Every Sunday afternoon, I dread my weekly trip to the grocery store, with its crowded aisles, carts parked in inconvenient places and long checkout lines.
That’s where Instacart comes in. This app and website lets people who don’t have the time or motivation to battle the crowds for a box of cereal skip the grocery store. Instead, a personal shopper will pick up groceries and deliver them in about two hours.
While the service is great for people who hate the grocery store, it’s also a good deal for personal shoppers. They work flexible hours and can earn up to $25 an hour filling cupboards in the San Francisco Bay area, New York, Chicago, Boston, Washington, Philadelphia and Los Angeles — often while taking care of their own grocery shopping at the same time. A Chicago shopper named Jacob told Racked Chicago he works 40 to 50 hours a week and Instacart is his main source of income.
Interested in giving it a try? Here’s what you’ll need to do to get started as a shopper, says Nima Zahedi, the city manager for Instacart Boston.
Head to Instacart’s website (link only works for those living in California, Massachusetts, Texas). You’ll need to provide basic information, like your name and email, as well as what city you want to work in. Zahedi said the site is currently hiring in all markets.
Shoppers must be 21 or older and have their own car and a smartphone. You’ll also need to provide your phone number, type of phone, number of years of driving experience and why you’re interested in becoming a shopper.
If Instacart isn’t in your area yet, be sure to check the site often — they plan to expand to new cities soon.
Next, potential shoppers will take a short online quiz about common grocery store items, Zahedi said. The quiz asks you to identify grocery items, like a lemon or an 18-pack of eggs. Applicants only have two minutes to answer the 21 questions.
After that, your city’s manager will call you to set up a time for a 15-minute phone interview to learn about your background and experience.
“We look for people with past customer service experience and candidates who are comfortable in a grocery store and have experience doing plenty of shopping for either their roommates, families or themselves,” Zahedi said. He also noted that you’ll need a background check before beginning to work.
Train to Be an Awesome Shopper
Before starting work, candidates must complete online and in-person training sessions to learn about the Instacart app and the personal shopping process, Zahedi said. You’ll spend about 20 minutes on the online training and an hour at the local office for the in-person training. While the training is unpaid, it’s offered every day so you can get to work in just a few days.
Congratulations, you’re ready to start shopping!
You don’t need to commit to specific hours; instead, pick up jobs whenever you have free time, Zahedi said. When a shopper is working, they’ll be assigned jobs through the Instacart app. Shoppers can either accept or decline any job. If they decline, it’ll be assigned to another shopper.
There’s also no required minimum number of hours a week, which is a big perk for anyone doing this as a second job. “It’s a flexible job,” said Zahedi. “We have shoppers with very different schedules and we make it work.” The site allows customers to schedule grocery delivers between 9 am and midnight.
Jacob, the shopper in Chicago, explained that he stays pretty busy with deliveries during the hours he works, but likes to read or just hang out in his downtime.
“As soon as I’ve actually delivered it and am back in my car, I get another order via text message that says, ‘You have another order, please go to THIS store,’ and so I go shopping again,” Jacob said.
You’ll be paid by direct deposit every week, Zahedi explained. Shoppers often make up to $25 per hour during high demand times – Sundays, Mondays and evenings tend to be busiest.
“We have everyone from full-time shoppers to mothers who work while their kids are in school to graduate students to people who shop after their 9-5 day jobs to shoppers who just do the weekends,” Zahedi said.
The clientele who order through the site is just as varied, according to Jacob. During his time as a personal shopper for Instacart in Chicago, he enjoyed helping people who couldn’t manage on their own.
“There are a lot of young customers who don’t have cars. If you want to go shopping, you maybe don’t want to be limited to the two bags you can carry in your hand,” he said. “Last night, I delivered to a mom, and she said she wished that Instacart would have been around when her baby was an infant. For one Costco order, the mom said it was really nice to have someone who can go to Costco and bring all the heavy stuff up a flight of stairs.”
In addition to the base pay you receive from the company, most customers also tip their shopper.
Your Turn: Do you love or hate visiting the grocery store? Would you try shopping for others through Instacart?
Jacqueline Klimas is a reporter and freelancer living in Washington, D.C. A native of the northeast, she loves running and rooting for the Boston Red Sox long-distance.