3 Tips for Organized Grocery Delivery

shopping cart I recently came across a TikTok post about an Instacart grocery delivery mix-up. The comments about this and other mix-ups were hilarious, and I could identify with many of them. But I also started noticing examples that made me think, “Well…I know how that happened, and I don’t think it was the Instacart shopper’s fault!”

It also didn’t take long to realize that most of the errors were being attributed to male shoppers. Eventually I realized I’d stumbled into a whole category of posts bashing #maleinstacartshoppers!

 

How to avoid grocery delivery mix-ups? I think most of them are caused by user error. Here are some tips to make things go smoothly. Click To Tweet

@jme: Never fails… if I have a male shopper and I order zucchini I’m going to get cucumbers.

@Baoba232: ordered a head of lettuce, got cabbage.

@dmirabs: Have men just never been inside a grocery store before?! HOW????

Really? Yikes! These posts (and their many comments) are all about men not being able to find things and making ridiculous substitutions. They smack of the bumbling dad/husband TV trope.

 

@lemonie.kisses: instacart shouldn’t be allowed to hire men.

@resonanteye: I want to block men from shopping my Instacart

Although I’ve had some mix-ups of my own, I can’t attribute them to male shoppers. At least, not that I’ve noticed. And I’ve been an Instacart user since before the pandemic, so you’d think I would have noticed by now!

 

@Ellen: This is the reason why I’ve only used Instacart once LOL

Well, @Ellen, that’s just silly. Chances are the next time would be fine, but you’ll never know if you don’t try it again! I feel the same way about most things that aren’t particularly high-stakes, like new restaurant openings.

Grocery delivery mix-ups

Shopping delivery mistakes can be attributed to a variety of causes, including:

  • App user error
    • This is the #1 cause, if you ask me.
    • More about this later.
  • Young or inattentive shoppers
    • Inexperience and sloppiness can lead to things like not reading the delivery instructions about where to leave the groceries, or putting them smack in front of the door (when you requested they be left on the porch swing), making it hard to open.
  • Store/app glitches
    • Sometimes the app shows that an item is available when it is, in fact, not available. And I don’t mean because the shopper couldn’t find it. Sometimes the shopper even asks for in-store help to make sure they haven’t just missed it.
  • Actual shortages
    • One time the store was out of bananas. Really? My shopper sent a photo showing no bananas where the bananas should be, so I know it wasn’t their fault. And who can ever forget The Great Toilet Paper Shortage of 2020?
  • Grocery store idiosyncrasies
    • One of my stores keeps the butter I like in a completely different part of the store from all the other butter for some reason. So when the shopper can’t find it I just tell them where it is. Or I wait and order it from the other store I like.
  • Male shoppers
    • Some of the TikTok examples had to do with specifically female items like tampons and the poor substitutions that were made (like cotton balls). So, I can’t really argue that one.

 

Since I’m focusing on user error in this post,  I’ll give you three tips to help avoid issues.

But first, why use Instacart?

Instacart is the service I use, and the one most of the TikTok comments were about. But I have to imagine that the same issues are common to all services.

@CP: Honest question, why do people use Instacart? Why not just go yourself?

I’m not aiming to make grocery delivery converts out of my blog readers. I’m not even including a discount code, although I probably have access to one if you ask. I just don’t want to be shamed because you don’t understand why I DO have my groceries delivered. Deal?

Here are some common reasons why people use a grocery delivery services (not just Instacart). Some apply to me, and some don’t.

  1. To save time
  2. To let someone else do the heavy lifting (think: kitty litter, gallon jugs, canned goods, watermelons)
  3. If you are temporarily laid up due to illness or injury
  4. If you have a chronic illness, or mobility issues
  5. If transportation is challenging for you
  6. If you want to order groceries to be delivered to someone else
  7. To save money on gas and impulse buys (weigh this against fees, more on that later)
  8. To avoid exposure to illness (a greater risk for those who are immunocompromised)
  9. This wasn’t originally one of my reasons, but you know what I’ve realized? I hate parking lots!
  10. I’m sure there are more reasons, in fact this list contains several more unique pros and cons: Is Online Grocery Delivery Worth It?

 

So, yes, it’s worth it to me, and here’s how I avoid mix-ups:

More eggs than I expected! (My fault, though.)

Tip #1: Note quantities and sizes

Each item is shown with the price per item (or ct = count), pound, bag, or however it comes. But it’s easy to just click and not notice the details.

@Hannah Kissick: Needed 3 bags of limes…got three limes.

@Kpate: I ordered a pound of bananas and received 1 banana

@Ashley: I put one onion on my order and my instacart shopper got me A FULL BAG of onions

I kept a Facebook photo album during the pandemic called Adventures in Grocery Shopping. My funniest (to me) stories had to do with getting items that were far larger than I expected because I hadn’t noticed how many ounces I was ordering. Definitely my error!

@Jess: I ordered a 1lb bag of potatoes and got 1 potato. it happened 3 times. because i kept getting the same shopper

@Morgan: The amount of times I’ve order 1lb of Jalepeños and received only one jalapeño . . .

 

PAY ATTENTION: If it keeps happening, it might be you, not them!

 

Tip #2: Choose replacements in advance

Most shopping disappointments can be avoided by choosing substitute items in advance.

People who don’t get what they wanted are very often guilty of not having checked their settings. (How do you think I know these things?)

On Instacart, the choices if it’s out of stock are:

  • Find Best Match
    • You are authorizing the shopper to use their best judgment. This default choice can be risky.
  • Pick Specific Replacement
    • You choose in advance what else would work for you.
  • Don’t Replace
    • You would rather have a refund than a replacement.

So, if you have not picked a specific replacement, and you also aren’t available for the shopper to text with, then it’s fair game for them to pick something. I generally don’t recommend this option, no matter the gender or age or experience of the shopper. They don’t know what you like, what you’re allergic to, or what you wanted the item for.

Your “out of stock” settings are usually held over from last time. (Sometimes they need to be reset, so it’s always worth checking.) Once in a while I’ll get what I don’t want and realize I hadn’t changed my selection from something that I ended up not liking last time. So I get it again. Because the store still doesn’t have what I want, and the app still says I want this other thing as a replacement. This is not the shopper’s fault!

If I am particular about a brand or a size or a flavor, which I often am, I pick “Don’t Replace”. Usually I haven’t actually run out at home and there will be another chance to order at a later date or from another store. And sometimes they’ll ask me anyway: Would you like this instead? (And send a photo of something I might like.) Sometimes I say yes. Other times no. And I appreciate the offer. If it was something where the code or quantity changed, I need to know about the “new” item anyway!

 

@Farrah: I had like 7 different orders where they replaced honey buns with oatmeal crème pies but never told us so we got banned from instacart for constantly saying we got the wrong thing.

No, @Farrah. No one would ever think to replace honey buns with oatmeal crème pies one time, much less seven times, unless you selected it once as a suitable replacement and never changed it again. They didn’t tell you because YOU selected it at some point.

 

@biancainwonderland: My choice flavor of Gatorade wasn’t available so I just didn’t get Gatorade

@biancainwonderland, the app won’t let them get something else — including a different flavor — if you haven’t chosen a replacement, or selected Find Best Match, and also aren’t available to discuss via text.

@Friendly Neighborhood Kappa: I ordered honey Turkey and they replaced it with honey ham. I was so mad. I don’t eat pork

Oh, @Friendly, they don’t know your dietary requirements and you probably have “Find Best Match” selected and should change it to “Don’t Replace” (or choose a replacement)

 

PAY ATTENTION: Try to plan so you don’t actually run out of things at home before you re-order them. Not if you are going to be unhappy about it if you can’t get it.

 

Tip #3: Make yourself available while they shop for you

@BitterblueCity: am i the only one who sits at the computer and watches as they get every item? approving and denying substituons

No, @BitterblueCity you aren’t the only one! I always make sure they know I am there by replying to their initial text with a smiley face. (No need for chitchat.) They always seem to appreciate it. You might think if I’m spending time texting with the shopper I might as well be spending time at the store. But no. I’m saving the driving time both ways, and the young’uns who shop for me can run around the store much faster than I can, and there’s always something I can be doing while I keep an eye on my messages. As long as my text notifications are on, I can work at my desk, watch TV, or anything else that can be interrupted. Multitasking at its best!

 

@Traveling Anti-socialite: I once ordered 8 bananas. He brought me 8 bunches of bananas. It was like 48 bananas. I live alone.

@Traveling, shoppers aren’t mind-readers. How was he supposed to know you live alone, and that you weren’t planning to make two dozen banana breads for a bake sale? Also, you probably didn’t pay attention to the quantity setting or make yourself available for texting.

Sometimes the store really is out of bananas, or TP

There were lots of comments about shoppers claiming the store was out of something. Well, have you never been to the store in person and the store was out of something? Don’t you have to make do, or go to different stores to get the brands/sizes you want because they don’t all carry the same items?

 

@Riley Tollett: I love when they can’t find it and then send you a photo of the exact item HAHA

@Sam: He sent me a photo to show me that they didn’t have the item. The item was in the photo.

@emmy: One time I asked for a pack of diet Snapple and they took a picture like not here, what else you want and it was right in the middle of photo.

@AmyJade.82: They literally send me pictures of the items saying I can’t find the item and it’s right in front of their ****-ing face

Calm down, @AmyJade.82, it’s just groceries! No need to get so upset. And @emmy, sometimes the shopper really does suffer from Snapple-blindness. They’re only human! However, it’s usually NOT the same EXACT item. It’s maybe a new package with a different code. It’s something that YOU think is the same and would be happy with, but which the store does not consider it to be the same item and the shopper can’t just get without checking with you first. Which is why you want to be available when they send the photo.

All items in a store are marked with a PLU (price look-up code), SKU (stock keeping unit numbers) and/or UPC (universal product code). All items are scanned, and any changes must be entered into the app and approved by the customer one way or another — by picking a specific replacement in advance; by allowing Find Best Match; or by defaulting (not being available to chat via text).

 

PAY ATTENTION: Paying attention while your shopper is shopping really pays off.

 

OK, these examples are just kind of funnytypes of lettuce

@TheMrs210: I ordered Fruit punch drink mix. He said they didn’t have it but they have cherry, strawberry, fruit punch and grape. I said grab the fruit punch.

@Sarah Jo: I once ordered 2 16 oz boxes of dry pasta. He messaged me and said they didn’t have 16 oz boxes but they had 1lb boxes and if that would be okay….

@dubbsie: I ordered green leaf lettuce. He said in the chat all lettuce is green and leafy. I mean he’s right but…..

To be fair, I had to Google “green leaf lettuce” to make sure I understood the issue here. LOL? How Well Do You Know Your Salad Greens? Lettuce Show You the Way.

 

Shoppers say:

@Jerome Hasbargen: It helps if you enter the preselected substitutions for us shoppers to find.

@One_pump_white_mocha: Also friendly request from a shopper, either select no subs, choose the sub, or be present to communicate your preferences please

@Tonijo: This is why as an Instacart shopper, I only replace after asking the customer and sending pictures of what’s available

 

Guys say:

@Pinhead Larry: I’m showing this comment section to my coworker who said that the stereotype wasn’t true

@Carlton LaFroyge: What’s funny is if this was reversed, you would be cancelled… but when we stereotype men it’s a joke…

@stevejones: I used Instacart once. I got a female and the whole order was messed up. I never used the service again.

@Dick-b-Longe: Naw. That’s not true in every market. The guys make the best subs, communicate the most, pack well, and deliver carefully.

@aiden: i get its funny to complain ab this stuff but using instacart comes from such a place of privilege, yall just sound like spoiled brats

 

Speaking of which…

Isn’t it expensive?

Well, it’s not cheap, but then neither am I when I provide services!

Also, as previously noted, you might actually save money on gas and impulse buys.

Things to consider:

  • Delivery and Service Fees
    • Consider how often you will use the service. I use it weekly, so the $99 annual membership fee makes sense for me. (There’s also a monthly option.) I also always spend more than $35, another threshold for avoiding some of the fees. As this article says, it’s very much like Amazon Prime but for online grocery delivery: Instacart Fees: Everything You’ll Pay as a Customer Explained
  • Tipping
    • I’m not gonna tell you how much to tip. But I will say I don’t like the percentage-of-purchase-total model because it takes the same amount of time to locate a $20 item as it does a $2 item. So I consider the number of items, how heavy some of them might be, how many might be out of stock (so my total will be less, but they will still have spent time looking for them), and whether or not the weather is bad. No one comes to my house for less than $10, no matter how small my order is. (Unless it’s a close-by restaurant delivery, then it’s no less than $5.) If you don’t want to think about all that, it’s easier to just tip 20% like in a restaurant.

 

Have you used Instacart? (Or another grocery delivery service?)

Have you had any amusing (or problematic) mix-ups?

Have you noticed a difference between male and female shoppers?

Do you think you’ll try it now that you know more about it?

Please share in the comments below!

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17 Comments

  1. Jonda S Beattie on July 24, 2023 at 7:40 am

    I have never used the service but at times have thought about it. But, I only buy what I can use in a week – I am shopping for a specific recipe – and I am very fussy about what I want … so probably not a good fit for me. But I know others who do use the service so I will pass this great article along.

    • Hazel Thornton on July 24, 2023 at 12:35 pm

      Well, like I said, I’m not looking to convert anyone. But thanks for sharing my post with others!

  2. Seana Turner on July 24, 2023 at 8:30 am

    I used it a bit during the pandemic, and I’ve used it to send groceries to my daughter a couple of times. I do think being available while they are shopping has been a headline for me. I didn’t realize that you need to reset your settings regarding replacements. Great tip!

    I think this is an invaluable service for so many situations. It isn’t perfect, but I think it is a hard job, and most shoppers are doing their best to get as much as possible that the customer wants.

    I think the reason I don’t use it more is because I like to see the choices for those times when what I want isn’t in the store – a scenario which has been fairly common since 2020. I don’t always know in advance what my alternate choice might be. Sometimes, on the spot, I go in a totally different direction.

    • Hazel Thornton on July 24, 2023 at 12:47 pm

      It’s not perfect, but then, neither is going in person! (I think people tend to forget about the times they went and the store was out of something. Or the bananas in the store were so green as to be unusable for today’s fruit salad. Or the times they suddenly remembered, “Oh yeah, it’s the other store that has that thing I like.”) As for alternate choices, they’re right in the app! The app might suggest something you don’t want either, but it also gives you a chance to search for something you prefer. For some people, though, the desire to see/touch/smell it in person overrides any convenience that delivery provides. And that’s OK.

  3. Janet Barclay on July 24, 2023 at 1:37 pm

    I’ve never tried it! I wanted to, very early in the pandemic, but you had to order 2 weeks in advance, and I couldn’t wait. By the time things were more reliable, I had established a new shopping routine that I was comfortable with.

    • Hazel Thornton on July 24, 2023 at 4:59 pm

      Wow, no, 2 weeks wouldn’t work for me, either! At the height of lockdown 3 days wasn’t great, either and I usually found another way, like curbside pickup. But, for the most part (since things have been more reliable, as you said) I get my groceries within an hour or two of ordering.

  4. Julie Bestry on July 24, 2023 at 4:23 pm

    Little Gem and Butterleaf can definitely be confused with Leaf Lettuce, but they don’t taste the same. But a person who doesn’t know that “Leaf Lettuce” is a type of lettuce shouldn’t be a professional grocery shopper. Harrumph. 😉

    I agree with all of your reasons for using a shopping/delivery service, but I’m adamant about not paying for things unless there’s no alternative. I’d be perfectly comfortable asking a friend to get me something from the grocery store if I were sick, but once, not forever.

    During the pandemic, my BFF alerted me to the fact that Target will grocery shop for you and allow you to pick up the groceries curbside (or in those special pickup parking spots) at no cost. I actually like grocery shopping — I like talking to babies, “taking inventory” (as my mom calls it) by seeing all the new products, and picking the right thing off the shelf. (I never take the milk carton in front, but the one behind it.)

    I like the idea of someone picking up and delivering my groceries for me, just as I like the idea of someone fanning me, or doing my housework or whatever, but I’m super-picky (on top of being frugal). I use only one brand of most things, and see the difference where others might not. (For example, FairLife milk is specially filtered, and is higher in protein but has half the carbs of other milk, which is important to people with diabetes.)

    I always laugh at Joshua Malina’s Twitter account when he shares the substitutions that shoppers (always male) mistakenly make. He’s (famously) an observant Jew, and keeps kosher, and they’re always trying to sub in pork things for things that he ordered without meat; like ravioli with meat for ravioli without. He also was very specific about not wanting things with dairy, and the same guy kept sending him text after text with substitutions and he kept having to reply, “Nope, there’s dairy in that, too.” (This is separate from the fact that there are a ridiculous number of people who think that eggs are dairy because stores keep them in/near the dairy section.)

    During the worst part of the pandemic, the only time I left the house was to go to the grocery store. Fully masked, I’d RUN through the store, grabbing the brands/things I knew well. Somehow, being the one to acquire from the shelf, pay, and bag them, without interacting with other humans, felt safer than having a stranger touch all of my groceries and then a cashier doing it, too. But now, yeah, I’m just too frugal to spend money. That said, if I still lived in Buffalo, I’d probably use the Wegman’s shopping/delivery service when the weather was bad.

    But Hazel, you’ve made compelling points!

    • Hazel Thornton on July 26, 2023 at 4:55 am

      Hi Julie, I get that what you’re adamant about is YOU not paying for things unless there’s no alternative. (That’s fine. I wasn’t trying to convert anyone. Just trying to make things easier for existing Instacart shoppers.) And I think you get that for some (including me) this IS the alternative. I don’t talk a lot about my physical limitations, but if I could run (or walk) through the store, I would.

      As for Josh Malina, I’d be willing to bet that at least SOME of his humorous (and frustrating) mix-ups are due to his not having chosen replacements in advance.

      Regarding your milk example, if you haven’t used the Instacart app I suppose you wouldn’t know that there are umpteen milks to choose from. You don’t just request “milk” and hope for the best! You choose very specific items based on brand, size/quantity, and flavor (or percentage fat, or whatever). There’s an image and a written description. Then, in case it’s not available after all, you can (and should) pre-select a suitable replacement, such as a different size of the otherwise-same-exact thing (if it exists, and if the store carries it). Or, you state that you prefer a refund to a substitution. I’ve even been known to successfully request: “One yellow banana and two green ones, please, if available.”

      Although I’m sure there are some numbskull shoppers out there, and I’m also sure that some of them are men, there’s usually no need to get into one’s personal dietary requirements and the reasons for them. (Even the smartest shoppers can’t read minds and avoid suggesting unsuitable items.) The more specific we are on our end, the less we have to deal with shoppers trying to “Find Best Match”!

  5. Diane Quintana on July 25, 2023 at 7:16 am

    This was so much fun to read, Hazel. I have never used Instacart but I have a client who uses it exclusively. She does what you suggest. She is available to chat with the shopper as they are filling the order. The reason I don’t use Instacart is I like to pick up my own groceries. When I lived in Singapore we had a “provisioner”. He called me 3 times a week to see if I needed anything. It was a wonderful service. He’d pick up my dry cleaning, go to the liquor store, or the grocery store. It got so he could predict, based on when the last time I’d asked for a particular item, that I may be running short on something. Now that is a service I could really go for here!

    • Hazel Thornton on July 26, 2023 at 5:00 am

      Glad you enjoyed it, Diane! And now I want a provisioner!

  6. Shawndra Holmberg on July 25, 2023 at 3:23 pm

    Every time I had an issue I went back to check. Yup, it was me — I either “assumed” it was the size I wanted (who knew you could actually get a gallon of pepperoncini peppers) or I hadn’t checked the “no substitutions”

    • Hazel Thornton on July 26, 2023 at 4:20 am

      Glad you could relate, Shawndra! And I am suddenly reminded of Taylor Swift’s Anti Hero song: “It’s me, hi, I’m the problem, it’s me.” (LOL)

  7. Janice Simon on July 28, 2023 at 8:41 am

    I use H‑E‑B delivery here in Houston, and it’s great! Any errors have been mine – like when I thought I ordered a bag of apples and got one lone apple. It was a pretty apple! H‑E‑B has a great app that spells what the item is, and there isn’t the debate about leafy lettuces. I was using grocery pick up before Covid and switched to delivery. It’s a big time saver, and since I’m immune compromised, it keeps me away from germs. It is totally worth it.

    • Hazel Thornton on July 28, 2023 at 8:51 am

      Finally! A like-minded organizer! 😉 Glad it works for you, Janice.

  8. Carol Jones on August 4, 2023 at 7:48 am

    Great article! I started using Instacart for Costco delivery during the pandemic, and I still do because I LOVE IT SO MUCH. No more finding a (scarce and distant) space in the enormous parking lot, searching and fetching items, and standing in line to pay? Yes please! I also tip very generously. (And I often get a message from the delivery person later thanking me for my tip!) It’s worth every penny for me, for the specific things I always get at Costco.

    But for regular every day groceries, I have also really fallen in love with curbside pick up. My local grocery store is so close that it wouldn’t be worth it for me to pay for delivery from there. But, same thing. Someone else to trot all around the store and fetch everything for me, and bring it out to my car when I arrive? Huge timesaver.

    But the other reason I really love curbside is that my grocery store app serves as an ongoing grocery list for my future self. Did I just use the last of the soy sauce for a recipe? Right that minute, I get my phone and add it to my grocery store app for a later order. The Future Me likely won’t remember the soy sauce issue a few days from now, but it will be in my online cart in the grocery store app, so I don’t HAVE to remember that.

  9. Amy Bowles on August 21, 2023 at 11:04 pm

    I swear by Instacart delivery! 😍 It has changed my life! So much time saved, almost no impulse purchases, and it’s a highly predictable service now with good shoppers who buy quality products. (The service was having some growing pains in the early days of the pandemic, but weren’t we all?)
    I would never voluntarily go back to shopping regularly on my own, and am reminded occasionally how much I appreciate the service when I decide to pop into a grocery store here and there and end up kinda overwhelmed, overstimulated, and wasting time because there are way too many choices. 🥹
    I’m a total convert.
    And I use it primarily for Costco, Sam’s and Safeway.

    • Hazel Thornton on August 22, 2023 at 6:30 am

      Hi Amy! I don’t care if people don’t use Instacart, but I agree that many who tried it during the early pandemic and never again are missing out. I may never step foot into a large grocery store again! (Trader Joes being small enough, and different enough, while also not offering any choices, for me to frequent a few times per year.) Thank you for making the point that it’s a great alternative for those who get overwhelemed and overstimulated by the sights and sounds of a large store!

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