5 Tips to Help You Make More Money at Your Grocery Delivery Side Gig

A woman shops inside a grocery store during the coronavirus pandemic.
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The coronavirus pandemic has caused employers to reduce pay or lay off workers to stay afloat. 

Now many of those affected workers are turning to a new source of income: grocery shopping. 

Shopping for grocery delivery apps, such as Shipt and Instacart, and stores like Walmart, can be a quick, flexible way to earn money. And with many people avoiding grocery stores because of social distancing, demand for these services is high.

If you’re willing to brave the outside world (preferably with a face mask), then check out these five tips from experienced shoppers on how to make the most of your new gig.

1. Be a Good Communicator 

Cailyn Tenhoeve, a nurse in Grand Rapids, Michigan, has been a shopper for Shipt since July 2017. She wasn’t unhappy with her income as a nurse, but she wanted extra spending money, and as someone who doesn’t mind grocery shopping, working for Shipt seemed like something easy to do in her downtime.

What became apparent right away, Tenhoeve said, is how many people like to be in constant communication with the person doing their shopping. Shipt doesn’t have an in-app form of communication with customers, known as members, but shoppers have access to the customer’s phone number. 

“A challenge (initially) was not wanting to be a nuisance to them,” she said. “You’re shopping for them and want everything to be perfect and accurate without being a pain.”

Tenhoeve said people usually like to get updates on how the trip is going, particularly in an era when essentials are flying off the shelves. 

And it always helps to be kind. 

“I think extra communication with a member is almost essential at this time,” she said. “And I’ve been trying to be overly friendly more so than in the past, just because I feel bad that so many items are out of stock. Then I try to be lighthearted and joke with them because sometimes that makes hard times a little easier.”

Tony Fairchild, of Mt. Pleasant, Michigan, has been shopping for Shipt since September 2017. He said practicing good customer service, though mainly done through texting, is crucial when working for delivery apps. 

If you want the member to award you a good tip — which Tenhoeve said is her main way of making money off the app — then Fairchild suggests focusing on pleasing one customer at a time rather than trying to fill a bunch of orders at once. 

2. Be Picky About Which Orders You Choose to Fill

Jennifer McGraw, of Cheyenne, Wyoming, has shopped for Instacart for over a year. She says it’s important to pick your orders wisely. It’s not worth your time to accept a huge order, for example, if the order consists of a lot of small items that won’t lead to a bigger payout. 

“They’ve had 120-piece orders (and I’ve made) under $8,” McGraw said. 

Pro Tip

Be careful not to decline too many orders, or your rating will go down.

A surefire way to ensure you’re filling an order that will pay more is accepting one that includes alcohol, Tenhoeve said, which you’ll be able to identify because it’ll have a banner alerting you that an ID scan is required. Shoppers have to get certified to deliver alcohol, but she recommends going through these few extra learning modules because they literally pay off. 

“It gives you a totally different realm of orders that you can do that some people can’t do, so you have priority,” she said.

Tenhoeve also pays attention to promos, or special incentives offered by Shipt, and jumps on as many as she can. Shipt offers the promos when orders that need to be filled soon have yet to be claimed. These promos are marked by a red banner, and if you’re able to fill the order quickly, you can sometimes earn up to an additional $20. 

However, Tenhoeve warns Shipt newcomers to avoid only shopping promos. She knows of shoppers who have been kicked off the app for doing this. She says it’s much safer to put yourself on the schedule as much as you can while also picking up a couple promos a week. 

“If a trip is on promo pay, I look at the amount of items and compare it to what the payout is, because you can have an order that has 50 items and make $15-$20 and the same items on another order but only make $10-$12, so it’s really important being vigilant and doing the ratios of items to pay,” she said.

3. Don’t Rely Too Heavily on Flexibility

Fairchild loves the flexibility of working for the app and the freedom that comes with making his own schedule, but finds that adaptability can be occasionally detrimental to his motivation.

“The most challenging thing is working a set schedule since you do it whenever you want,” he said. “Sometimes I just don’t want to go to work — it takes self discipline.”

Over the years he’s gotten better at dedicating certain days and times to the app, but as a dad, he’s also grateful that he can adjust that routine to fit his family’s ever-changing needs. 

Fairchild suggests finding a structure that works for you, but also being open to changing that schedule when need be. 

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4. Use Your Time Wisely

Time management is always important when working for delivery apps, but Tenhoeve said it’s particularly important to consider now, when leaving your house to fill an order could put you at risk of contracting COVID-19.  

Try to get in and out of the store as quickly (and safely) as possible, Tenhoeve said, but do so without rushing and forgetting something. 

Also, be realistic about how much time it’s actually going to take you.

“The app gives you an estimated time it thinks it’s going to take you to shop, but that definitely doesn’t take into consideration checking out and if you have to wait in line,” she said. “If there are a bunch of substitutions that need to be made, it doesn’t account for that time.”

5. Be an Informed Shopper With a Plan

Fairchild said his top piece of advice for new Shipt shoppers is to read the shopper hub before taking their first order. It’s the go-to guide filled with all the information you need to be successful. (It sounds like skipping it is like trying to build an IKEA bookshelf without looking at the instructions — we all know how that ends.)

Pro Tip

The shoppers we spoke to say it’s best to choose to shop at a store you’re familiar with so you can make a plan of attack. 

Tenhoeve said that in addition to common sense tactics like grabbing the cold items last, it’s important to be strategic about where you start and end your shopping trip. Sometimes she starts at the back of the store and makes her way down to the cashier, and other times she starts in the area of the store that has the most items she has to get in the closest proximity to one another.

“Be careful how you take orders,” Fairchild said. “Try to organize your orders so you have plenty of time to complete them.”

Niki Kottmann is a contributor to The Penny Hoarder.