Because grocery delivery is the safest way to food shop right now.

By Betty Gold
February 01, 2021

As much we all hoped we'd be back to dining in restaurants, drinking in bars, and traveling around the globe by now, the reality is that the pandemic has anything but subsided. As the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has stated time and again, we should all be wearing masks, staying at least six feet apart from one another, avoiding crowds, and washing our hands often. But it doesn't stop there—as new cases of COVID-19 continue to soar, now may be a good time to reconsider the safety of our day-to-day habits too, including the ways we could be tweaking our lives to help stop the spread.

Take, for instance, grocery shopping. It's a necessary task for us all. But shopping in person is neither risk-free nor compulsory. "If possible, limit visiting the grocery store, or other stores selling household essentials, in person," states the CDC on its website. "In general, the more closely you interact with others and the longer that interaction, the higher the risk of COVID-19 spread. Order groceries and other items online for home delivery or curbside pickup (if possible) or check with your local grocery store to see if pre-order or drive-up options are available."

While grocery delivery isn't accessible to 100 percent of the population, the increased demand in the last year has helped grocery delivery services expand like never before in the United States. One of the most widely available services is Instacart, a grocery delivery service where personal shoppers select your items from the store and then deliver them to your door. You can often get same-day delivery (even within an hour), depending on your location. Store options are vast, and include major retailers such as Albertsons, ALDI, Costco, CVS, Kroger, Loblaw, Publix, Sam's Club, Sprouts, Wegmans—even your local pharmacy, fishmonger, wine shop, Sephora store, or Sur La Table is likely on Instacart. In response to the pandemic, it has introduced many new features to help you get fresh groceries delivered to your home safely, such as a contactless delivery option to promote social distancing (groceries can be left on your doorstep or in your lobby) and a special Senior Support Service for customers over age 60.

Credit: Getty Images

Whether you've been using Instacart—or another grocery delivery service—for years or you're ready to get started, here are a few genius tips, tricks, and hacks for using the app to its upmost potential. (Because safety first, but endless hours of your life back second.)

The best time to order your fresh grocery items, including produce, proteins, and dairy products, is early in the morning or first thing when your local grocery store opens. Grocery stores will typically restock items overnight, so that’s when you may experience the best item availability. To improve your odds of finding all the fresh items on your shopping list, just create and schedule your order the night before you’d like it to be delivered. That way, you can select the earliest delivery slot for the next morning.

If you order many of the same foods over and over, there’s a far faster way to reorder than starting from scratch each time. Instead of rebuilding your entire cart, simply go to any of your past orders and click on “Add All Items to Cart” for a super fast new order build. From there, you can adjust the cart further by adding or deleting items as necessary. Another (less committal) option is to go to your favorite store on the app and peruse the “Buy it Again” carousel or tab at the bottom of the screen—then quickly add your most purchased items to your cart one by one.

As an Instacart customer, you can send groceries to friends or family members—even if they’re across the country—making it an easy way to stock the fridge and pantry of a person you know that needs a helping hand. Simply input their zip code, choose their favorite local store, fill your cart with the items they need, then place and pay for their order to be delivered to their home. You can even track replacements, chat with their shopper while they shop, and help notify them when their order has arrived. (Talk about a genius pandemic-friendly care package idea.)

On the hunt for gluten-free bread, vegan ice cream, or plant-based meat? Instacart can help with that. You can use the app’s filters to personalize your grocery shopping experience by showing just gluten-free, kosher, vegan, organic, or other options for those with allergies or restrictions. (Using this feature is a lot easier than trying to dissect a product’s packaging in person, BTW—who knows how hard it is to read tiny fonts better than those with dietary restrictions?)

You can also use their filters to see what’s on sale or by price point: Simply search for the item you’re looking for (e.g., milk) and then select the filter icon next to the search bar in order to refine your search accordingly.

Instacart has hundreds of thousands of new deals and coupon offers available every day. To view what’s on sale and/or has a coupon available, select a store in your area, click on the “Savings” icon and choose between the “Sales” tab or the “Stock up & Save” tab.

If you have a big household and are tired of managing everyone’s grocery requests (oh, have we all been there), you can create a Group Cart and invite your family members or roommates to add items to that week’s cart. Then you can finish off the order, make the final calls, and place it together.  

The Instacart app is full of features that allow you to manage and personalize your groceries as much or little as you want. You can specify preferences by leaving comments on the items you put into your cart ahead of time (e.g., you want 1 pound of skinless salmon separated into three portions), suggest and approve replacements for any items that might be out of stock (“if they don’t have Bounty paper towels, just refund the item”), and chat with your shopper in real-time using the in-app chat feature. Your shopper can also send you photos of what’s available on the shelves, so you can make sure to get the Ben & Jerry’s flavor you really want instead of a random replacement.

Instacart defaults to tipping your shopper the same percentage as your last order, so if you want to tip above and beyond to reflect the extra effort of your shopper, make sure to adjust accordingly. You can do this before or after you receive your order.

Out and about already? With Instacart Pickup, you can swing by the store en route from the park or running other errands. Instacart Pickup offers the perks of online grocery delivery combined with more affordability and flexibility—starting at just $1.99 per order versus $3.99 for delivery—and is free for Instacart Express members.

Instead of paying upwards of $80 for a well-crafted flower arrangement plus shipping or rush fees, you can buy a beautiful (yet reasonably-priced) bouquet of flowers from your favorite local grocery store or specialty food store. Chances are, they can be delivered within a couple of hours to anyone, anywhere in the country. Perhaps the best part is that you can easily add on a treat and a bottle of bubbly to create an impressive care package for your loved one, all from the same store.