Friday, November 24, 2017

Instacart - a Review


Last year, we were sitting in No-Name Harbor on a very hot day and we needed to provision. The Winn Dixie is a mile and a half away by foot or a $7.00 cab fare. To be honest, I was just beat from the last  months of working on the boat, and didn't feel like the walk. I had heard about Instacart, an online service offered through Publix locally, and one I often thought was tailor made for cruising sailors. I went online and signed up, filled out a cart which included a lot of the heavy items I would have had to lug back on my rolly cart. After seeing the "service fee" of 10% and the delivery fee, I backed out of the cart, put on my shoes and started walking. It was, after all, a beautiful day and at least half of the walk was through the lovely Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park trails.

Fast forward to today. My daughter is living here with us and is expecting in two weeks. She's not feeling particularly well at this point, the birth center is a hefty drive away, and we share a car. Being 15 minutes away from the marina with a cart full of groceries and receiving a call that she was in labor and needed the car - STAT - was not my idea of a good time, so I thought I'd try the Instacart again just in case things had changed for the better in the last year.

I filled my cart, concentrating on the sale items they listed. I also added a lot of the heavy items I wouldn't want to haul in the bike trailer, my second traveling option. I got to the cart and there is still a 10% "service charge", which I assumed was the shopping fee for the shopper. On my order it was less than $15.00 and the delivery fee was free for my first order so I decided to give it a go. Bicycling is free, but the 2-1/2 hours it would have taken me to bike in, shop, and bike back were certainly not as good as that same 2-1/2 hours playing UNO with my grandkids.

The ordering process is pretty straightforward in their iOS app. It's easy to navigate, and the items are well described. A full nutritional value and ingredient list are provided so it's easy to compare products. The shopping cart is easy to understand, quantities are easy to adjust, and items are easy to add or remove. Coupon items have their own tab and are easy to browse through. Once in the checkout process, the service fee and delivery charges are clear. I placed my order just after 2:00 pm and my initial delivery was supposed to be between 4-5:00.

Close to 4:00 I checked the app and was a bit surprised to see that my order hadn't been picked yet. I guess to be fair though, it was Black Friday. It wasn't until 5:12 that I got the first text saying that my shopper had started shopping. At 5:31 I received my first text regarding any problems. One of the items that was on sale was out of stock and had been refunded from the order. It gives you a link in the text to go to where you can either approve the removal of the item or change it to something else.

At 5:50 I received the second text of an issue. Another item I wanted was out of stock and the text said that my shopper had replaced it with a similar item. Because the item was a very specific item required by my food-sensitive grandkids, it was necessary for me to go in and remove the item because there was no substitute. At 6:24 I received another text about another replacement. This time I was able to go in and change it to something I wanted rather than the one he had chosen. Two other changes brought the total to 5 changes out of 29 items.

At 7:05 I received a text that the shopper was on the way. The shopper arrived promptly, was efficient, courteous, and helpful. I had a chance to speak with him about his role in the shopping experience and I learned some things that may impact your decision whether to use this service.

1. The "service fee" is a fee that is defined on their site, instacart.com:

What is the Service Fee?

The Service Fee is used to provide customer support and recognize the efforts of the whole team for providing you with great service.

Is the Service Fee a tip? 

The Service Fee allows Instacart to operate our service and provide customer support. This payment is distinct from a tip as it does not go directly to the shopper delivering your order.

The service fee is 10%. My shopper told me that it used to be the tip, but that recently they changed it from a direct tip to the shopper, to a fee collected for "the whole team" as it says above. He was unsure who "the whole team" was. The shopper collects $.40 per item shopped and a delivery payment of $4.50, which used to be $9.00 and was recently reduced. For my 29 items, that equaled $11.60 for over two hours of work at a whopping $5.80 per hour less gas in the car (they use their own.) He also told me that if he drives over 13 miles he gets another $5.00 for the delivery but that frequently they give him two orders to do at the same time, one within a few miles, and one 20 miles away.

2. The Tip:

After receiving my order, which was well packed, I received a text that had a link to rate the experience as well as to make "adjustments" to my order. The "adjustments" are in fact a place to add the tip for the shopper, 100% of which goes to the shopper. None of the service fee appears to go to the shopper.

3. Prices:

I'm one of those people that is freakish about number memory. I still remember my phone number from when I was a young child and I know the price of almost everything I routinely buy. So it was easy for me to compare the prices on Instacart to those in the actual store. Almost all of the prices were higher than in the store. For instance, the gallon of organic milk I usually buy is $5.99 in the store. It was $6.69 on Instacart. The Kambucha I get is usually $8.99 for the big bottle and it was $9.99 on Instacart. The Second Nature trail mix I usually buy is $5.99 in the store, $6.49 on Instacart so you can see that there is already more than a 10% markup on some items even before the 10% service fee. There were a few that were cheaper because they were on sale on Instacart and weren't on sale in the store. The difference was not enough to make up for the marked up items.

So...would I use it again? I can honestly say that I wouldn't use it again unless it was an exceptional situation - I was sick and couldn't drive, I had no possible transportation to the store, I needed a prescription filled. There were some points in the process that I felt a bit "trapped" or maybe "coerced" is the right word. Had I known right up front that I would spend 10% more for the items, 10% for the processing fee, and 10% for the tip, I wouldn't have done it. You find these out bit by bit after you are already committed.

I'm also a bit gun shy around any company that abuses its workers. If I have any other option, I rarely use Walmart just for that reason. The way this company uses independent contractors reeks a bit of the way my daughter and son-in-law were exploited as graduate students. Were I to use it again it would be with the full knowledge that I was paying 30% more for the privilege of curling up in my cockpit with a good book instead of schlepping to the store on Black Friday. If you decide to use the service, I only ask that you treat your shopper fairly and add a reasonable tip.

Locally, for me, it only lists Publix and CVS and a couple other small stores, but in larger cities there are a lot of other stores like Whole Foods, Costco, Kroger, ABC Fine Wine and Spirits, Petco, Shop and Save, Schnucks, and The Food Emporium. That list is far from incomplete. You have to get online and check out your zipcode to see what stores are available in your area.

Clearly there are some benefits of having this service. But to use it regularly as your sole means of provisioning is a habit best left to those in mega yachts with a much bigger budget than Kintala's.

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