Everything you need to know about making money with Instacart

Written by Emma Kansiz

Published 2022-07-05 / 4 min read

In this hyper-productive day and age something as simple as grocery shopping can seem like a waste of time for lots of people. Why not capitalize on the frustration so many feel about this basic life task and make money shopping and delivering groceries to help your own bottom line?

What is Instacart?

Instacart was founded in 2012. It connects people with grocery delivery services in their area. It is basically the Uber of the supermarket. For employees there are two options: you can become an in-store shopper (classified as a W-2, formally employed part time employee) or a full-service shopper (classified as a contractor and responsible for your own hours and taxes). In-store shoppers work at one of Instacart’s partner grocery stores and are responsible for shopping, scanning, and packing the order. Full-service shoppers are responsible for shopping for the order and delivering it by car to the customer.

We will help you decide whether Instacart is for you, and if so, whether in-store or full-service better suits your needs!

How does Instacart's earning structure work?

Instacart pays out via direct deposit every week. Full-service shoppers can access an Instant Cashout option for immediate payment when funds pop up in the account. You can use this option for the first time only after completing five orders. After that you can access it whenever, as long as you have a balance over $5 in the app.

Let’s cover the similar (but slightly different) processes involved in getting paid as an in-store shopper and a full service shopper, respectively.

For full-service shoppers the amount of money you earn is largely up to you and how much time you want to dedicate to the gig. You will get paid per batch of groceries that you deliver. Similarly to DoorDash, you will be able to see the total value of the grocery order, any special fee, and tip before choosing to accept and take on the order. The price of any given batch is affected by the distance you’ll be traveling, the size of the order, type of items ordered, and any special circumstances that might make the trip more challenging. You will be guaranteed earnings of $5 per pick-up order, and $7-$10 for every full service (shop and deliver). Glassdoor claims that the average hourly wage is $12 before tip for typical full-service shoppers.

There are also Instacart offers, similar to Uber’s Surge, where you can earn a few more dollars during busy rushes. Sundays and holidays are consistently busy, and you can get back to back orders for hours at a time. You get to keep 100% of the tips that are listed in an order. 

In-store shoppers are actual Instacart employees, as highlighted above. Therefore, you will make at least the minimum wage mandated in your state. The details will be laid out in your offer letter. You will earn at an hourly rate up to a weekly limit of 29 hours. If the minimum wage is $12, say, and you work 25 hours a week you could expect to earn $300 per week. Not exactly riches, but not pocket change either. Keep in mind that in-store shoppers don’t qualify for tips through the platform. 

Depending on your lifestyle and ambition it might make more sense to be a full-service shopper because you get the added incentive of tips. But you will also have more expenses and wear and tear on your vehicle. So look at both options rationally. Some people love the drive of earning more depending on their performance and speed, while others like the comfort of a consistent hourly rate. When it comes to Instacart, know thyself.

What is the time commitment for Instacart?

Instacart allows scheduling flexibility for both of its shopper categories. One key difference is that in-store shoppers, who are employees of Instacart, can work a maximum of 29 hours a week. Full-service shoppers, who are independent contractors (like Uber and DoorDash drivers) can work as many hours per week as they want, with no cap. 

For full-service shoppers you have ultimate flexibility. You can work a few hours a week or turn Instacart into your full-time gig. You can work when it is convenient for you and make amendments to your driving schedule based upon personal commitments, which is always a bonus. You can choose to work weekday nights and take weekends off, or vice versa. Instacart is a consistent vehicle for daily work, should you want it. Instacart is great because there are no penalties for being absent on the app for any given amount of time. You can take a holiday when you want or simply take a few months off to prioritize other passions and interests. 

For in-store shoppers you will be given a weekly schedule, as you would in any traditional job. This will of course take into consideration any other responsibilities or work commitments that you might have. This is a sound option for people who like the comfort of steady hours, steady pay, and a consistent schedule. This works for people who have set school or childcare hours and don’t want the headache of crafting a new schedule each week. And sometimes it is nice for the onus to be on someone else. As mentioned though, you can only work 29 hours a week or less. It might work for you to do, say, 15 hours with Instacart on top of your full-time job, or alternatively you could do the full 29 hours and plug in the rest of the week with other side hustles and gigs. There is still freedom to choose with this option. You are not hemmed in.

How to get started with Instacart?

You can complete the signup process via the app or the website. You will be asked to fill out your basic details, contact information, and location. You can choose whether you would prefer to be an in-store shopper (an Instacart employee) or a full-service shopper (a contractor). You must prove your working rights and detail your social security number.

For full-service shoppers you will be required to provide your driver’s license and vehicle insurance.  

After you have submitted these details you will undergo a background check. Instacart uses the third-party service Chekr and they run a search on your criminal background, driving record, and potentially a credit check. This typically takes ten business days, so sit back and be patient. Maybe browse some of our other side gig recommendations in the meantime?

For in-store applicants, you will need to go into a store for the intake process. Once approved by a local Instacart team, you will be invited to attend a local onboarding session at one of the partner grocery stores via email.

You must upload your banking details so Instacart can directly deposit funds into your account. This must be an American or Canadian bank account. 

Once signed up you will be mailed an Instacart debit card which you will use to pay for orders at the grocery store. No, you don’t have to shell out any of your hard earned money for other people’s groceries. You can expect to wait 5-7 business days for the card to be delivered to your mailing address.

Instacart requirements

Required Resources

You must have a smartphone that can run the app, which will be your portal during shifts. This includes models including, and newer than, the Iphone 6s or the Android 5.0.

If you are a full-service shopper you must have a vehicle with the appropriate registration and insurance. Unlike DoorDash you are unable to use a scooter or bicycle. You need a vehicle, so be mindful of this requirement before signing up. While the vehicle requirements are not as stringent as those of Uber and Lyft, your car does need to be in a good state of repair and run reliably. Not only for your safety but also to save yourself the headache of breaking down while fulfilling an order. With fuel costs rising, be cognizant of how expensive it is to run your car. If you are in the market for one specifically for a side gig, focus on fuel economy above all else! 

Required Skills

You must be over 18 and legally permitted to work in the U.S or Canada. You must be able to lift 30 pounds or heavier as this will be a daily requirement of the job, depending on the size of grocery orders. Being physically fit is paramount to success in this role as there is a lot of walking, bending, and lifting.

Required Documents

You must prove working rights with a social security number. If you are in Canada you will provide your social insurance number.

If you are signing up as a full-service driver you need proof of vehicle registration, a driver’s license, and adequate car insurance.

You will need to have the details of your bank account so you can set up direct deposit.

Other important details

While in-store shoppers are W2 employees, their hours are capped at 29 per week. Why? The Affordable Care Act requires American employers to provide health insurance for workers who clock in 30 hours per week or more. Conveniently for Instacart, they don’t allow any workers to get past that threshold. This is problematic for a number of obvious reasons, and is illustrative of why the sharing and gig economy has gotten such a bad rap for ripping off its most valuable asset - its workers. 

That being said, if you are an in-store shopper you will receive regular paychecks with all the tax deductions included. When you file your taxes this will make your life a lot easier and won’t require any extra effort on your part. If you are a full-service shopper you are a contractor so you must keep track of your own expenses and profits and claim them on a 1099 form. We recommend finding an accountant to walk you through the process. Ensure you have an effective method of bookkeeping so you can track gas and car repair expenditures.

As a full-service shopper your phone will alert you when you are offered a batch. You have a few minutes to accept the batch before it is offered to another Shopper. To accept, press the ‘Shop the Order’ button. You need to be quick so you’re not losing out on orders. But if the tip is paltry or the job is not worth the effort, no sweat. Let it time out and wait for the next one. 

Ensure your phone is fully charged before starting a shift as the app can use a lot of power. And you’ll be using it consistently, marking grocery items as found in the app, scanning barcodes, and inputting fruit, meat, and vegetable weights into the app manually. You can also communicate with your customer through the Shopper app. You can alert them if their preferred brand is out of stock or warn them of any traffic delays. So bring a phone charger on shift with you!

Instacart provides its workers with green shirts to wear while on shift.

Our review

A bit of a renegade in the sharing economy, we do love that Instacart classifies its in-store shoppers as employees. This gives them access to protections and reduces the risk that they will be taken advantage of. Access to a federal minimum wage - love that. But as mentioned above, the sneaky weekly caps to avoid paying for workers health insurance? Don’t love that.

If formal employment isn’t your thing we do like that ambitious side hustlers can take advantage of being self-employed with the full-service shopper option. While full-service shoppers are classified as contractors and have the requisite responsibilities that entails, it is a solid option for those who want to put in hours on their own terms and hustle to make a higher hourly wage.

Instacart is a reliable, trustworthy, and well-established company that offers consistent work to its Shoppers. It is in the same league as Uber and DoorDash and shows no signs of slowing down. The pandemic has increased the demand for contactless grocery delivery services so we believe that this is a gig with staying power. The work requires an attention to detail but is not particularly strenuous or mentally taxing. It can be a relatively easy side gig to complement your existing school or employment regime or it can become your main gig. You won’t make a fortune nor will you be living the life of Riley, but you can definitely earn money quickly after being accepted onto the platform.