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Instacart membership: What to know, fees, benefits and more

Instacart saves you time by delivering your groceries to your doorstep — with a membership you can get them without delivery fees.
Instacart’s convenient service relies on personal shoppers picking up everything in your order before delivering them to your door.
Instacart’s convenient service relies on personal shoppers picking up everything in your order before delivering them to your door. Instacart

Making regular visits to a local Walmart, Target or Costco for groceries is a necessity for many people — especially if you need to shop for multiple people on a weekly basis. That said, grocery runs also take up a lot of time and add yet another item on your to-do list. This is where Instacart can help. The grocery delivery service, which launched over ten years ago, cuts down on time you’d typically spend grocery shopping in stores by having a personal shopper pick up all of the groceries on your curated shopping list via a phone app. 

To help you learn more about what Instacart memberships have to offer, what costs you can expect and how it could change your grocery shopping routine, we created a step-by-step guide with details of the service below. Additionally, we spoke with Shinobu Hindert, a certified financial planner and Alyssa Gagarin, the founder and CEO of a personal chef company, to get their input on the benefits of using grocery delivery services like Instacart. 

SKIP AHEAD What is Instacart? | How does Instacart work? | What is Instacart+? | Is an Instacart membership worth it? | Other services Instacart offers

Instacart: At a glance

  • Monthly fee: $9.99 or $99 a year
  • Free delivery: yes, with Instacart+ membership
  • Order minimum: $35
  • Credit back: yes, 5% credit back
  • Gift cards available: yes
  • Family accounts available: yes
  • Nationwide service: yes, U.S. and Canada
  • City availability: 14,000+

What is Instacart? 

Instacart is an online grocery delivery service founded in 2012 in San Francisco. The service, which partners with over 1,500 retailers in over 85,00 locations, lets users add grocery items (and other everyday products on their shopping list) to a digital shopping cart for delivery, tip the shopper and pay for their order at checkout. The company works similarly to food delivery services like Doordash and Uber Eats and customers can also choose curbside pickup to get their groceries in person at local stores. You can shop from several different major retailers, including Walmart, Target and Costco, and more regional retailers like Publix, Aldi and Wegmans via Instacart. You can also order products from Amazon, such as electronic and entertainment devices, as well as directly from retailers like Best Buy, Lowes and Staples. 

Instacart+ Membership

Customers have the option of signing up for a free or paid membership, which we’ll explain in further detail below. 

What is Instacart+? 

Instacart+ is Instacart’s paid monthly subscription membership, formerly known as Instacart Express. Plans costs $9.99 a month or $99 a year and with one, you get more exclusive benefits that those with free memberships don’t receive, such as unlimited free delivery on orders of at least $35, 5% credit back (with some restrictions), a Peacock Premium subscription and the choice to create a shared family account. Some financial institutions, like  Mastercard and Chase, have special offers where you can redeem an Instacart+ membership for a certain time period for free. 

A free Instacart account allows you to use the app and order as usual, but you’ll still have to pay the typical delivery fees, including if you’d like your orders delivered within a faster window. 

How does Instacart work?

  • Shop for items: At the top of the home screen on the app, you’ll see a search bar, where you can search by store name, ingredients, recipes and products. The app will show you all the stores in your area that carry that item or something similar. It Will also show you an estimated delivery time depending on which store you choose. Once you’re within a certain store, you can learn more details about specific items, such as the price of each item, including its cost per weight (for items like produce or deli products), as well as whether or not there are many in stock. You can also add instructions to each of the items, such as if you want the shopper to look for a particular characteristic, such as produce size, ripeness or texture. 
  • Choose replacements: After choosing all of your items, the app lets you select replacements for any products should they become unavailable. You can also choose to have that item taken off your list and refunded. 
  • Choose delivery window: From here, you can confirm or edit your delivery address (the app lets you save multiple addresses), add delivery instructions and then choose a delivery window. You can choose a “standard” delivery window, which usually takes the longest but is free, a priority delivery window, which costs around $3 and delivers within an hour of ordering, though this service is not always available, according to the brand. You can also choose a free 2-hour window later that day or in the days following or a 3-hour window starting the next day, which reduces your order total by $2. After choosing a delivery window, you can choose to add a tip to the order for your shopper. 
  • Communicate with your shopper: When your order is in place, you can add last-minute items to your cart before the app pairs a personal shopper with your order. You can then see your shopper’s name and communicate with them through the app. This also allows the shopper to connect with you if an item is out of stock.
  • Meet your shopper: When the shopper has finished shopping, the app will let you know if they found all of the items you initially chose and/or if they had to replace or refund any. You’ll also receive notifications when the shopper is on their way to the delivery address.

Is an Instacart+ membership worth it?

Whether or not you could financially benefit from an Instacart+ membership is personal. If you have a large family, then you likely have to buy large amounts of groceries and other items often. On the flip side, however, if you only buy groceries for you, for example, it’s especially important to be aware of potential pitfalls. “You can end up adding items to your cart that you don’t need just for the free delivery,” says Hindert. “You also need to tip every time your groceries are delivered and that can add up quickly.” Since Instacart+ requires you to spend at least $35 for an order to qualify for free delivery, if you only want a few items, for example, you can easily spend an extra $10 on something you don’t actually need for the sake of getting free delivery. 

Both Hindert and Gagarin agree that, depending on your situation and how frequently you use the service, having an Instacart membership is worth it. “Saving money using grocery delivery services is largely dependent on how much your time is worth,” says Gagarin. “Buying groceries online can save a lot of time, which many people may find valuable.” In other words, using Instacart+ regularly could be more beneficial from a time and convenience standpoint rather than a financial standpoint. 

Other services Instacart offers

  • Grocery pickup: Instacart offers curbside pickup. You’ll choose a window for when you’d like to pick up your groceries and park in a designated area. From there, you let the store know that you’ve arrived via the app and an Instacart shopper will deliver the order directly to your car.
  • Alcohol delivery: Instacart allows customers to order alcohol, including wine, beer and liquor from liquor stores in your area. When your order arrives, a shopper will scan your ID, according to the brand. 
  • Flower delivery: Instacart offers same-day delivery of freshly cut flowers and bouquets from local stores, including chains with floral departments.

Instacart Gift Card

Meet our experts

At NBC Select, we work with experts who have specialized knowledge and authority based on relevant training and/or experience. We also take steps to ensure all expert advice and recommendations are made independently and without undisclosed financial conflicts of interest.

Why trust NBC Select?

Cory Fernandez is a commerce editor at NBC Select, where he writes about topics such as food, cooking, cleaning, wellness and general lifestyle. He spoke with a personal finance expert and the CEO of a personal chef services company that often uses grocery delivery services.

Disclosure: Peacock is the streaming service of NBC News parent company NBCUniversal.

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