Like many others, I started my Instacart habit during the early days of the pandemic. Since then, I've continued to use grocery delivery for the sheer convenience factor of it being delivered to my door.
But is it really convenient when getting what you ordered from the grocery store can be hit or miss? It’s no surprise that bad substitutions and out-of-stock notices are a major complaint of online grocery shopping. Given the problems, is Instacart worth it?
A recent study found that letting online shoppers know that grocery supplies are low can help keep them using the service in the long run. Customers were 25 percent less likely to purchase low-availability items when told supply was running low. Additionally, many shoppers didn’t mind switching to highly stocked items to avoid a surprise.
I experienced this unwelcome surprise during my most recent Instacart in-store shopper fail. I ordered a package of lettuce — not anything crazy, just regular green lettuce. Not only did my delivery not contain the lettuce, saying it couldn’t be found in the store, but it included a box of molasses cookies, which I had not ordered and couldn't be confused for any similar item on the list. So what did I eat for dinner, you ask?
Cookies instead of lettuce, of course. And I'm not alone: Reddit's r/Instacart threads are filled with similar stories and negative Instacart reviews.
@stephiequeen16 Instacart can be wild. 😂 Still doesn’t beat the time a food delivery guy tried to give me a baggie of weed. #instacart #instacartdelivery #instacartstorytime #instacartshopper ♬ original sound - Stephanie Eversole Vandenburg
“A month ago our entire order got delivered to someone else,” one Redditor writes. “And we got theirs. It’s really strange to go through someone else’s groceries. Sad part is they had obviously shopped for a Super Bowl party and we’d bought fruit and salads and some pantry items for the week ahead. I know the other people were more upset than we were.”
Another Redditor shares, "I ordered only 5 items with the whole reason I placed an order was to get sorely needed cough medicine.The shopper quickly refunded the cough medicine, ignoring my pre-chosen alternative substitute if not available. I chatted and asked him not to check out without getting a substitute. He also refunded a candy bar. I had to get in my car and go to the same store, and guess what? Both the cough medicine and candy bar were on the shelf.”
Another subscriber was irritated by the choice of replacements. “First [the shopper] refunded 9 items and said he had no idea where to find them," the Redditor writes. “Then I got cottage cheese instead of ricotta (not even the same brand so not a mixup), pepperoni pork pepperettes instead of turkey ones, wrong deli meat, missing blueberries, wrong breakfast pastries, and I ordered 6 bottles of one kind of soda and 3 of the other and he marked all found but only gave me one of each. Like how is it even possible to get all this wrong??”
Instacart shoppers, meanwhile, jumped in to explain themselves. “Instacart is notorious for showing us replacements that you guys didn't choose, especially since the new update!” one shopper writes. “The new update shows us a pre approved replacement, [which] 75% of the time the customer didn't choose.”
Redditors still weren’t appeased by the explanation. Says one, “It's frustrating when I ordered items like an energy drink and said ‘replace with any energy drink of this brand or of the Rockstar brand’ and then literally had all 10 of the energy drinks refunded at the end of the transaction. And then when I tried to respond they said they'd already checked out.”
“They just marked everything as found, then at the end quickly marked the other 8 items as refunded. I hate when that happens in general… they might not have THAT item, but it’s unlikely they have no cauliflower or tomato paste at all. But even the 'found' items were wrong?” says another subscriber.
One Instacart shopper says, “I always replace unless there isn’t an obvious replacement. Most tips are based on percent, and refunding makes your tip go down. Unless they say refund if not available, it’s getting replaced.”
Another shopper explained that it could be an algorithm issue, with one unlikely substitution affecting a future order.
"While out shopping for a customer I explained that the type of hummus they wanted was out of stock and asked them if they wanted a refund or a specific replacement, and then listed all available hummus they had in stock,” they write. “They messaged me and told me they didn't want another type, but changed the secondary choice to toilet paper because they forgot to add it to the list originally. So I swapped it out for the TP as they requested. Somewhere down the line some lady is going to order some organic roasted garlic hummus and some idiot shopper is going to get the suggestion of a 24 pack of Cottonelle TP as a possible replacement and give them that instead."
Moral of the story? Thoroughly check your Instacart delivery bags — you never know what you might have ended up with.
For more grocery advice, please sign up for our free newsletters.