It took less time for Brittany to start shopping than it would have taken me to drive to Publix.
I’d clicked “checkout” on my first Instacart order on Monday at 10:47 a.m. The online grocery ordering service sent me a text message five minutes later telling me that my Instacart shopper, Brittany, was already at the store.
The service, which launched earlier this month in Sarasota, delivers products from Whole Foods Market, Publix, Petco, ABC Fine Wine and Spirits and Costco Wholesale.
The company’s Instacart Express program offers unlimited, same-day, one-hour deliveries for $99 per year or $14.99 per month to 299,000 people who are eligible to receive them in the Southwest Florida.
I wasn’t sold on the idea of letting a stranger pick out my produce, but it’s the kind of service that’s good for when you don’t want to fight seasonal traffic just to find something to eat.
I logged on to Instacart.com and started scrolling through pages of Publix groceries.
They were broken up into departments just like the aisles would be, and each section had a special page that filtered out the sales for each category. I was able to get 32 ounces of Dannon Greek yogurt on BOGO just as if I had been at the store, and I got a dollar off Halo Top mint chip ice cream through an Instacart promotion.
The deli offered things like Publix buffalo chicken dip and pre-made lasagna. I could order a Pub Sub or a spicy tuna sushi roll, but not every item I was used to seeing at Publix’s deli was on Instacart’s list. If there was a way to order a turkey wrap instead of a turkey sub, it wasn’t obvious. That was a shame, but the slightly limited selection was a small trade-off for the convenience.
Twenty-three minutes later, I had nine items in my cart and Instacart’s promise that the delivery would be at my doorstep within two hours.
I thought that would be the end of it, but then the text messages started.
- At 11:02 a.m. Brittany texted me to introduce herself and asked if I needed anything that wasn’t on my shopping list. Two minutes later, she learned that Publix was out of the Greenwise hot Italian chicken sausage that I’d ordered, and she wanted to know if mild would work instead. That was fine.
- At 11:13 a.m. she couldn’t find the BOGO Honoro Vera Granacha I’d ordered, and she wanted to know if she could bring me another bottle of wine instead. I asked for a carmenere I knew Publix usually carried, and that seemed to be out of stock, too. She did manage to find a pinot noir of the same brand, so we settled on that. That’s the only time during this process I caught myself wishing I was at the store. I would have rather browsed the sale items for replacements than just guess at what I hoped they’d have
- At 11:20 a.m. Brittany texted me to tell me she was checking out.
- I received one final notification from Instacart six minutes later that let me know my groceries were on their way.
I had my order 58 minutes after clicking the online checkout button. The service had kept its convenience promise, but it still had to pass my quality test.
Brittany almost got a perfect score.
The expiration dates on the yogurt and pre-made salad were appropriate, and the eggs had made it to my home unscathed. The red bell pepper she brought me was plump and firm, and the kale was crisp and green.
My only complaint was that the red onion I’d asked for had a small soft spot, but it wasn’t really anything worth whining about.
Thanks to Instacart, I have something for dinner tonight and something for breakfast tomorrow.
The $4.24 service charge, which was 10 percent of my order, and additional tip also were minimal compared to what I would have spent if I’d ordered in every meal until I’d found time to go to the grocery store.
And while I can’t say I’ll spend $99 per year for the delivery plan, I can say I don’t blame anyone who does.
Brittany added at least another 58 minutes to my day.
Letting a stranger pick out my produce is a small price to pay for an extra hour in a busy day.