Review: Instacart can save time for a university student, not so much money


As a student with a lot on the go, I’m always looking for ways to save time. Like many other people in my position, I’ve got classes, a part-time job, and on campus activities to juggle, as well as attempting to keep up with homework, friends, and the occasional load of laundry. I also don’t have a car, which makes a lot of the things I do that much harder and more time consuming.

One of the many tasks students have to get done on an almost weekly basis is grocery shopping. The store can be far away (by walking standards) and the list can be quite large because we try to get as much as we can so we don’t have to go back anytime soon. Students must also come home on the bus or by walking, and this means carrying the multiple bags back. And even if you bring your own reusable bags there’s a risk of dropping everything in a comedic slip on some hidden ice. There’s always the option to cab or uber, but even that can be challenge at times.

Recently, The Brock Press wrote about Instacart, the app that lets you do your grocery shopping in the 10 minutes between class, the middle of the night, or any other time of the day. You pick the store and search through the well laid out grid of products, throw them into your list and then pick a delivery time. Pay online with a credit card or visa debit, and all you have to do is answer the door when your shopper arrives.

It seems like a pretty great system, so I gave it a try. I tried instant ordering, pre-ordering a few days in advance and then preordering on a busy Sunday. There are good things, and there are bad things. Here they are:


  • Easy to use app – a well designed app makes all the difference, and Instacart is very simple to use. You can make a grocery list as you go and then search for items from your list. You want milk? Type milk and you can see your options. Tap to add to your cart and then press up or down to add more or less. Very simple.
  • Groceries right to your door – not having to go out anywhere frees up a lot of time that I would normally spend trekking to the store and back, with all those middle bits of walking through a store the size of a football field.
  • They shop the sales – you get a price quoted on the app and sometimes when your shopper is actually doing the shopping the thing is on sale.
  • Fresh produce – instead of going to the store once a month and buying everything in bulk, I can order once or twice a week, and that means vegetables. Otherwise I don’t get very many, I get one salad and a side dish and then I’m out.
  • Packages are made for cars – some items just aren’t’ meant to be carried around. Toilet paper comes in giant flat stacks that fit well in the trunk of a car, but are really difficult to carry on the bus when you’ve got other things with you. Sometimes you need to buy toilet paper. Or paper towels. Or cat litter. Heavy and awkward don’t seem to make a difference for Instacart.


  • Produce and meat – You can get all the fresh vegetables and meat products you want, but you don’t get to choose if the price is too high. You choose how much you want by weight, but there’s no way to know that’s what you’re going to get. The packages are what they are. Sometimes it costs a lot more than you thought.
  • Service charges and delivery fees – these are different. Service charges always happen, and delivery fees happen if you don’t subscribe to Instacart express (which is a one time $99 charge for an entire year, not really what I’m looking for on my tight budget)
  • Shoppers are people – that seems like it’s not something you’d have to say but here we are. If Instacart works anything like Skip The Dishes, then there are penalties to the drivers if they are late. I saw this when my shopper replaced a lot of the items I had chosen with similar but more expensive and possibly easier to grab items, even some that I had requested not be replaced if they were not available. When she arrived at my door she was clearly in a panic about getting to me on time. She said she’d been told she had to arrive before 8:55 a.m. I had set my order between 9:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m.
  • Timing – both pre-orders that I did came before the time window I had selected. I live relatively close to the grocery store if you’re driving, so in that respect I sort of understand. But If I place an order for 9:00 a.m. and they come at 8:50 a.m., I might not be home.  

Once in a while, ordering some groceries from Instacart is going to save your skin. You’ll have fresh food in an hour, or the time you choose. Other times, you’ll want to just run out and get things yourself to save a few dollars. I would recommend getting the app for every once in a while, but the delivery charges, service charges, and tips for the shopper can really add up. Forking over the cash for a yearly subscription might not be worth it when the weather gets nicer.


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