, order groceries from local stores, and get them delivered. The service allows you to choose a delivery timeframe–often the same day and possibly within hours of ordering.
Where is Instacart Available?
Instacart’s delivery and pickup services are available in thousands of cities across the United States and Canada, and they’re constantly expanding to new markets.
How Does Instacart Make Money?
Instacart drives revenue through a few different income streams.
(Although Instacart has a multi-billion dollar valuation, it’s still not profitable as a company — at least according to 2018 data, the most recent I could find.)
Most of their income is generated through delivery fees.
At press time, Instacart charges a minimum of $3.99 for same-day orders of $35 or more. Additional fees apply for 1-hour deliveries, orders over 50 pounds, club store deliveries, and orders under $35.
Optional Membership Fees
Another feature that earns money for Instacart is a subscription type service called Instacart Express.
Customers can pay $99 annually for a subscription, or $9.99 a month, which gives them free deliveries on orders over $35 and reduced service fees.
Revenue is also generated through two types of partnerships.
First, Instacart partners with grocery chains to offer the service in their stores. The revenue generated is shared between both companies.
Instacart also partners with specific brands to offer discounts and deals in a special section of their interface. It’s a new model of advertising in a way.
How Can YOU Make Money with Instacart?
The primary way you can make money working with Instacart is as a Full-Service Shopper.
Full-Service Shoppers receive orders, pull and bag them, and deliver them to customers at the appointed time.
What About In-Store Shoppers?
Previously, there was another money-making option with Instacart, which was to be an In-Store Shopper. These specialists received orders through the app and then shopped and bagged the groceries.
Then, they’d hand the items off to a delivery driver to complete the job.
However, Instacart is no longer actively hiring In-Store Shoppers so the best side hustle option with the company is as a Full Service Shopper.
“I Made $10,000 as an Instacart Shopper in 6 Months”
I interviewed Kevin LaCombe of Minneapolis, Minnesota, to learn more about driving for Instacart.
Kevin began his side hustle as an Instacart Shopper in February 2019, and within 6 months, had passed $10,000 in total earnings. He told me his goal was to hit $20,000 for the year, all on the side from his day job.
If you’re considering Instacart as your next income stream, I encourage you check out our conversation:
Obviously, delivery gigs are in-demand right now, and Kevin has taken full advantage. In late April 2020, he sent me this email update:
Over $1000 a week, part-time! Of course it won’t last forever, but now is a very busy time to start driving for Instacart.
For the duration of this article, I may make reference to Kevin’s specific advice or insights.
Instacart Shopper Requirements
Before you sign-up as a Shopper, you’ll want to make sure you meet a few requirements.
- You must be 18 years or older and legal to work in the US (or local market). (You must be 21 or older to accept orders with alcohol.)
- You’ll need a decent smartphone with service (iPhone 5 / Android 4.4 or newer).
- Drivers must have a valid driver’s license, a reliable vehicle, and car insurance.
- You must be able to lift between 30-40 lbs.
Instacart also provides personal protective equipment for Covid-19 precautions.
Full-Service Shoppers are considered independent contractors, while In-Store Shoppers are considered part-time employees.
What’s the Signup Process to Drive for Instacart?
To begin working for Instacart as a Shopper and delivery driver, the process starts on their website:
Fill out the registration form with your personal information like name, email, and phone number. After that, you’ll answer questions about the reliability of your smartphone.
Then you’ll choose the job role you want.
After you submit your answers, you’ll be directed to complete a more detailed registration. This includes questions you may expect as part of a job interview.
You’ll also need to provide proof of your driver’s license and give more detailed background info. To sign up to work for Instacart, you’ll also need to provide a payment method–so they can send you your hard-earned cash!
The company will perform a background check on you, which adds some time to the sign-up process. Most Shoppers are approved within 1-2 weeks.
Once you’ve been approved, you can schedule your hours and start working.
How Do You Schedule Hours with Instacart?
Once approved to be a Full-Service Shopper, you can download the Instacart Shopper app and schedule your work hours.
The great thing about working for Instacart is you get to choose your hours. Sign up for as many or as few hours as you want to work any given week.
(image via wikihow)
If you need a day or a week off, just mark yourself unavailable on those days.
You’re in control of your schedule, but if you don’t have a consistent calendar week to week, this could be a drawback.
Schedules are made a week ahead of time.
Another important note is that you can’t do this gig if the stores aren’t open, so most shifts start at 10am, and end around 9pm. When Kevin was starting out, he did 5-9pm shifts after his day job.
Wait, I Can’t Just Shop When I Feel Like It?
But in other locations, Instacart requests you set your schedule and work the hours you choose. Drivers only receive potential orders through the app during your set hours.
Normally orders will pop up at least 30 minutes before their scheduled start time. You can choose to accept them or pass on them. You might pass on an order because of the distance involved, the number of items, or pay earned.
(Be careful passing on too many orders. It could get you booted from the service for the remainder of that day.)
In-Store Shoppers also set their own availability. They are then scheduled for shifts based on their availability, up to 29 hours a week.
How Much Money Do Instacart Shoppers Make?
Like anything else, the amount of money you can make with Instacart depends on several factors, including the:
- hours you work
- number of orders you fill
- size and difficulty of the orders
- driving distance
- tips you receive
(Kevin explained that sometimes you get paid more based on the weight of items in the order. For example, an order with cases of water bottles or big bags of dog food should pay more than a lighter-weight order.)
You’ll see an estimate for earnings with each order that pops up on your phone. The app also tracks your total earnings for the week.
Kevin sent me this screenshot of his recent Instacart earnings, for an average of $482 a week:
Would an extra $300-600 a week give you some financial breathing room?
Yeah, But What About the Time You’re Putting In?
It’s not easy to estimate an across-the-board hourly pay for Instacart drivers because of all the variables.
The company doesn’t divulge much data on pay; nor do they make any guarantees for Full-Service Shoppers.
In the past, I’ve seen advertising from Instacart claiming drivers can make “up to” $25 an hour, but those seem to have disappeared.
Based on Kevin’s earnings figures and the hours he told me puts in–call it 30 hours a week–he averages $14-18 an hour.
Sure, he’s had short 1-2 hour stretches in the $25-30 an hour range, but to cherrypick those wouldn’t be an accurate overall picture.
(Keep reading for his tips on how to maximize your earnings.)
Your location and the time of day will factor into how much you make as well.
According to Glassdoor, the average pay for an In-Store Shopper is $14/hour.
Do Instacart Shoppers Get Tips?
Instacart Full-Service Shoppers can receive tips, but customers aren’t required to tip. When they do, you get to keep 100% of those tips.
Tips can be added at the time of order or adjusted (up or down) for 3 days.
Kevin said he often gets the tip increased with stellar service, but has never had anyone go back into the app and dock him yet.
Customers enter the tip when they place the order, so you’ll see the tip upfront before you accept each gig.
In-store shoppers don’t receive tips.
How Does Shopping as an Instacart Driver Work?
Once orders are received and accepted, head to the designated store to begin filling the order.
The Shopper app will display your shopping list, and you’ll mark each item as fulfilled as you find it. This updates customers in real-time so they can track the order.
You’ll note if something changed in the order or if something wasn’t available. Customers will be refunded for items that aren’t available, and you can text customers to figure out suitable substitutions if needed.
(And they can text you with additional requests or last minute changes.)
How Do You Pay for the Food?
Instacart Shoppers are given a special company debit card to pay for customer orders. You’ll swipe this card and hit enter when prompted to input a pin number. At some stores, you may be required to enter a pin code.
Some stores have a designated pin code for Instacart Shoppers. If that’s the case, just let the cashier know.
The debit card is loaded with funds based on the order you received. That means you’ll need to stick very close to the requested weights on any produce. If you go above the allotted amount on the card, it could be declined.
In areas where the app is really popular, some stores may even have a designated line specifically for Instacart Shoppers!
What Sucks About Being an Instacart Shopper?
Like any job, shopping and delivering with Instacart can be hectic at times and has its pros and cons.
The most common complaints from drivers include dealing with rude customers, trying to find parking, low-paying orders, and technical trouble with the app itself.
1. Dealing with Awful Customers
The customer might “always be right,” but they aren’t always nice.
Or satisfied–no matter how hard you try. As you can probably imagine, while most people are polite and grateful, that’s not always the case!
2. Having Nowhere to Park
Parking during deliveries probably isn’t a big deal in most suburban areas. But in big cities where parking is already limited and often prohibited, drivers face being ticketed or fined all the time.
Driving in the city already stresses me out, so I probably wouldn’t touch this gig if it brought me to a high-density urban area!
3. Sitting in Traffic
Ever feel like driving wouldn’t be so bad if it weren’t for other drivers?
Imagine having to try and deliver groceries on time and having to deal with traffic jams and bad drivers. Since Shoppers are paid by the gig, not by the hour, every minute spent stuck in traffic is money you’re not making.
4. Tech Trouble with the Instacart App
I found several complaints from Instacart Shoppers about connectivity with the app. This can be a major headache since it’s your only way to see orders, delivery times, and other important information.
In fairness, it seems like the company has since fixed these bugs — the latest version of the app is extremely well-rated.
5. Low-Paying Orders
Like Kevin explained, you’ll often get orders popping up in your app that really aren’t worth your time. Picking 30 items and delivering them 15 miles away for $12 … yeah, no thanks.
As an independent contractor, you’re free to decline orders you don’t want to take. Do it enough times in a row, though, and you’ll get booted off your shift.
(Kevin didn’t seem to believe this was any sort of strike against you or your “permanent record” on Instacart.)
Other Costs to Consider
Think of being an Instacart Shopper like any other freelance business. What you earn isn’t necessarily what you keep.
(Though Instacart Shoppers have one distinct advantage that other freelancers don’t–they have to spend exactly zero time and money on marketing; the company does all that for you.)
Here are some hidden and not-so-hidden costs you need to be aware of before signing up.
If you have a car, you’re probably already insured. While most Shoppers won’t/don’t do this, it might be worthwhile to check if your state requires delivery drivers to carry a commercial policy.
Instacart’s lawyers give a professional punt on this one, stating only that you’re responsible for “securing and paying for automobile insurance in coverage amounts consistent with legal requirements.”
“You understand that Instacart does not provide any insurance … and that you are not entitled to receive such insurance coverage from Instacart. You further understand that … commercial automobile insurance may be required in your jurisdiction, and you agree that it is your responsibility to determine if any of the above is required.”
Gas and Vehicle Maintenance
For most shoppers, this will be the biggest “hidden” cost.
A fuel-efficient car is a must to minimize this expense! It reminds me of a Lyft driver I once rode with in a Ram 1500 pickup truck … he was definitely not making any money after buying gas.
The good news is you should be able to write off your mileage accrued shopping with Instacart. The mileage rate set by the IRS is at $0.56 per mile for 2021.
That means if you drive 100 miles delivering groceries, you can knock $56.00 off your total earnings for tax purposes.
(And as a general rule, that also means that the government thinks those 100 miles cost you $56.00 in gas and maintenance!)
Pro Tip: Use a mileage tracking app like Hurdlr. Hurdlr automatically tracks your mileage, expenses, income streams, and tax deductions in real-time. On average, Hurdlr helps users find $5600 in deductions!
As you rack up more miles, your car’s resale value goes down. That won’t hurt your wallet today, but it’s something to keep in mind.
Insulated Freezer Bag
Instacart Shoppers are required to own and use insulated freezer bags for cold grocery items. These are a small one-off expense–and something you may already own–but they’re not provided by the company.
This expense isn’t unique to driving for Instacart, but it’s something to be aware of.
Like all business owners, Full-Service Shoppers will need to make estimated quarterly tax payments based on their earnings. That’s because Instacart doesn’t withhold taxes from your earnings like most employers do.
You are considered an independent contractor and will receive a 1099 tax form. Depending on your tax bracket, I’d recommend stashing away 25% of your earnings for Uncle Sam–and more if you live in an income tax state.
What else could you be doing with all this shopping and driving time? Is there another skill you have that might earn a better hourly rate?
Is there a business you’ve been thinking about starting that might eventually let you stop trading time for money?
An Unexpected Perk: Free Groceries?
Kevin explained that while the Instacart app is quite accurate, occasionally the software messes up.
For example, he’s shown up to a customer’s house with an order, only to have them say another Shopper dropped it off a couple hours earlier.
In cases like that, you’ll need to contact Instacart support. Kevin said they’ll give you the option to dump the food, return it to the store, or keep it. Hey, free food!
6 Ways to Maximize Your Instacart Driver Earnings
Aside from driving a fuel-efficient car, there are a few things Shoppers can do improve their bottom line.
Here are Kevin’s top suggestions for increasing your effective hourly rate.
If you can work your way quickly through the store aisles, you’ll be able to get in and out faster.
This is one element of the gig that actually seems like a fun scavenger hunt.
2. Follow Customer Instructions Closely
Customers add details or specific items to their orders for a reason. A good driver pays attention to the little details.
If you don’t understand something, definitely send a message to clarify.
3. Deliver Orders on Time
Being late with your delivery is a surefire way to get a smaller (or no) tip.
4. Be Friendly
This seems simple, but being courteous, making eye contact, and smiling can make a customer’s grocery delivery experience 100% better.
Kevin added that he’ll try and make small talk conversation, perhaps based on something he saw in their yard or neighborhood.
Remember, customers have 3 days to add to (or subtract from) your tip. If you make a great impression, you may see a few extra dollars hit your account.
5. Go the Extra Mile
Find ways to help customers. Anything you can do to help your customers can go a long way when they’re considering increasing their tip amount in the app. This could be as simple as carrying groceries upstairs or making small talk with their kiddos.
Like any job, you want to do it to the best of your abilities. It doesn’t make sense to start a side hustle that involves tips if you aren’t willing to do the little things to improve your tip amounts.
6. Consider an “Eye in the Sky” App
Instacart drivers might consider adding Gridwise to your arsenal. Gridwise a cool app that helps rideshare and delivery drivers earn 39% more on average.
They do this through automatic mileage tracking, earnings comparisons across platforms, event and weather notifications, airport flight details, and more. These optimizations could mean hundreds of extra dollars a month.
If shopping for Instacart doesn’t seem like a good fit, check out these alternative delivery apps that might be available in your area:
- DoorDash – Make up to $25 an hour* as a food delivery driver for DoorDash. For more, check out our full DoorDash review.
- Uber Eats – Make money delivering takeout orders. Here’s my video with an Uber Eats driver on how to maximize earnings.
- Shipt – Another grocery delivery service, Shipt was acquired by Target in 2017. They continue to grow and expand like Instacart, and say you can earn up to $22 an hour.
- Amazon Flex – Earn $18-25 an hour making deliveries for Amazon in select markets.
- PeaPod – Operating more on the east coast and parts of the Midwest, PeaPod is another grocery delivery service. Drivers are considered employees, though, and can receive benefits packages.
There are plenty of ways to make money delivering groceries, food, and other items. Figure out what works for you and try one out!
*For illustrative purposes only, actual earnings may differ and depend on expenses. Hourly pay is calculated using average Dasher payouts while on a delivery (from the time you accept an order until the time you drop it off) and includes compensation from peak pay, tips, and other incentives.
Related: Here are some of our favorite money making apps.
Instacart Shopper Review Summary: Pros and Cons
- Quick to get started
- Relatively simple gig with no special skills required
- Set your own schedule
- No minimum hourly rate set
- Relatively low earnings after factoring in gas, maintenance, and vehicle depreciation
- Can be physically demanding
I think this gig is best for those who:
- drive a mostly-depreciated, fuel-efficient car
- are looking for a simple side hustle they can start quickly
- don’t feel confident in their ability to earn more than $15/hour elsewhere
Big thanks to Kevin for giving me the inside scoop!
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