Make Money as an Instacart Shopper: What to Expect

Those who enjoy grocery shopping and are looking for a side gig that offers plenty of flexibility have a good option in Instacart.
Making Money, Personal Finance
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Grocery shopping usually means taking money out of your bank account. For Instacart shoppers, it’s a chance to cash in.

Workers make money by shopping for groceries at local stores the company is partnered with and delivering those items to customers’ homes. The hours are flexible and the orders come through Instacart’s shopper app. The key details, like job responsibilities and the way you’d earn, depend on the kind of worker you are: independent contractor or part-time employee.

 The detailsRole
Independent contractor

  • Work an unlimited number of hours per week

  • This role is always available wherever Instacart operates

  • Full-service shopper (includes both shopping and delivering)
Part-time employee

  • Work up to 29 hours per week

  • Access to a 401(k) retirement account

  • Commuter benefit, which provides pre-tax dollars to be used for public transit

  • In-store shopper (only includes filling orders, so these workers aren’t required to have a car)

Here’s what you need to know to get started as an Instacart shopper and what to expect.

Snapshot

  • Work as a part-time employee or an independent contractor
  • Be an in-store shopper or a full-service shopper (the latter includes making deliveries)
  • Set your own schedule
  • Get paid a commission or by the hour, depending on your employment type
  • Cash out weekly

Where you can work

Instacart is available in 38 states and Washington, D.C. Locations range from large urban areas such as San Francisco and New York to smaller communities such as Chevy Chase, Maryland, and Lannon, Wisconsin.

If you see your city or town listed on the company’s list of service areas, that means there are at least independent contractor positions available to you. Those who want a part-time position will have to begin the sign-up process at shoppers.instacart.com to see if any jobs are available.

What you need

There are a handful of basic requirements you need to meet if you want to start making money with Instacart:

  1. Be at least 18 years old. If you want to deliver alcohol, which often results in larger tips, you have to be at least 21.
  2. Be able to lift 40-plus pounds. Workers should be able to do this “with or without assistance” or accommodation.
  3. Have a smartphone. Your smartphone needs to be an iPhone 4s, Android 4.0 or newer.
  4. Pass a background check. Instacart says most shoppers are cleared within 72 hours of activating their account, but the time varies by location.

Independent contractors will also need to have at least two years of driving experience. They need to pass a vehicle or DMV check. The company uses these to make sure workers have a functional car that meets state requirements, like minimum required insurance coverage, and to “assess for any major violations on a prospective shopper’s driving record.” Unlike other driver gigs, like Amazon.com deliveries as well as Uber and Lyft, your car doesn’t need to have four doors to qualify.

Get on board

Getting started on Instacart is a simple process:

  1. Activate your account at shoppers.instacart.com. You’ll need to provide basic information, like your name and location, and give the company permission to perform the background check.
  2. Attend an in-person orientation (for part-time workers only). This lasts about two hours and lets prospective employees try out the job before starting.
  3. Fill out the paperwork. Independent contractors have to sign a contractor agreement and W-9 tax form. Part-time employees need to sign an offer letter and W-4 tax form.
  4. Download the shopper app. That’s where you’ll set your availability, pick up gigs, track your earnings and communicate with Instacart’s help team if you encounter any issues.

Independent contractors also need to have insulated food-delivery bags to control the  temperature of items while in transport. Instacart sells preapproved options that cost $20 for three bags. You can also buy bags elsewhere, provided they meet company specifications.

Take gigs

Delivery windows typically start at 9 a.m. and can go as late as midnight, depending on the area. But workers may be able to pick up earlier shifts if, for example, a customer selected a 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. delivery window. You’d pick the time slots you’re available to work in the company’s shopper app and update your availability whenever necessary. There isn’t a minimum number of hours you need to work.

Notifications from the Instacart shopper app alert workers when gigs or shifts are available.

If you indicate that you’re available to shop and there’s a shift or gig available, you’ll get an app notification 30 minutes before your designated period of availability starts. It’s up to you to promptly accept or reject each offer; otherwise, the gig will go to another shopper. If you accept, you’d go to the designated partner store selected by the customer and start shopping. Both types of workers are required to update their progress, noting any changes or refunded items, through the shopper app so that customers can track their orders. You’d then check out using a preloaded debit card provided by Instacart. Independent contractors might also be responsible for delivering those items to the customer’s home.

Make money

The way you earn depends on the type of worker you are. Part-time employees are paid a fixed, hourly wage that varies by location.

Independent contractors are paid a commission based on the number of items in each order and the number of deliveries completed. Larger orders, which tend to be heavier, receive a larger commission. Commissions are usually higher when more customers than usual put in orders. So working on Sundays and during popular events, like the Super Bowl, can mean more money. Independent workers can also earn tips when making deliveries.

Part-time employees earn a fixed, hourly wage. Independent contractors earn a commission based on the number of items in each order.

Both kinds of workers are paid weekly via direct deposit, so you’ll likely need a checking or savings account to collect your earnings. Part-time employees can also opt for a check to be mailed to their home, which doesn’t necessarily require a bank account. But it takes longer to get paid and may mean paying for check-cashing services.

Independent contractors should also be aware that they may have to make estimated quarterly tax payments. That’s because Instacart doesn’t withhold taxes from earnings like it does for part-time employees.

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