What I Learned While Working as an Instacart Shopper

An Instacart Shopper is selecting items at a grocery store. The words ' what I learned while working as an instacart shopper' is transposed over the image.

Motivated by an increased desire to get my debts paid off faster, I signed up to be an Instacart shopper. But, what I learned was more than I expected. Before signing up to be an Instacart shopper, I expected that it would be an easy side hustle, or a quick way to earn a few extra bucks. What I didn’t count on were rude customers and stressed out store employees, GPS navigational errors, and the cost of forgetting. However, what I gained, besides the extra income, is the skills and experience in navigating a different kind of world. What I learned while working as an Instacart Shopper turned out to be some of the best things about this little side hustle.

What I Learned While Working as an Instacart Shopper

Shopping is fun, but shopping for others is a whole new ball game

I first went into this little side hustle with the knowledge that it would be fun. After all, shopping is fun. I love shopping and looking for a good bargain. The only downside to shopping is seeing that number in your bank account diminish. So, I went in to this thinking that it would be fun to do something that I already do anyway. But what I learned is that shopping for others is a whole new ball game.

When you shop for yourself, it doesn’t matter what you do, or how long it takes. But when you shop for others, you suddenly realize that you have to up your game. You have to select the best, most high quality items. You can’t afford to stop and dawdle over that super good sale on ice cream, but instead have to keep moving. When you shop for yourself, you can be relaxed. However, when you shop for others, you have to be efficient, quick, and organized. Shopping for yourself is a fun little pastime, but shopping for others is a job that must be taken seriously in order to do it well.

You are working alone, but you are not alone

Technically, an Instacart shopper is an independent contractor. An independent contractor is someone who is self-employed. They aren’t technically working for the company, but are doing the work for the company, if that makes sense. As an Instacart shopper, you have to shop and make deliveries by yourself. Since you aren’t working with others in a huge building, but instead working on your own, it can sometimes feel lonely.

But the thing is, you are not alone. You are on the same team as the store employees to process the sale and transaction. You are on the same team as the other Instacart shoppers roaming around, working apart, but together. And finally, despite the distance, you are working with the customers to help them find the items that best fit their needs. So, even if it may seem lonesome at times, you are not working alone. No matter what it is that you are doing, you are working together as part of a team. And that goes for anything, not just this little side hustle.

It’s always a good idea to not put all of your eggs in one basket

A dozen eggs in a basket
I put all my eggs in one basket 😉

To tell the truth, I didn’t really learn this from Instacart. Instead, this is a lesson that I have been reminded of almost everyday for the past five years, and then most recently, in lockdown during the coronavirus pandemic when so many people were let go of their jobs, or given reduced hours. It just goes to show that there is really no one job that we can depend on. It is always best to play it safe and have multiple ways to generate income. Specifically, it is always best to have money coming in from various sources, such as a job, stocks, side hustle(s), real estate, etc. The time is long gone when we can just rely on one single income. Life is too unpredictable for that.

WIFI is not your most dependable friend

WIFI and the Internet is a huge benediction, giving us all an outlet to communicate with different kinds of people around the world, as well as giving additional ways to make money. But anyone who uses WIFI for any length of time knows that it is — and won’t ever be — your most dependable friend. There will be times when the WIFI connection is slow or lagging. And there will even be times when the WIFI just won’t work.

What I learned as an Instacart shopper (as well as through my other work from home jobs) is to have a back-up. Whether through a mobile hotspot or a secondary Internet modem, you need a back-up for those times that the WIFI doesn’t work. We use the WIFI so much that it has come to be a very close friend to most of us. It remains loyal and trusting, but never the most dependable.

Choose your clothes for practicality and function

Whenever I go out to do a batch on Instacart, I find myself choosing clothes both for practicality and function. In fact, Instacart suggests wearing closed-toe shoes, hair tied up, and of course, wearing a mask, but other than that, there isn’t really a dress-code. But I find it easier and more convenient to wear clothes with pockets to stuff your phone in, clothes that fit well and aren’t baggy, and clothes that aren’t too revealing. After all, this is a job and like any job, we must play the part.

A gray Nike hoodie and a pair of blue Jeans
What I would typically wear as an Instacart shopper is: a pair of jeans, a hoodie, and a solid colored t-shirt

Most people are just not very good tippers

Another thing that I learned is that most people are just not very good tippers. Most people generally tend to give the minimal tip ranging from $1 to $4. A smaller group of people don’t even give any tips. And a minority group of people will give bigger tips ranging from $10 to even $20.

This was not that surprising. The vast majority of people do tip, but most of them don’t tip enough.

Learning the city routes and shortcuts

One hidden perk that I gained from shopping and delivering for Instacart is that it has allowed me to get to know my own city better. I have lived in this particular city for about a decade and yet I am surprised to find out there is still a lot that I didn’t know about this city. I think this is true for most people. You might get so busy taking the typical commute to work, to shopping, and to school. So, you might not have the time to really explore the city and discover some hidden gems.

Because of Instacart, I discovered some clustered neighborhoods that I never knew existed. Further, I found hidden shortcuts, or a more efficient way to get from point A to point B. I found playgrounds, fountains, and ponds — all of which existed in my own city but I didn’t know about because they weren’t in a route that I would have normally taken.

Be prepared for the unexpected

Working as an Instacart shopper means that you are working outside in the “real” world where anything can happen. You can have a customer who decides to cancel their order as soon as you get to the store. Or, it can suddenly start raining cats and dogs as soon as you finish putting the groceries in the back of your car and get ready to deliver them. Your car can break down, you can get stuck in traffic, or you can get chased by a dog (true story).

Anything can happen so it’s best to be prepared for the unexpected.

What Happens Now?

I started working this little side hustle as an Instacart shopper about four months ago. So far, I am enjoying it. Despite the stress and small tips, it is still an easy way to earn some extra income. And the best part is is that you can do this at anytime for however long you want. What originally started as a way to help me pay down the bills faster has instead morphed into a fun little pastime that I can do anytime I want. It gives me the freedom to take a break from my other jobs, gives me more security, and prepares me for the future.

Do you have a side hustle? What is one thing you learned from doing it?


Please help me grow!

Posted by

Hi! I'm Helen and I am a 32 year old biracial millennial mom raising two multiracial children. I am a writer, English consultant, and social media manager. I am a self-proclaimed chocoholic.

16 thoughts on “What I Learned While Working as an Instacart Shopper

  1. Looks like a fun side-hustle. I have had many jobs on the side in my time including care worker.

  2. I thought about doing this a while ago but never got into it — it does sound like a really interesting thing to do though. It’s such a shame people are rude and not always good tippers! Thanks for sharing your experiences!

  3. Sounds like Deliveroo or Ubereats mixed with a personal shopper, I bet it was stressful, people want things immediately these days. I sell clothes as a side hustle but I’ve not done it for a while x

    1. Yeah it can be stressful especially when you have to shop for multiple people at the same time. 🙁
      How did you get into the selling clothes side hustle business?

Leave a Reply