Avoid the store- Instacart instead

I called my mother yesterday to check in on her. She’s at home in Gables By The Sea, in the house I grew up in. She lives with her boyfriend Bob, a nice guy who is a dentist, but not working these days except for emergencies.

“Well, I’m still alive,” my mother said. “I haven’t got it yet.”

She said she was finding plenty of things to keep her occupied, painting a wall workers had recently fixed, which led her to painting her lanterns “while the paint was out”. If You Give a Mouse a Cookie scenario, and working in the yard and taking walks. Bob, on the other hand, is “like a caged lion”, according to her, since he’s not going to work.

“Are you going to the grocery store?” I asked.

“No!” she said.

She’s using Instacart for Publix deliveries.

“I’ve had some strange experiences,” she said. “The first person who shopped for me seemed like someone who had never been to a grocery store before. I don’t even know what some of things they got for me are or how to cook them.”

It sounded similar to my first experience, where they crammed five bags of food into two paper bags and put the rolls on the bottom of the bag. Who does that?

The second time she ordered Instacart she requested a turkey breast to cook and instead they brought her something that looked like it came from the deli. It would be good for sandwich meat, she agreed, but she wanted to roast the turkey herself. She said one store she ordered from was going to take days to deliver, but another only hours, so she cancelled the first one.

My second Instacart experience was better, but they replaced a Buy One Get One free (BOGO) can of 15 ounce refried beans for one huge 32 ounce can. I also asked for whole mushrooms, but got sliced. Not the same, the sliced mushrooms go bad much quicker. Anything pre-sliced, like lettuce in a bag, is more perishable.

My third Instacart experience was last week. I ordered it Tuesday and was told it would be filled between Tuesday and Saturday- kind of a long range of time, but I guess a lot of people aren’t going into grocery stores and needed supplies for Easter and Passover. They also charged our credit card for the items before they were delivered, which I found strange, especially since they were apt to be out of items.

This experience was better. My paper bags of groceries were left on the bench by the front door, as requested. My Instacart shopper must have been new, because she took a photo of the bags on the bench. They keep you informed when they are shopping via text and let you know if they replace items or if they are out. So, no Easter jellybeans, Cadbury chocolate eggs or marshmallow Peeps (my favorite), but they did have Lindt Easter Chocolate Bunnies, although I found out later they replaced 2 milk chocolate for white chocolate. Also, I got a spiral ham, seeded rye bread (they were out before), asparagus and a fresh pineapple. Who knew I would appreciate simple, basic food so much?

I’d ordered three dozen eggs, one to hard boil, one for Lauren, but only got one as I think they’re limiting them to one per family. My whole mushrooms were substituted for sliced again, despite my note that I didn’t want sliced if they didn’t have whole. She replaced my Reese’s Eggs with Reese’s Peanut Butter cups. The Sargento pepper jack cheese slices were replaced with pepper jack sticks (not the same!) and since they were out of Cascade dishwashing detergent, I got the pods. I also had to substitute Tide liquid for pods. I never buy pods because I think they’re wasteful and lazy. But desperate times-

Instacart shops at these stores:

Publix, Aldi, Total Wine, Cotsco, CVS, Petco, Milams, BJ’s, ABC Wine, Fresh Market.

Prices tend to be more than if you shopped yourself and there is a delivery fee and service fee. I was happy to see, however, that Publix was offering BOGOs and honored coupons, but these items seem to sell out quickly. There’s also an option to join Express that gives you free delivery for $99 a year or $9 a month.

Some tips for InstaCart:

  • Busy days are Sundays and Monday, so try to order on days other than that.
  • Keep a list and order all your items at once.
  • Order bigger packs (like family packs of chicken) and break it down to save on frequency of ordering.
  • Choose your preferred replacements. If you don’t want a replacement, note it on your order.
  • Choose Leave at my Door delivery. You can also tell them where to leave it.
  • You can also send groceries for friends and family in a lot of different cities.
  • Thank your shopper with a tip, especially in these times.

I talked to my friend Tami, who’s been using Instacart for two years (on the advice of her hairdresser) with much success.

“You’ve got to take Instacart these days with a grain of salt,” she said. “They’re not doing so well in the Pandemic.”

She sent me an email from Publix basically apologizing to Instacart customers for the difference in their shopping experience these days. Tami told me: “There’s a bit of a learning curve, but after you master Instacart, it’s great.”

The first time I ordered on Instacart, I went through the departments one by one and ordered. I found it time consuming. I did better with a list, but pay attention to the packaging. I ordered my Siggi’s yogurt, but got 9% fat instead of 2%! I didn’t even know there was a 9% fat yogurt. And my sister Kelley recently ordered all-purpose flour from Cotsco, only to have a 10 lb. bag delivered. That’s a lot of banana bread being made.

According to Tami, shopping during the Pandemic is “a whole different ballgame” and stores are out of many items they would normally have. And even though she’s requested a specific place to drop the groceries, saving her from lugging heavy items like dog food, the Instacart shopper doesn’t always follow these instructions. This could be due to a language barrier, or the influx of new, inexperienced shoppers hired by Instacart during COVID-19.

Another thing Tami loves about Instacart, is that they can deliver to different cities. This came in handy when her son, who goes to college in Boston, got sick. She was able to send him chicken soup, medicine and snacks, via Instacart.

Another friend uses Instacart to Host a Hero. With this non-profit charity, donors with a second home offer their places for an active duty military person and their family to vacation. Since my friend likes to have the fridge stocked for the family, she lets Instacart know when the family arrives and they deliver groceries to the door. For more information on this worthy charity, check out their website hostahero.org.

The last time I checked Publix via Instacart , they were out of Clorox Wipes, 409 and rubbing alcohol, but they did have toilet paper, including my family’s preferred brand, Charmin.

Her three important tips on Instacart shopping are:

1) When you’re ordering you can choose a replacement (like Publix butter for Land ‘O Lakes) or you can put “Do not replace.”

2) Once your Instacart shopper starts shopping, pay close attention. They will text you, let you know if they are out of items at the store and if they are replacing them with something else. There’s a window to chat with your shopper while they’re shopping. This is the time to tell them if you’re ok with the replacements they’re making.

3) Tip well. Instacart automatically adds a tip, but that can be adjusted and she believes it is reflected in the shopping experience you receive.

I wanted to report a problem with my purchases, but when they sent me an e-mail saying “How was your Instacart experience?”, it had a photo of my shopper, with a star rating. I didn’t want to get my shopper in trouble, so didn’t bother with that, but when they forgot my cauliflower, they did refund me right away. Tami told me there is another area on the website where you can report a problem, other than the star rating.

She also said if they give you the wrong item, they will refund it for you.

“I know they’ll refund me, but I’d rather have the item I wanted and that they read my notes.” There is a section to leave your shopper a note (like don’t substitute my whole mushrooms for sliced) but obviously, they don’t always read them. Despite that-

“Overall,” said Tami, “I love having Instacart.”

Instacart can be a lifesaver, literally, in these uncertain times.

Up next: Week in Review and Foods to fight Viruses

Published by gleeguilford

Born and raised in Miami, the daughter of a pilot and stay-at-home Mom, I love food in all forms. My great grandfather opened the first Italian restaurant in Miami in the 20's, The Boathouse on the Miami river. I love exploring my heritage and linking food and recipes to personal stories. I've been published in Chicken Soup for the Soul: Food and Love and wrote restaurant reviews and news as the Miami Dining Examiner for three years. I love exploring Miami's latest hot spots, hole in the walls and institutions. I'm always looking for innovative ways to use the plethora of tropical fruits and vegetables South Florida offers, especially from my own garden.

Leave a Reply