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A Day in the Life of an Instacart Shopper

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 Photos: via Instacart
Photos: via Instacart

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No car? Too much rain? Gluten allergies? Live in a high-rise? There are a hundred and one reasons to avoid the grocery store, and 26-year-old Jacob, one of Chicago's original Instacart Personal Shoppers, has heard them all.

Instacart, a same-day grocery delivery service that started in San Francisco, chose Chicago as their second location for several key reasons: lots of precipitation (people hate buying groceries when it's raining); a young, growing, downtown population; an already-established grocery delivery service (Peapod); and last but not least, the fact that none of us have cars.

If you're snug in bed but desperate for a grocery run (or just a bottle of the finest Andre), you create an Instacart account, fill your virtual shopping basket, pay a small delivery fee that varies depending on the order, and sit back and wait. Within a few hours, your bag of sharp cheddar, Triscuits, green olives, and licorice will show up at your doorstep (or, you know, whatever your dream grocery order is.)

But what about the guy on the other end of the order? Is he judging you for buying non-organic arugula? Is it hard for him to find the perfect avocado? I called up Jacob, who was hired back in September, to find out what it's like to be the one who actually hits up the grocery store.

Photo: Jacob

Describe a day in the Instacart Personal Shopper experience.
Yesterday, I got an email that says, "Hey, will you set your schedule for next week?" So I looked at my calendar and put my schedule in the Personal Shopper app, blocking out the times that I couldn't work. Every Friday, I get my schedule for the next week.

Today, I have a split shift, one at 8 a.m. and one at 2 p.m. At 7:30 a.m., I got a text telling me, "Your shift is starting in a half hour, would you head to Jewel?" So I went to the Jewel on Western, and then my first delivery was in Logan Square/West Town-ish.

I find everything on the grocery list, and then I check out and then I deliver the order. As soon as I've actually delivered it and am back in my car, I get another order via text message that says, "You have another order, please go to THIS store," and so I go shopping again. If there's downtime, the app will probably take me to whatever store I might need to shop at soon, and I'll just hang out. I like to read if I have a chance. Afternoons are notoriously slower, but we've been pretty busy since the beginning of the year.

The app that Personal Shoppers use separates between produce, deli, the butcher area, the freezer, dairy, and eggs, so it's really, really nice for us to have. We just scroll through the app really quickly, and if we know the store, we've already mapped out where we need to go to find everything. There's usually a picture of each item, and the app tells us the size and quantity so we know exactly what to look for. With the new app, there's a place were we can scan the [item's] barcode. It'll even tell us where items are located in the actual aisle.

How does payment work?
Instacart supplies us with a credit card. We can get tipped online with the order, but there are still quite a few people who tip with cash. The past few days, I've made over $20/hour. It's my main source of income, and I probably work between 40-50 hours a week. [Note: Personal Shoppers get a commission based on the total bill.]

What kind of people do you normally shop for? Students, Millennials, older folks?
I've really seen everything. There are a lot of young customers who don't have cars. If you want to go shopping, you maybe don't want to be limited to the two bags you can carry in your hand. Plus, you realize that you have to carry it all the way from point A to point B. Today I delivered a 10-pound bag of rice to someone my age—obviously she wouldn't have wanted to carry that. Last night, I delivered to a mom, and she said she wished that Instacart would have been around when her baby was an infant. For one Costco order, the mom said it was really nice to have someone who can go to Costco and bring all the heavy stuff up a flight of stairs. In Logan Square, a lot of young people without cars...a lot of families in Lincoln Park and Roscoe Village. A lot of people downtown in high-rises order Costco deliveries from Instacart because it's not exactly around the corner from them.

What kind of food trends do you observe?
A lot of kale, a lot of spinach. A lot of apples. Lots of people like honey-crisp apples, and I finally tried one and they're really good. A lot of people like Brussels sprouts and asparagus, which are those vegetable that you're like, "No one likes that!"—but a lot of people do. There are certain types of bread that I see a lot, and cage free eggs. We pride ourselves on always getting what the customer wants. If they want organic, we make sure that's what we find and if we can't get it we let them know. There's a button that I push to refund the customers if something's out of stock. A lot of that has to do with seasonal items—for example, apples are going out of season right now and berries are coming into season.

Are you mainly doing large grocery runs or little supplemental ones?
There are people who regularly shop every week, and you can kind of see those types of orders. On Monday, my last order was for 50 items—that was probably someone stocking up for a while. And then there are times when I've bought just a bottle of vodka and gone and delivered that. Most of the time, if an order is just one thing, it's probably alcohol.

Do you have any funny stories from the job? Weird encounters, shopping trips gone wrong?
I had an order with 75 items in it. So, enemas at Jewel come in 4 packs, and this woman wanted 4 packs of enemas. So she was getting 16 individual enemas. I spent like $500 at Jewel and that's what I remember from it.

Does this feel like a service industry job?
It's definitely a service industry job, but the most solitary part of it is when I'm in the zone, trying to get everything in the basket. At the grocery stories, there's a person with a butcher counter that I know pretty well, so I try to talk to her, or I go to the cashiers that I know 'cause I go there all the time, and we chat for a bit. And then, a lot of the people I deliver to want to know how Instacart works, so they ask me questions, especially if they're first time customers. I always try and answer questions.

Wanna try this whole Instacart craze? Sign up for Instacart and enter "InstacartRacked" at checkout to receive $10 off any order of $35 or more, plus free delivery on your first order.
· Instacart [Official Site]