One of the best things about living in the Bay Area is that we get lots of things first. I saw Zero Dark Thirty several days before its general release, for instance. We also get lots of experimental or startup services and businesses. Some of these services stick around, like Über. Some, like Cherry, the we-come-to-you car wash service that recently folded, do not.
Recently I got a promotional e-mail advertising Instacart, a new grocery delivery business. Their business plan is simple: you go to their site, pick out groceries from Safeway or Trader Joe’s, and they deliver your order to you. You can pay $15 for delivery within an hour, or $4 for delivery within a one-hour window that you specify. LivingSocial was offering $30 worth of groceries for $15 (disclaimer: referral link), so I jumped on the deal and headed to their site to place an order… or two.
Using the site was painless. I had to plug in a credit card and delivery address, then I was able to browse and search for the things I wanted to order. I didn’t do an exhaustive search, but I had no trouble finding all the stuff I wanted. I ordered a basket of groceries from each of the two stores: chicken pot pies, honey-wheat bread, sliced peppered turkey breast, sliced pepper jack cheese, and bananas from Trader Joe’s and milk, Jimmy Dean sausage, red beans, yogurt, pears, and orange juice from Safeway. I scheduled both orders for delivery between 7 and 8 pm, got an order confirmation text, and went on about my business. Here’s what happened:
- 7:44: sure enough, my phone dinged to tell me that TJ’s was out of pot pies and bread, but that my order would arrive at around 8:10. That was followed almost instantly by another text message telling me that Safeway was out of yogurt.
- 8:19: I got an e-mail from Jen saying that they were running a bit behind and that I should expect delivery between 8:30 and 8:45.
- 8:23 I got another text advising me of an 8:45 delivery time. Since none of these e-mails or text messages told me which order, I couldn’t tell which they were for, but I guess most of their customers don’t place multiple concurrent orders.
- 8:31: An e-mail arrived with a nicely designed receipt for my TJ’s order. It clearly showed what I ordered, what was out of stock, and what the total amount charged to my credit card would be.
- 8:35: the delivery driver called to tell me he had both my orders. I picked them up, tipped him $5, and that was that.
When I unpacked the groceries, I noted that they’d gotten everything right with a minor exception: I got a can of diced tomatoes and a container of spices that I didn’t order. I wasn’t charged for them, but I imagine some other customer will be wondering where their spaghetti-sauce ingredients got off to.
What did all this cost? Well, the groceries cost their regular in-store prices, meaning I lost out on any Safeway loyalty-card discounts, as well as any in-store specials or sales. Your first order delivery charge is waived; the second order cost $3.99. I consider that money exceptionally well spent given the amount of time it saved me: no looking for a parking space, no shopping-cart jousting in the store, and no waiting in line. Instacart definitely rewards advance planning; I’ll probably wait until I have a larger single order, and I’ll use the notes field on the order form to specify substitutions (e.g. it would have been fine if they’d brought me a different flavor of yogurt instead of none at all).
Overall this was a good first experience, and I’ll definitely be using Instacart again.