Get insider information from someone who has been using the grocery delivery service for years.

By Stacey Ballis
December 28, 2020
Each product we feature has been independently selected and reviewed by our editorial team. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.
Directly above shot of a shopping basket, apples and red computer mouse on turquoise background
Credit: the_burtons/Getty Images

I was a very early adopter of grocery delivery services. From the moment Instacart hit Chicago, I was on board. At the time, I was working a very intense job with long hours, and the ability to create a grocery shopping order up to two weeks in advance for delivery on a date and time that was convenient to me was a godsend. My shift to full-time freelance work meant that while grocery shopping time was no longer hard to come by, my need for groceries shifted from a once-a-week schedule to a nearly daily shop. 

As someone who is constantly developing recipes for publications, or testing them for future pieces, suddenly the need to get groceries quickly and efficiently without overly disrupting my work made delivery services that much more indispensable, and I embraced Instacart with the fervor of a zealot. Anything I needed could be at my door in two hours, from all the stores where I sourced most of my basic ingredients. I could order ingredients for the recipe, sit down and write the article, and by the time I was done with the piece, the ingredients would have arrived for the testing to begin, seamless and efficient and well-worth the annual membership fee.

And then the pandemic hit, and suddenly grocery delivery services were more than a convenience, they were a necessity and a literal lifesaver. I have never been more grateful for the existence of these services and the amazing people who do the shopping and delivery than I have been these past nine months. Because I have not set foot in a grocery store since mid-March, and I have still been able to maintain both my work in food writing as well as feeding my household with limited interruption or complications.

As such, I have become an even bigger expert in how to effectively use these services to their best effect. So here are my top tips for Instacart if you are a new user:

Suss out the best day and time to order for your area.

In general, I try to do my Instacarting on Tuesdays or Wednesdays, and I try to place my order late morning or early afternoon. Many stores get slammed over the weekend, and a lot of deliveries come in on Mondays and Tuesday mornings, so for the best selection and chance to get all your goods, waiting for the post-weekend deliveries to be restocked is a good plan.

People who are working "normal" hours, even at home, tend to either do their in-person shopping or online shopping early morning or after work, so hitting those in-between hours will mean a better chance at fast, efficient shopping and delivery. It's not a big deal to shop on other days or times, but my sweet spot of Tuesday or Wednesday between 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. seems to give me the best overall results.

Always take the time to fill in replacement options.

If you request cream cheese and end up with brie, you know the hazards of the grocery delivery replacement process. Your shoppers are not mind readers, so they will do the best they can with your list, but the more information you provide them, the better chance you will have of getting exactly what you want and need. So do take the time to indicate your preferred replacement for each item, whether you want only that one size/brand/item or if they should refund you if the item is unavailable.

If possible, be available for your shopper to communicate with you.

The app will let you know when shopping begins, and most shoppers are great about reaching out to ask you questions or have you approve a refund or replacement option. You can also ask them to grab something you might have forgotten to put on the list. It is not always possible to be available to engage, but if you can, it helps on both sides.

Make delivery safe for the shopper.

Please make sure that your delivery person has a clear and safe path to your door, and if you are having contactless delivery, prepare a safe and obvious place to leave your shopping. Keep paths and stairs shoveled and salted, clear toys and bikes away to prevent trip hazards, and be sure that gates or entries are clearly marked and unlocked for them. If you are meeting them in person, be sure you are wearing a mask.

Tip your shopper generously, especially on large or heavy orders.

Ten percent is my minimum tip always, but I will increase this percentage if my overall total is very low (e.g. $35 is a minimum order), but I think the ante on tipping is a minimum of $5 per trip, so I will be sure to adjust as needed.

I will also tip more if my order is large or contains heavy items. If your shopper needs to make more than one trip from their car to your door, or you have ordered cases of beverages or other weighty items, be sure they feel the love.

This story originally appeared on