Screenshot of Instacart's Website
Instacart even delivers alcohol. 
I've always been fascinated by companies that are taking something that has been traditionally done offline and bringing it online. We live in an on-demand economy, and companies are making peoples’ daily lives easier with a few taps on your phone, whether it’s a ride home (Lyft), a place to crash for the night (Hotel Tonight), or your home professionally cleaned (Home Joy). So why should grocery shopping be any different? I'm excited to say it doesn't have to be. 

When I moved up to Boston from Florida and sold my car, one of the things I wondered how I would accomplish is grocery shop. Back in Florida, I would go shopping about every two to three weeks and bulk up. How could we possibly carry $100 worth of food on the subway?! (We actually tried this a few times...miserable experience.) Then I decided to rent a ZipCar, which made things easier but it felt like I was in an episode of Supermarket Sweep trying to get the car back in time before the clock ran out. 

Then someone told me about Peapod, an online grocery delivery service from the folks behind Stop & Shop and Giant. I used Peapod for about four years, ordering at least once a month. We would supplement our orders by going to the Trader Joe's down the street in Coolidge Corner or the Johnnie's Fresh Market in St. Mary's, but the majority of our grocery shopping was on Peapod. However, in 2014 things changed. A competitor from San Francisco named InstaCart came to town. Now I had two choices and, after trying both, here is my opinion. 

Why you should order your groceries online

First, I think if you are still doing your grocery shopping in person and live in a city where Instacart is offered, you're crazy. Sure, my grandmother will never buy groceries online (she doesn't even have the internet), but you my friend are reading this blog and clearly have access to the internet. I guess if you like going to the grocery store, finding parking, figuring out what aisle Srichari is in, waiting in the checkout line behind a woman who could be on TLC's Extreme Couponing, and carrying your groceries up multiple flights of stairs, then by all means stop reading now. However, if you want a (most of the time) seamless process to avoid all of the above and shop from the comfort of your home, then read on. 

Peapod in a Nutshell

I think I'm one of the few people in Boston that never had major issues with Peapod, or perhaps I just had some pretty low expectations. I learned quickly to never order produce or fruit from them, because it never seemed fresh. They also were consistently out of stock on certain items. We love to make pizza at home and they would never have whole wheat crust, so they always substituted original. The website seemed glitchy (maybe it's because I was using Chrome). The delivery minimum was $60 and you had to put your order in a day in advance, often times two days in advance to get a delivery slot that wasn't during normal work hours. However, they never missed a delivery window for us (some of my friends have had different experiences), they always knew where my building was and would come right up the stairs without asking for directions or where to park. Also, they always have a variety of sale items online. However, I always thought the process could be improved upon, and Instacart came along and did just that. It's not that Peapod is bad, it's just that Instacart is better. 

Benefits that InstaCart has over Peapod:
Instacart Shopping Bag
Just look at this beautiful bag.
  • Delivery available in under an hour
  • Delivery minimum is only $10 
  • Ability to order from multiple stores, even on the same order (for me this is Shaw's, Market Basket, Whole Foods, and Costco - no membership required) 
  • Booze available for purchase
  • Ability to add specific items if not listed online (called a special request)
  • Excellent customer service (it is almost impossible to find a Peapod phone number or email address; on the other hand, I was once charged for an item I didn't receive from Instacart and after I sent a quick email, I received a refund within an hour)
  • You can actually pick your substitution if an item is out of stock, and most of the time the shoppers will confirm this with you (Peapod has substitutions, but it is whatever they deem appropriate, or sometimes you don't get the item at all)
  • The same person who is buying your groceries is delivering them
  • Awesome eco-friendly grocery bags (my wife thought they were so nice that she asked if we needed to return them)
  • Ability to rate the shoppers
The Instacart Personal Shopper

The other great thing about Instacart is the shoppers. They are everyday people like you and me just trying to make some extra cash. If you have a car and can find your way around the produce section, you can sign up to become a personal shopper. Instacart says that the personal shoppers make an average of about $20 an hour (based on the number of orders they handle and the size of the orders). I still remember my first Instacart personal shopper's name, Chris (he also handled my second order). He called me from Shaw's saying they were out of a certain type of bacon I had selected and asked if a different brand was ok. I then remembered I had forgotten to order a sub roll, so I shot him a text and asked for one, and sure enough it made the cut. The service definitely had a different feel than Peapod. At first I thought it was a little amateur-like, but then I realized I was confusing amateur with friendly.

Why Instacart Isn't Perfect

A lot of items from stores are not yet listed online. Right now, when I look for cereal from Costco on Instacart only one item comes up and it's a Nutri-Grain bar. Yes, I could add a special request for Cap'n Crunch, but I don't know if Costco carries Cap'n Crunch or what size it's going to be. Also, units of measurement need improvement. For example, when I ordered three pounds of chicken breast for around $10 from Costco, seven pounds showed up costing $20. Another example is when I wanted to buy a jalapeno, it wanted to know how many pounds I wanted. Who buys jalapenos by the pound? I only needed two, so I had to put in a special request. I can only imagine what it's like to add an entire grocery store's stock online, but from a user's perspective, it needs improvement. I believe they will get there eventually, and keep in mind the company isn't even two years old yet. Here is a story about how the founder of Instacart hacked his way into Y-Combinator (a startup accelerator in San Francisco), where it all began. To be fair, Instacart does not have any formal partnerships with grocery chains, they just send in shoppers and pick up what you ordered.

Instacart & Peapod Pricing

Peapod charges $6.95 for orders over $100, and $9.95 for orders under $100 (order minimum is $60). Instacart charges a $3.99 fee for orders over $35, and $7.99 for orders under $35 (order minimum is $10 and check out the link below for $10 off). Also, for $99 a year you could get Instacart Express, where you can get your apples, steaks (or tofu if that's your thing), and ice cream delivered for "free" as long as the order exceeds $35. However, Instacart does price their own items, meaning what you pay can vary from the in-store price (likely based on some complicated algorithm). To be honest, I haven't really noticed much of a price difference compared to the actual store price. Some items cost the same, others a little more. Remember, this is how Instacart generates revenue and pays for their wonderful shoppers. Plus, you need to factor in the convenience cost. 

Instacart is currently operating in: Boston, Chicago, San Francisco, Philadelphia, and D.C. (Los Angeles & NYC are next). This post wasn't meant to be a Peapod vs. InstaCart, but I guess it sort of turned out like that. 

Give Instacart a shot! Click the referral link for $10 off your first Instacart order!