In the first years of the 21st century, the idea of using your smartphone to order groceries online probably sounded ridiculous. For decades, heading to your local grocery store has been a weekly ritual. But with the COVID-19 pandemic and accompanying rise of food delivery apps, this trend is changing. According to a Mercatus report, online grocery sales will grow to more than $250 billion by 2025, up from $35 billion in 2019.
Currently, the grocery delivery space is far from consolidated. And while the likes of Amazon and Walmart are working to solidify themselves as industry leaders, the gig economy is also powering two popular grocery delivery services: Shipt and Instacart.
If you’re planning to order groceries online, Shipt and Instacart are both reliable, user-friendly choices. However, there are some differences in availability, pricing, and membership fees that impact your experience and which service is best for you.
There are numerous benefits to grocery delivery services like Shipt and Instacart. Most notably, grocery delivery lets you avoid going to the store, a major selling point during COVID-19. Additionally, they save time, especially if you’re living without a vehicle and grocery shopping involves walking or lengthy trips on public transportation.
However, ordering groceries through a third-party service like Shipt or Instacart is usually more expensive than shopping in a store. That’s because these services often upcharge products slightly and can have service and delivery fees. To many, it’s worth the extra cost for the personalized service (such as working with you to find a suitable substitute) many delivery app shoppers give thanks to the promise of a tip.
But considering the extra cost, it’s crucial you understand these services’ features, what stores are available, and what’s best for your shopping preferences and budget.
Partner availability is one of the principal factors for picking Shipt versus Instacart. Currently, Instacart has broader market coverage, but you should still check both companies to see if they deliver in your city.
Shipt originally began operations in Birmingham, Alabama, and gradually grew to over 100 cities. However, since Target acquired Shipt in 2017, the platform has expanded to 5,000 U.S. cities. You can also enjoy same-day delivery from Target in markets where Shipt operates.
Instacart operates in the United States and Canada. The company began operations in San Francisco in 2012 and has since grown to over 5,000 U.S. cities. Instacart is also available in several hundred Canadian cities.
As with Shipt, you can enter your zip or postal code on Instacart’s website to see if they serve your area.
Generally, both platforms partner with most major grocery chains and many big-box retailers. However, you can view a list of specific stores available in your area by entering your address on each website.
Shipt Partner Stores
Since Target owns Shipt, you can order groceries and everyday essentials from Target right to your door. Aside from Target, other supported grocers and retailers include:
- ABC Fine Wine & Spirits
- Office Depot
The limiting factor is whether partner stores are in your area. For example, if you enter a zip code for Daytona Beach, Florida, you can order from just a handful of retailers, such as Publix, CVS, and GNC. But if you enter a zip code in New York City, your list of options is significantly more extensive.
Instacart Partner Stores
One advantage of using Instacart over Shipt is the list of partner stores. Currently, Instacart works with over 300 grocery and retailer partners, including:
- Sam’s Club
- ABC Fine Wine & Spirits
When you enter the Daytona zip code on Instacart, the delivery options are more extensive than with Shipt. Additionally, in select markets, there are a few notable Instacart partners, like Aldi and Walmart, you don’t get with Shipt. Interestingly, Instacart also works with Target in some cities.
Generally, both platforms have enough partnerships that ordering groceries and everyday essentials isn’t a problem. However, if you want stores like Aldi or Walmart or just more selection overall, Instacart is superior.
Sign-Up & Ordering Processes
Ordering essentials online can take some getting used to. You have to double-check quantity and package sizing and accept that you can’t touch and inspect what you’re ordering. Online, it’s easy to order the wrong thing when the packaging for the smaller and larger quantities is similar. For example, in a Web image, the 6-ounce Hunt’s tomato paste looks very similar to the 12-ounce can. You aren’t likely to make that mistake in person.
Thankfully, both Shipt and Instacart make ordering from your computer or smartphone relatively intuitive.
Shipt Sign-Up & Ordering
To sign up for Shipt, you start by entering your zip code. If Shipt is in your city, you create an account with your email address or by connecting through Facebook.
You can order groceries through the website or the Shipt app for Android and iOS. The interface organizes grocery products into what you’d typically see as a grocery store layout, with categories like meat, dairy, and produce. You can also search for specific products or brands. Finally, Shipt lets you create and save store-specific grocery lists, which is useful if you consistently order the same products each week.
Once you build your virtual grocery list, you checkout. You can schedule deliveries or request delivery as soon as one hour after placing your order.
Currently, Shipt lets you pay via credit or debit card. You can also use reloadable gift cards if they have a three-digit CVV (card verification value) code on the back. Unfortunately, you can’t pay with a Target RedCard or EBT card.
Instacart Sign-Up & Ordering
You create an Instacart account by entering your zip or postal code on the website and signing up with your email or Facebook account. Available stores in your area appear under the Stores tab. You begin building your grocery list on the website or through the Instacart app for Android and iOS.
As for the interface, Instacart and Shipt are similar. Products are organized in categories, and you can search for specific products to add to your shopping cart. Saving shopping lists also speeds up future ordering.
Instacart also lets you create group orders with multiple people, although you can’t split payment between multiple Instacart accounts. However, group orders are useful if you’re ordering groceries with roommates or friends and don’t want to give them your log-in credentials. It can track the additions under a single account, and you can divvy up payment later.
When you’re ready to check out, schedule a delivery window or request delivery as soon as possible. Payment options include debit, credit, Apple Pay, and Google Pay. EBT cards are eligible in select markets for Aldi and Food Lion.
Delivery Speed & Options
Both Shipt and Instacart advertise themselves as same-day grocery delivery services. For the most part, that’s true. However, there are some notable limitations to delivery timing both companies face.
Shipt delivers using a network of Shipt shoppers, who are independent contractors who make money delivering groceries. Availability of Shipt shoppers is ultimately the limiting factor on how fast you get your delivery.
When you place an order, Shipt displays a list of the next available delivery times. That can be as fast as one hour after placing your order. But if there’s a surge in orders, you might have to wait a day or so. However, deliveries are available whenever shoppers are working and stores are open, which means 24-hour delivery for some retailers.
For delivery options, you typically have a Shipt shopper drop groceries off at your address. There’s a “leave at door” option for contactless delivery so you can avoid meeting your Shipt shopper face-to-face. You don’t even have to be home for delivery.
You can leave instructions for your shopper on how to deliver. Instructions can include a door code to get into your building or more specific requests, like delivering to a side door. You can also schedule pickup orders, although this feature isn’t available in every city.
Instacart also lets you request delivery as soon as one hour after placing your order or schedule deliveries for later.
However, like Shipt, Instacart shopper availability influences how fast deliveries arrive. If there’s a surge in orders, it can’t guarantee a one-hour delivery window. When you check out, Instacart shows the estimated delivery time so you have a general idea of when your groceries will arrive.
Delivery windows start at 9am local time and run until midnight. You can request contactless delivery or schedule store pickup. You don’t have to be home to accept an order from your personal shopper. Like Shipt, you can also include delivery instructions like door codes or where to drop off orders to help your shopper complete their job.
There are inherent advantages to shopping for yourself. For starters, it’s nice to inspect things like produce or meat before you buy. When shopping, you also want the ability to make last-minute purchases or substitutions if a store is out of a particular product.
Shipt and Instacart don’t beat shopping in person in terms of control. However, these platforms save you time, and there’s still a range of customization options you can use when ordering to help you get exactly what you want.
Shipt Order Customization
You can leave instructions for your Shipt shopper or adjust a live order through the website and app. The three main customization features are:
- Live Order Updates. Add or remove products from your order up to one hour before the scheduled delivery window. Shipt also lets you add notes to products to inform your shopper about specific preferences, like the ripeness level you prefer for fruit.
- Special Requests. Shipt doesn’t display a complete inventory list for retail partners, so it’s sometimes tricky to find less popular products. However, you can leave special requests for your Shipt shopper to ask them to find specific products. You should mention the brand, quantity, and any details that can help them understand what you want. If they accept and find the product, a $6 placeholder charge appears on your order. Final pricing updates at checkout to match Shipt’s actual price for that product.
- Substitutions. Shipt shoppers message you through their mobile app if something on your shopping list is out of stock. You can then adjust your order with substitute products that are in stock. Alternatively, you can change your substitution preferences in advance to mention substitution preferences or allow your Shipt shopper to make substitutions without having to message you.
If you want to cancel your order, you have up to one hour before your scheduled delivery window.
Instacart Order Customization
Instacart also has several customization features you can use to update current orders and communicate with your shopper. However, Instacart primarily relies on customers adding notes to products on their shopping lists to inform shoppers about their preferences, and communication is really a second line of quality assurance.
Instacart’s customization features include:
- Item Instructions. Add specific instructions to products you add to your cart before checkout or even after placing your order. It’s like Shipt’s note feature and helps you inform shoppers about your preferences. If you add new instructions to an order, you must do it before your Instacart shopper begins shopping. Item instructions carry over to future orders.
- Replacement Instructions. Like item instructions, Instacart lets you set rules for how shoppers handle replacements. You can mark products as “replace with best match,” “don’t replace,” or choose a specific replacement product yourself.
- Order Changes. Instacart lets you add or remove products from your order as long as your shopper hasn’t started shopping. You can also edit replacement and item instructions or cancel an order before they start shopping.
If you need to communicate with your shopper, you can send a message through Instacart’s app or website. It’s helpful if you want to confirm changes to your order, ask about specific product replacements, or have another question about your order and delivery time.
Pricing, Coupons, & Loyalty Cards
Shipt and Instacart are similar in terms of their ordering process and delivery times. However, there are some differences between the companies regarding how you take advantage of online coupons and loyalty programs.
Shipt Pricing, Coupons, & Deals
Until recently, Shipt didn’t offer coupons, which was a significant downside to the platform. However, digital coupons are now occasionally available for various products. These are online-only coupons that apply to eligible products when you checkout. The coupons aren’t the same as ongoing in-store sales. Ultimately, it’s a nice addition to the platform, but don’t expect to start extreme couponing with countless Shipt deals.
Shipt also states that their weekly prices and deals don’t always reflect in-store prices. Typically, Shipt upcharges products by around 10% to 15% over store prices.
Finally, Shipt doesn’t let you add loyalty cards to your account. So if you usually earn points from shopping in person at retailers like Kroger and Food Lion, you lose this bonus by using Shipt.
Instacart Pricing, Coupons, & Deals
Instacart highlights products with eligible coupons so you can look for bargains when ordering. According to Instacart, these are manufacturer’s coupons and automatically apply when you purchase an eligible product.
One massive advantage of Instacart over Shipt is that you can add loyalty cards to your account. Participating retailers vary depending on your area, but you can usually earn rewards from retailers like Kroger and Costco.
Instacart’s prices are usually slightly higher than in-store prices since retailers pay Instacart a commission on products. However, prices on Shipt and Instacart are similar. If you create an identical grocery list with both platforms, your orders will likely have a few dollars difference at most.
One way grocery delivery companies compete for business is by offering referral bonuses for inviting your friends to the platform. Alternatively, if your friends are already using Shipt or Instacart, you can ask them to invite you so you both get a discount.
Shipt gives you a $10 account credit if you invite a friend to join. Your referral also gets them a $10 discount on their annual Shipt membership. Your account credit appears after they have been a member for 30 days and placed one order. There’s no limit to how many people you can refer.
Instacart lets you invite up to five people to try the delivery service. You get a $10 account credit if a referral places an order. Your referral also gets a $10 credit on their first order to sweeten the deal.
Setting up product preference notes and substitution rules and communicating with your shopper help reduce the chance you have problems with Shipt or Instacart.
However, shoppers are human, and mistakes are possible. Thankfully, both companies have various policies to protect you from incorrect orders.
Shipt Customer Service
If a product is missing, damaged, or incorrect, you can request a refund within seven days of delivery. You can also leave specific feedback about your experience when submitting a refund request.
Shipt also offers live chat through their app or website. Alternatively, email support is available at email@example.com, and you can call Shipt support at 205-502-2500.
Instacart Customer Service
If your order is missing products or has damaged or incorrect items, Instacart offers refunds within seven days of delivery. Additionally, Instacart can offer credits or refunds if you report a problem like unsatisfactory product replacements. Early or late delivery can also qualify for credits.
Instacart has live chat support, and you can call 888-246-7822 for phone assistance. There’s also a daily support line from 8am to 11pm Eastern customers over age 60 can use to learn to order groceries online. The support line for older adults’ number is 844-981-3433.
Shipt & Instacart Pricing
Shipt and Instacart prices are similar, and you usually pay around 10% to 15% over regular store prices.
However, there are some significant differences in platform fees, order minimums, and the overall cost for customers, depending on how frequently you order.
You need a Shipt membership to get a delivery. Annual membership costs $99 and a monthly membership is $14 per month, or $168 per year.
If you don’t want to commit to a membership, you can buy Shipt passes for a one-time fee per delivery. You have three options for buying passes:
- Single Pass: $10
- Three Passes: $27
- Five Passes: $40
Delivery is free on orders over $35. Orders under $35 have a $7 delivery fee. This pricing model also applies to pickup orders. Shipt doesn’t charge surge pricing, although your delivery might be slower if Shipt shoppers are extremely busy.
Tipping your Shipt shopper isn’t mandatory, although you should tip delivery workers. That’s especially true if you make several special requests, have a large order, and enjoy the service.
Instacart pricing is more complicated than Shipt. You don’t need a membership to order, which is an advantage. However, the fees can be more expensive than Shipt as a result. Additionally, there’s a $10 minimum order requirement for delivery.
Instacart fees include:
- Delivery. Pay $3.99 for same-day orders over $35. Fees vary for one-hour delivery, club store deliveries, and deliveries under $35. During busy periods, delivery fees increase.
- Heavy Fee. This fee is variable and applies if your order weighs over 50 pounds. You can see the heavy fee breakdown before checking out and remove products if you want to avoid this fee.
- Service Fee. Instacart charges a variable service fee based on your location and the number of items in your order. Typically, the service fee is 5%, and you can view the service fee total before checking out. Ordering alcohol also has a separate service fee that covers the cost of complying with local alcohol regulations, which vary from state to state and sometimes even among jurisdictions.
- Pickup Fee. You don’t pay a delivery fee for pickups, but there’s a variable pickup fee instead.
If you plan to use Instacart regularly, it’s probably worth paying for an Instacart Express membership. Annual membership is $99, or you can pay $9.99 per month. Instacart Express members pay less in fees than nonmembers, and perks include:
- $0 delivery fees on orders of $35 or more
- Lower service fees
- No busy delivery fees
- Add a variety of stores to a single order and still get free delivery
- No pickup fee or service fees for pickup orders
While optional, you should also tip your Instacart delivery driver, so factor your tip into the cost of ordering through Instacart.
The Verdict: Is Shipt or Instacart Right for You?
However, availability and the pricing structure are where Shipt and Instacart diverge. Depending on your shopping habits and budget, that could make one grocery delivery service superior to the other.
Use Shipt If…
While Shipt has fewer retail partners than Instacart, it has several advantages for shoppers and keeps pricing simple:
- You Don’t Mind Limited Selection. If you already order from Shipt partners and don’t mind missing out on Instacart partners like Aldi and Walmart, Shipt has more than enough selection.
- You Don’t Want Order Minimums. Shipt charges a delivery fee on orders under $35. However, if you’re in a pinch and need fast delivery, being able to order whatever you want no matter how little it costs is ideal.
- You Want Simple Pricing. You need a Shipt membership or one-time pass to use the platform, but pricing is simple. There aren’t layers of fees to consider, such as Instacart’s surge pricing and variable delivery charges.
Use Instacart If…
With extensive market coverage in both the U.S. and Canada, Instacart is undeniably one of the leading grocery delivery services. Plus, there are several advantages to using the platform:
- You Want More Stores. There’s no denying Instacart is superior to Shipt in terms of grocery and retail partners. Retailers like Aldi and Walmart are notable differences, and if you search your address on both Shipt and Instacart, you’ll likely find Instacart offers more partners in your area.
- You Use Loyalty Cards. Instacart lets you add loyalty cards to your account to earn points for your orders. You can also earn cash back by using Instacart with apps like Dosh.
- You Only Order Occasionally. Since Instacart doesn’t require an annual membership, it’s more cost-effective than paying for a Shipt membership you rarely use.
Both Companies Are Great If…
Shipt and Instacart have similar ordering processes, delivery times, and overall user experience. Both companies are leaders in the grocery delivery space, and there are several advantages to using either service:
- You’re Still Testing the Waters. If you’re going to rely on grocery delivery for the foreseeable future, it’s probably worth trying both companies to see which one you like. You can use a Shipt pass and order from Instacart without a membership to try both companies without committing.
- They Fit Your Budget. Ordering groceries and everyday essentials with Shipt or Instacart is more expensive than shopping in person. Ensure the extra cost fits your monthly budget so you won’t have any nasty surprises when you look back on your spending for the month.
- You Want to Save Time. The main advantage of grocery delivery services is that they save time. If you have a busy schedule or find it difficult to shop yourself, the added cost of Shipt or Instacart is likely worth it.
- You Want to Avoid Shopping. With COVID-19, grocery delivery services have more appeal because they mean you can stay safe and avoid going to the store until you’re vaccinated.
Deciding whether a grocery delivery service is worth it essentially comes down to your budget and schedule.
Shipt and Instacart are more expensive than shopping yourself. However, there’s no denying both companies are immensely convenient and have an intuitive ordering process. Plus, both platforms have numerous controls in place, like substitution preferences and options for communication with your shopper for a more personalized experience.
Yes, you give up some control with Shipt or Instacart, but that’s an inevitable part of having someone else do your shopping. If you want to save time and simplify your life, give each service a test run. You don’t have to commit to annual memberships, and you might find that Shipt or Instacart becomes your go-to delivery service.