Make Money Side Hustles

Ultimate Guide to Earning Money as a Shopper with Instacart [2024]

See how Instacart works and how much you could earn as a shopper.

Updated July 8, 2024
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Instacart

OUR VIEW

If you’re like me, you’re always looking for ways to supplement your income. Today’s cost of living is no joke. Fortunately, there are many opportunities to run a side hustle, especially if you live in a major metropolitan area. By now, you’ve probably heard of the opportunities to earn money with gigs like Uber and DoorDash, but Instacart is a gig opportunity you shouldn't ignore.

I love grocery shopping, so this was a no-brainer gig for me. Shopping other people’s lists, ensuring they get the right products, and providing excellent customer service allows me to earn a decent side income. The best part is I can work when I want, so there’s no pressure if I’m not feeling up to it or have other obligations. If you don’t have a car, there are opportunities to be an in-store shopper too. Either way, if you love shopping, this could be a great side hustle to consider.

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If you're not an Instacart Shopper yet | If you're already an Instacart Shopper

Pros

Make your own schedule and work when you want
Get paid quickly, with options for weekly direct deposits or instant cash-out payments
Opportunity to just work in store if you don't have a car

Cons

Car insurance and driver's license required for full-service shoppers
You’re responsible for all expenses, including gas, insurance, and car maintenance
The income isn’t predictable or stable
How we evaluate products

What is Instacart?

Instacart is a grocery delivery service that partners with 1,400+ retailers, including big names like Meijer, Kroger, and Publix.

The Instacart app connects shoppers like myself with customers who need groceries delivered. I love that I get to pick the orders I want to accept, and the Instacart app makes it easy to connect with my customers while I shop if I have questions or concerns about their orders.

How Instacart works as a shopper

After downloading the Instacart app and signing up, I could accept available orders. Instacart allows me to grab orders when I want or set up notifications to learn when orders are available in my area. As I gained experience, I noticed I had access to more orders, especially as my star rating increased.

Whenever I take an order, I must update my progress as I go, such as when I arrive at the store and begin shopping, the items I locate, and the items I cannot find, or I must refund the customer. This keeps the customer on the same page, making my job much easier.

How I get paid as an Instacart shopper

After I complete an order, the customer can tip me. This is where a big part of my earnings come from, and it is why I focus on good customer service. As far as payment, Instacart offers a couple of options, one of which is direct weekly pay, which is what I choose. I don’t have to worry about withdrawing funds; they arrive in my bank account on the same day each week.

Shoppers can also choose the instant cash-out option. You can access your batch pay (more on this below) in minutes or wait two hours and cash out the full earnings, including the customer tips.

Full-service vs. In-store shoppers

When signing up for Instacart, I had to decide whether to be a full-service or in-store shopper. I chose full-service because I have a car and like the flexibility of choosing the orders I want.

Full-service shoppers

As a full-service shopper, I am an independent contractor. This means I’m responsible for all my expenses and paying self-employed income taxes since I don’t have an employer withdrawing them from my pay.

I don’t have to worry about assigned shifts. I can pick up batches when I am available to work. I also can decline batches if they don’t seem worth the time or money, which is great since I use Instacart as a side job.

I like that Instacart shows me all the necessary details to determine if a batch is worth it. This includes:

  • A map showing your current location and a pin of the delivery address
  • Your estimated earnings, including digital tips (this doesn’t include possible cash tips)
  • Number of items in the order
  • Total driving distance
  • Whether the order requires heavy lifting

There’s no penalty for not accepting a batch, so I never feel pressured to accept one.

After accepting an order, I head to the store using Instacart’s directions, although I usually know my way. Once I’m in the store and ready, I click ‘start shopping, and the customer knows I’ve begun gathering their items.

As I shop, I scan the items in the app. This lets the customer know which items I’ve found and which are unavailable. I usually message the customer to see if they want a replacement or if I should refund them for that item.

After completing the order, I head to the checkout and pay using the Instacart-issued payment card. I know some areas also have the option for Scan & Pay. This option allows shoppers to scan and pay as they shop and only requires them to check out at the Scan & Pay kiosk rather than waiting in line.

In-Store Shoppers

I could also be an in-store shopper, but I chose full-service for the flexibility. In-store shoppers are considered part-time Instacart employees. They’re responsible for shopping in-store for batch items and staging (i.e., bagging and labeling) orders for pick-up.

This type of shopper role is only available in select zones and store locations; not every store or location offers in-store shoppers.

I didn’t choose to be an in-store shopper because you must work scheduled shifts. However, you are an Instacart employee, which is nice because then you don’t have to worry about self-employment taxes. In-store shoppers can work up to 29 hours per week and do not need a car.

In-store shoppers receive customers’ orders and shop for them in-store. The only thing they don’t do is deliver the order; the customer picks it up. In-store shoppers are also responsible for staging the orders. This means storing the orders in the appropriate areas, such as in dedicated refrigerators and shelves for non-perishable items, until the customer retrieves them.

Who can be an Instacart shopper?

The requirements vary for Instacart shoppers, depending on the role you want.

Full-service shopper

Full-service shoppers can work as many hours a week as they want. To be eligible, you must:

  • Be at least 18 years old or older
  • Have legal authorization to work in the U.S. or Canada
  • Have a smartphone capable of running the Instacart Shopper app
  • Have regular access to a reliable car
  • Be about to lift up to 30lbs without accommodation
  • Adhere to Instacart's food safety policies

This role is ideal if you have a car and don’t mind putting miles on your vehicle. It’s also a better fit if you’re looking to make this a full-time gig since hours aren’t restricted, but it also works well as a side hustle in the evenings, which is what I do. I personally like the control I have over my earnings in this role.

In-store shopper

Aside from working the required minimum amount of hours and having the ability to get to your assigned store on time, in-store shoppers must:

  • Be at least 18 years old
  • Be eligible to work in the U.S.
  • Have a bank account
  • Have consistent access to a recent smartphone
  • Be about to lift up to 30lbs without accommodation

I think this position is best for those who like predictable schedules, who aren’t excited by the thought of maximizing earnings by learning the busiest times to shop, and who would rather have predictability.

How much does Instacart pay?

How much you earn depends on the type of shopper you are and how often you work. In-store shoppers earn an hourly wage, so the earnings are more predictable, and full-service shoppers, like me, earn based on the following:

  • Batch pay: This base pay is what you earn for driving to the store, shopping for the order, and delivering it to the customer. The app tells you how much the batch pay is for an order before you accept it.
  • Promotions: Instacart runs promotions when they need more shoppers or to build momentum in certain areas. These earnings are in addition to your batch pay.
  • Tips: Any tips customers leave are 100% for the shopper. I love this part because I provide excellent customer service to increase my earnings.

How much you’ll earn depends on where you live and when you shop, but earning $100 per day or more is easy if you set your mind to it.

How to maximize your earnings with Instacart

Here are a few things I do to maximize my earnings with Instacart:

  • Get familiar with the busy hours: I try to shop only when I know the demand is typically high. This increases my chances of getting more orders.
  • Drive a fuel-efficient car: Since I drive a lot, I drive a fuel-efficient vehicle that fits my budget, so I don’t waste all my earnings on gas.
  • Scroll through the shopping list: I avoid wasting time doubling back to the same aisles by scrolling through the entire batch order to familiarize myself with what the list includes so I can get everything the first time through the store.
  • Move fast but safely: The faster I move, the more batches I can take. Of course, I must ensure accuracy with my order picking and be safe while doing it.
  • Communicate with customers: If a desired item isn’t available, I message the customer immediately. If I don’t get a response, I refund the item rather than wasting time guessing what they might want.

How to become a shopper

If you’re ready to become an Instacart shopper, you’ll start by submitting your basic information online or via the Shopper app.

Once you’ve registered an account, you can complete full-service shopper applications in the app or online, and you can return to where you left off if you can’t complete the process in one sitting.

Applying for an in-store shopper role is initiated by filling out a form through the app or online. If you don’t want to be considered for a full-service shopper role, make sure to note this on the application.

If you're already an Instacart shopper

Tips for making more money with your side hustle

  • Use Keeper: Keeper is a service that can take the stress out of tax filing for freelancers and gig workers. Instead of scrambling to find all my receipts at the end of the year, I use the Keeper app to monitor my work-related purchases all year round. Read our Keeper review for more details on how this service can help you keep more money in your pocket.
  • Use the right credit card: Since Instacart shopping requires a lot of driving, I try to use one of the best gas credit cards to earn cash back or points for all my miles. For example, the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express earns 6% cash back at U.S. supermarkets (for first $6,000 per year, after that 1%) and on select U.S. streaming services, 3% cash back at U.S. gas stations and on eligible transit, and 1% cash back on other eligible purchases.
  • Earn interest on extra cash: It's important to make my money work for me. This means putting it in one of the best savings accounts, where I can earn a higher rate of interest than in a traditional bank account.
  • Invest earnings: I try to earmark my Instacart earnings for special purchases or financial goals and invest with a robo-investing app like Stash. With Stash, I can automate my investments and buy fractional shares, which also means I can buy into my favorite companies without needing a ton of money.1

Keeper Benefits

  • Keeper gives you AI-powered write-off detection that instantly identifies tax deductions
  • Get smart tax filing and unlimited, round-the-clock access to tax experts
  • Hyper-intuitive user experience makes tax filing seamless

FAQs

Can you earn tips as an Instacart shopper?

As an Instacart Full-Service Shopper, you can earn tips. Instacart gives its customers the option to include a tip through the app. The platform sets a minimum default tip of 5%, but the amount they suggest depends on the order attributes and your personal tip history.

However, customers can change the amount or offer no tip at all. Similarly, customers can give shoppers a cash tip upon delivery at their discretion.

Does Instacart do background checks?

Instacart performs background checks that you must clear before becoming an active shopper. Depending on your area, this process generally takes two to seven business days.

Do you need a license and car insurance to work for Instacart?

If you’re applying for an Instacart Full-Service Shopper role, they require a driver’s license and car insurance to make Instacart deliveries. The level of car insurance coverage required depends on your local laws. 

You don't need a license or vehicle if you're an in-store shopper. However, you’ll want reliable transportation to get to your store.

What is Instacart Express?

Instacart+ (formerly known as Instacart Express) is a service offered by Instacart that lets customers order from multiple stores for one low fee. Membership costs $9.99 a month or $99 a year, and delivery fees are waived (on orders $35+ per retailer) for Instacart Express members. 

However, there are still service fees, but Instacart advertises them as "lower service fees" for Instacart+ members.

How many retail partners does Instacart have?

Instacart partners with 1,400+ retail partners throughout the country.

How do you get more batches with Instacart?

The number of batches you can claim on Instacart may vary based on several factors, including your location, customer ratings, and when or how often you work. 

To increase the number of batches you get, ensure great customer service and set your app to ‘available’ when there are a lot of orders.

Other side hustles to consider

Instacart can be a lucrative side hustle if you’re able to maximize your hours and time and get lucky with big tips and bonuses. Another similar option with the potential for higher earnings is Shipt. You can compare Shipt vs. Instacart directly and determine which is the better fit for you.

I will admit that professional shopping isn’t for everyone. Don’t worry; some of the best side hustles don’t require shopping for someone else’s groceries. Other opportunities to make money include driving for Uber or Lyft, delivering for DoorDash or Uber Eats, or even answering online surveys. As you learn how to make money, choose the gigs you are happiest doing, and you’ll maximize your earnings like I have.

Make your own schedule and work when you want
Get paid quickly, with options for weekly direct deposits or instant cash-out payments
Opportunity to just work in store if you don't have a car

Author Details

Samantha Hawrylack

Samantha Hawrylack is a writer with more than five years of experience. Her work has been published in Newsweek, MarketWatch, USA Today, Rocket Mortgage, BiggerPockets, Crediful, and many more. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Finance and a Master of Business Administration from West Chester University of Pennsylvania, and she was previously a brokerage investment professional with Series 7 and 63 licenses at Vanguard.

Author Details

Jennifer Calonia

Jennifer Calonia is a native Los Angeles-based writer and editor with eight years of experience in personal finance. She's passionate about helping others pay off debt, navigate family finance, and use rewards credit cards, responsibly. She's been featured on Forbes, The Huffington Post, Business Insider, Credit Karma, Nerdwallet, and more. To find more information about her work, visit JenniferCalonia.com.