In my article last week I showed how much I made in a week of shopping for Instacart. But there are ways to improve. In this article, I’ll share tips on how you can make more money on Instacart by:
- Maximizing your earnings while you shop
- Increasing your shopping speed
- Increasing your tips
Let’s jump right into it.
What is the Key to Making More Money On Instacart?
Making more money on Instacart comes down to two key metrics. Decreasing the amount of time you spend shopping makes it easier to do more orders in a day and increases tips. The guaranteed payment by Instacart largely doesn’t change, but if you can increase your tips it can really begin to add up.
Here’s how you do it:
1. Shop As Few Stores As Possible
The best and easiest way to speed up how quickly you shop is to know the layout of the store. This means knowing where basic items are, and enough of the layout to know approximate areas to look at if you haven’t seen an item before.
Ideally, you should only shop one store so that you can memorize the layout as completely and easily as possible but in small towns this is unrealistic. I personally have stayed busy enough primarily working out of one store, while having two that I cover when my main one has no orders. This small-batch allows you to work as quickly as possible without being frantic.
2. Check Your Range
One of the longest parts of Instacart is driving. And it’s a part of the job that you can’t really take time off of. If it takes you 10 minutes to get there, it takes you 10 minutes to get there. But with that said, know where you’re going before you accept a batch. Some areas, particularly for Costco are massive and you could end up driving half an hour out of your way for an 8 item order. This is a surefire way to not make any money, so check your range and location before accepting a batch.
3. Substitute, Don’t Refund
Unlike the guaranteed instant payment, which is what you will make no matter what, tips are subjective. When a customer chooses a tip option it is as a percentage of the total order. This means that if you refund items instead of finding substitutes your tip amount goes down. This isn’t to say don’t refund. If something is sold out and there are no suitable replacements, definitely refund. But if there are suitable replacements (different brand, different package size, etc.), then always replace first.
4. Don’t Worry About the “Due Time”
When you accept an order it will tell you when it is due. Most of the time this is an easily achievable goal several hours later. But sometimes it is an unreasonably small amount of time. Don’t worry about that and start panicking. If you go over the due time, the customer won’t be notified, and you won’t be penalized. Just keep calm and keep doing what you know works to the best you can.
5. Maximize How Much You Can Carry
Part of how you can make more money on Instacart is to maximize the amount you carry from your car to the customer’s house. Often time you will have multiple bags and awkward items to carry. For some people, this means getting a large cooler that can hold everything. I have seen others use a laundry basket that they put all of their groceries in. Others still just carry as many as possible. Whatever strategy you decide to use, minimizing the trips back and forth to your car as much as possible will save you time.
6.When Picking for Multiple People, Grab a Basket
When shopping on the Instacart platform you can get some large orders, spread across multiple customers. Keeping these orders separated can be frustrating at the best of times. Know how many items each person is getting going into it and plan accordingly. Most of the time this means grabbing a basket or two, in addition to the cart, and putting the smaller order in that, while the larger is in the cart.
Doing this will save you untold amounts of time when it comes to checkout, loading your car, etc.
7. Grab Multiple Carts if Needed
Sometimes these combined orders can be too big for a basket and a cart. So don’t be afraid to grab two carts! It can be a bit complicated going down aisles, but when it comes to separating the orders when they’re both 30+ items, there is no better solution. Sure people will look at you judgingly, but who cares what they think. Go make your money! Use two carts.
8. Park Near the Cart Corral
Typically when you go to the grocery store you want to park as close to the entrance as possible to limit the amount of walking you have to do. But not with Instacart. With Instacart you are going to be using a cart 99% of the time, and parking near the cart corral will make a lot more sense than parking near the entrance. The worst feeling is after you have loaded all the groceries in your car and you’re good to go, walking 5 rows over because that’s the nearest cart corral. Just park next to it at the beginning and thank me later.
Pro Tip: Don’t be a selfish jerk and pop your cart up on the curb. Always put it back in the cart corral.
9. The Smaller the Car, the Better
As I said before, the largest and longest part of shopping for Instacart is driving. Having a smaller and cheaper car helps this in a ton of ways. It reduces the cost of gas, helps navigate traffic better, and can make finding parking much easier. Especially in crowded downtown centres and back alleys. So get yourself a small car, and save yourself money in the long term.
10. Carry Money for Carts if Needed
This is primarily a Canadian thing. But a lot of grocery stores (Loblaws group of stores in particular) require you to deposit a loonie to use their cart. This ensures that you bring it back every time and they don’t have to go retrieve them. But since most of your orders on Instacart will require the use of a cart the last thing you want is to get to the store and then find out you don’t have one.
11. Don’t Speed
With driving being one of the largest uses of time for Instacart you may be tempted to speed. But avoid that temptation. Not only will the price of a ticket cost an entire day’s wages, but it will also cost you time. Saving one minute on delivery is not worth getting pulled over for speeding through a school zone.
Plus you’ll make sure that you’re not half an hour late dropping off a ton of melted groceries, losing your tip.
12. Feel Free to Park in Loading Zones
A lot of apartment buildings in my area have loading zones directly in front of the main door. Typically you don’t have to pay for parking here, and it is extremely close to the front door. This double advantage can save you a ton of time when carrying in groceries. So as long as you plan on being less than 10 minutes (or however long the loading zone permits), feel free to use them!
13. Don’t Wear the Lanyard
When you first receive your welcome package from Instcart it will have a card and a lanyard in it. And while this is a fairly well-known fact (I’ve never seen someone actually wear their lanyard) take my advice and leave it at home. Besides making you stand out like a sore thumb more than you already do it can save you time. Lanyards have a tendency to hang from our necks and get caught or tangled in absolutely everything. So feel free to not wear it, and not get tangled in it all day unnecessarily.
14. Scan the List Before You Start Shopping
Typically I do this tip during the walk from the car to the front of the store. Just take a minute to familiarize yourself with the list so you can better plan out your trip. Will you be starting produce? Do they have a lot of personal care stuff? Are they getting soil from the garden centre? All of these things can help you plan out your trip to be as efficient as possible, with as little backtracking as possible. This means you get your shopping done sooner and more efficiently, making you more money.
15. Leave Frozen and Refrigerated to Last
This may seem like common sense but a lot of people don’t do it. When shopping, make sure you have absolutely everything on your list, even if it requires a small amount of backtracking, before your grab the refrigerated and frozen goods. No one likes to have half-melted ice cream that’s been sitting in a hot store for an hour while you shopped their order. It will make a mess everywhere and you’re far more likely to lose your tip.
Pro Tip: If they’re small enough use your frozen goods to keep your refrigerated goods cold in the same bag. Got frozen chicken breasts? Pack them in the same bag as the refrigerated bacon and keep both of them cold.
16. Don’t Press Start Shopping … Until You’re Actually Shopping
When you first start working on the app you will likely be tempted to hit the “Start Shopping” button as soon as you walk into the store. but resist that urge. Grab your cart, set up your baskets if needed, and head to the aisle with your first item. Then when you have reached that aisle hit “Start Shopping”. Not only does this save you time and frustration, but it looks really good to the customer when they get notified that you started shopping and 5 seconds later have already grabbed an item.
17. If You’re Lost, Check the Aisle
Take this tip with a grain of salt as it is very location-dependent. You will quickly learn how accurately Instacart knows the layout of your primary store(s). But in a lot of cases, even if it doesn’t perfectly know the layout, looking at the category/aisle can give you a relative idea of where to look. Is that thing you have never heard of In the international aisle? Is it frozen? Small things like that can help save precious time during the shopping portion.
18. Don’t Backtrack. Plan Your Route
While you are scanning your list before you walk in (tip 14) make sure you are planning your route in your head. Because you will have a primary location where you know the layout fairly well, you should plan a path. Ideally, the path should involve as little backtracking as possible, including when going to the checkout. So know your store, know your path, and stick to it as much as possible.
19. Mark the Item as Correct When it Doesn’t Scan (Especially Produce)
In many grocery stores, the produce and similar items won’t have barcodes that scan exactly. A lot of the time this is because they use a local producer for their produce. So while the store’s POS will accept the new barcode, Instacary isn’t always the fastest to notice the change. So instead of continuously scanning the product over and over again just mark it as correct (assuming it is), and move on.
The same thing can happen when sizes change. Oftentimes due to shrinkflation, products will change sizes. This is sometimes accompanied by a new barcode, which Instacart will not pick up. So make sure it is the closest size (420g, instead of 450g, etc.) and simply mark it as correct. Most frequently this change happens in cheese and cereal.
20. Don’t Worry About the “Item is Correct” Photo
If you use the above tip and mark the item as correct you will be asked to take a photo. Don’t worry too much about this photo. No one sees it and it is supposed to be for your own records. So just throw it in your cart and take a picture of the item. Don’t worry about getting the barcode in, or anything like that. You can even take it while walking (and you should).
21. Check Dates, and Pick the Farthest in the Future
During your shopping, you’re almost guaranteed to get some form of item that expires. Whether it is milk, sour cream, cottage cheese, or anything else, check the expiry date. Typically stores use FIFO (First In, First Out). This means the oldest items, that expire at the nearest date are at the top and front of the display. Grabbing an item from this range will result in grabbing an item that expires sooner. So make the effort to find the farthest expiry date in the future. The extra 3 seconds it takes you may mean the difference between a bad review and no tip to a good review and an extra tip.
22. Don’t Bag All of the Produce Unless it’s Easier
Almost every order you have will feature some form of produce. To save yourself a ton of time, don’t bag the produce in those clear plastic bags they give you. Unless it makes things easier. Have a bunch of scallions? Just grab the clump and throw it in the cart. You don’t need the bag, the customer doesn’t need the bag, and the environment doesn’t need the bag. Have 8 tomatoes? Grab the bag, keep them together. The last thing you want is 8 squishy tomatoes rolling all over your cart making a mess.
23. Replace Quick, if it’s Obvious
A mistake a lot of new Instacart shoppers make (including me) is to see that you need to replace something, and rather than simply replacing it, messaging the customer and then waiting. Save yourself tons and tons of time and just make the replacement, put it in the seat of the cart, and keep moving. If the customer doesn’t like it, or would rather a refund you can circle back at the end, or send them a message then. If they do like it you just saved yourself a ton of time messaging and waiting.
24. Know What’s Out of Stock
As you shop the same store(s) every time you work you will quickly get to know what is out of stock. Keep these In mind for when you see them pop on another customer’s orders. Because you know that the item is out of stock simply send the customer a message asking what they would like instead; before you even start shopping. That way they have the entire time you are completing their order to get back to you. If in the end they still haven’t replied (happens ~40% of the time) save yourself the trip down the aisle, refund it, and move on.
Showing your knowledge of the store and its offerings makes you both look like an expert, and shows you care. This can result in higher tips, better reviews, and at the end of the door, more money in your pocket.
25. Multi-task. Scan and Walk.
Multi-tasking is the single biggest time saver when shopping for Instacart. Have a single can of soup? Grab it while walking down the aisle, keep walking towards the next item, and scan it while you go. No need to stop and scan every single item when you could not stop at all. Have to grab blueberries, blackberries, and strawberries? They’re typically right beside each other so grab them all at once and then scan all three as you walk to the next location.
By mastering this one tip you could easily cut your picking time by 25%. Over the course of a day, this small increase in time efficiency will mean one, possibly two more orders you’re able to complete. AKA, more money.
26. Get Through the Checkout Screen As Fast as Possible
In today’s modern world you will most likely be using a self-checkout. Some stores (in particular Walmarts) don’t even have cashiers anymore and you’re forced to use a self-checkout. Become familiar with these screens. For a lot that means knowing what order the questions will pop up in at the end when you can insert your card, and knowing how to navigate all the screens, almost mindlessly. by taking fumbling through the self-checkout screen out of the process you’ll quickly improve your checkout time.
Pro Tip: On most self-checkouts if you have an item that needs to be weighed for a price you can put the item on the scale while you’re typing the number. At Walmart in particular it will take 10x as long to wait for it to ask you to weigh the item before putting it on the scale. Just put it on before you even type, save some time.
27. Walk Fast, But Don’t Be Rude
One of the most obvious tips that shouldn’t need to be said, but does. If you want to shop a grocery store faster, walk faster. By following all of these other tips you should know where you’re going three steps in advance, have an idea which aisles will be busy, etc. So move as fast as you can while being safe.
This isn’t to say sprint around the store like a mad person but don’t doddle around taking your time. Still, be careful when turning corners so you don’t turn into anyone, don’t be rude and push past people. Be patient and respectful. But if you’re at the end of a completely empty aisle and have all your items, feel free to speed-walk it like there’s no tomorrow.
28. Bag Your Groceries Yourself
This tip is up for debate as it is largely dependant on your speed. The first couple of times you bag your own groceries you will be slow, painfully slow. But I encourage you to stick with it and keep bagging your own groceries. Not only will you get faster, and be able to keep pace with any cashier; you’ll also be able to sort them how you like. You can keep frozen with frozen, bread with light items, and meat altogether. This attention to detail can mean the difference between no tip and a big tip.
29. Bring Snacks/Lunch
This tip is one no one thinks about. Until you work a full day of Instacart. Instacart is like any other job that is physically demanding and requires you to stand up and walk a lot That takes a lot of calories and you will get tired very quickly. So keep a couple of snacks and portable lunches in your car that you can eat while waiting in the parking lot, walking up to the store, or while getting gas.
This could be a granola bar if your planning to work between meals, leftovers that don’t need to be heated up, or anything that is simple, healthy, and fast. This extra boost of food and energy will help you not only work faster, but keep working faster, and not leave you exhausted at the end of the day.
30. Grab Multiple Items at Once if Possible
A lot of things will have multiples of them ordered. For things like a can of soup, yogurt, cream cheese, grab all of them at once rather than walking back and forth to your cart with one item each time. Grabbing multiple and throwing them all in at once allows you to keep moving and get your shopping done sooner.
31. Bring a Phone Charger
The Instacart app is a battery hog, no two ways about it. I frequently go into a day with a 100% battery charge and by the time I’m stopping to have my lunch my phone is at 30%. Given that your phone is not only the primary means of navigating to houses it is also a necessity when shopping for Instacart. So a dead phone is not something you can have. Simply buy a fast charger and plug your phone in every time you drive an order. You’ll end your day with a full battery, and you won’t have to worry about your phone dying in the middle of an order.
32. Know the International Aisle
The international aisle (in particular in Walmart) is where a lot of common things are found. From ramen noodles to taco shells. From salsa to foreign drinks. On almost every single trip to the store, you will have to enter the international aisle for something. So get to know it, and know it well. Having this particular aisle or section memorized will save you tons of timing when looking for items.
33. Memorize Produce Item Numbers
Since most produce you will buy is loose packed and not pre-packed it likely will not have a barcode, but will instead rely on a produce number that you type in at the checkout to purchase it. Memorizing some of the more popular items’ numbers will save you a ton of time when checking out, as you will likely have to type out their name to find them without the number.
34. Don’t Just Take a Picture, Send a Message When You Drop
This tip is especially true for shopping Instacart during the pandemic. More and more people aren’t wanting you to come up to their door and hand them groceries, and instead would prefer you leave it on their deck. When this is requested the app will tell you to take a picture of the groceries and then make the delivery as complete. But you should go a step beyond this. After you take the picture, and before you mark the delivery as complete send a message letting the customer know that the order is delivered. They’ll appreciate it and you won’t come back an hour to see the order still sitting on their front step, which can lead to terrible reviews.
35. Follow the App in Order, if Possible
Another contentious tip but after a lot of testing, I believe it is best to follow the app. You will quickly learn how accurately the app knows the layout of your chosen store, but in my experience, it is fairly good. If you follow the app it will likely lead you in order up and down every aisle with minimal backtracking required. So follow your app for the order to buy things. It takes stopping to scan your list out of the equation, makes you faster, and minimizes the number of decisions you need to make.
36. Grab All of the Produce, and then Weigh All at Once
Most produce when you grab it will need to be weighed. Rather than grabbing one piece of produce, walking to the scale, measuring it, coming back to your cart, entering it and moving on; grab it all at once. If you have 5 items of produce that will need to be weighed go around and grab all of the items and then, after you have everything in your cart, walk over to the scale and weigh everything. Not making a ton of trips back and forth to the scale will save you a ton of time and make it so you can shop faster, and complete more orders.
37. Treat Store Employees Nicely. They Are Your Friend
Working with Instacart you will have an encounter with store employees. Whether it is asking them where to find something, going through a till, or even just being in the same aisle as them as they restock the store. Be nice to them. Not only should you be nice to everyone, but you are almost guaranteed to see that same employee multiple times per day, every day. Having a good relationship with them will make them more likely to help you in the future, recommend you, and feel comfortable working side by side with you.
Employees of stores are people too and should be treated as such.
38. Bag Similar Items (Frozen with Frozen, etc.)
Bagging groceries is a fine art, especially when it is being prepared for someone other than yourself. So group similar items together. The last thing you want is for that piping hot rotisserie chicken put next to the ice cream. Not only will the chicken cool down, but you’re also almost guaranteed to have melted ice cream by the time you drop the groceries off. So keep frozen/refrigerated together, all heavy items with heavy items, bakery and chips, etc. You want the bags to be a presentation of your ability when the customer opens them and for them to have no issues at all. This means more tips, which means more money.
39. Bag Eggs and Meat by Themselves
Two items that customers are extremely particular about when it comes to bagging are meat and eggs. Meat can sometimes leak, or spill juice all over whatever else is the bag. You can’t really prevent this from happening, but what you can do is make sure that if the meat does leak it only leaks over other meat. This makes it easier to clean up and makes sure that they don’t have to clean off meat juice from their apples before eating them.
Similarly for eggs, because they are so fragile and easily prone to cracking it is best to pack them either by themselves or with extremely light items like chips or bread. This gives your eggs the highest likelihood of serving the car ride and everything that comes after it without breaking. For extra points, and a higher likelihood of tips make sure that if you are handing the bags to the customer in person you tell them which bag has the eggs in it. They appreciate transparency and knowledge, and it is a small thing that goes a long way.
40. Check the Rules on Self-checkout
With self-checkout becoming more and more popular in grocery stores there can be a lot of variance between different stores as to what is allowed with self-checkouts and what isn’t. Some self-checkouts are mandatory, as the stores have no traditional tills, while others are only for express if you have 12 items or less. Knowing these rules ahead of time can help you decide whether you want to use the self-checkout or the till, based on your order.
41. Self-checkout Whenever Possible
Because of the rules mentioned in tip#40, self-checkout is usually the best option for checking out in as fast and efficient a manner as possible. Typically the lines are shorter, there are more tills, and you move at your speed, without the risk of getting the slowest cashier in the building. It also allows you to use all of the tips above to make sure everything is bagged and scanned as quickly as possible, without much in the way of interference to stop you.
Tip: Make sure to check the pop-up on the Instcart app when you first walk into a store. Some stores (Loblaws in particular) don’t allow Instacart users to use self-checkout and instead force them to use a cashier.
Overall there are 41 different ways you can make more money on Instacart. From shopping to checkout and bagging there are small things you can do throughout your entire trip to increase your speed or tips. These things together will make it so you can take more orders, receive more tips, and ultimately make more money on Instacart in 2023.
Do you have any tips that you find to help you make more money on Instacart? Feel free to let me know in the comments or on social media! I would love to hear them!