Rachael also contributed to this post.
Earlier this year, Aldi announced that it was bringing Instacart grocery delivery nationwide across the United States, following a pilot year in various test markets. Since then, it has gradually rolled out the program, finally landing in our Midwest neck of the woods just a few weeks ago.
We figure Aldi shoppers are bound to wonder what it’s like to purchase Aldi products through Instacart, so we decided to put the partnership through the paces.
The Instacart Website Experience
Aldi is one of several establishments that Instacart delivers for in our area, including Sam’s Club, CVS, and a regional grocery chain. When we pulled up Aldi on the Instacart website (you can also use the iPhone app or Google Play app), a few things stood out to us.
One, Instacart does not appear to list the entire store inventory. While Instacart has most of the Regular Buy offerings, we didn’t spot any ALDI Finds (Special Buys) or Seasonal Favorites. That means that, for example, we weren’t able to find the Serra Ladies 2 Piece Thermal Sleepwear Set in this week’s ad, or score the Seasonal Favorite Bake House Creations Pie Crusts.
Two, there are a few coupons for national brands. This is a pretty significant difference from the in-store experience, as Aldi doesn’t take coupons. These coupons are digital in nature, and the ones we saw required buying more than one of a product. There weren’t a lot of coupons, but it was something that caught our eye.
Three, products can be customized to offer “replacement options.” If the Instacart shopper can’t find what you’re looking for, you can customize your list so that the shopper will look for a similar alternative and / or offer you a refund.
Four, you can customize the delivery window. Instacart lets you choose the time your groceries arrive, even a fair distance into the future. More on this below.
Five, there is an “Express” Membership. This membership, in our area at least, has free delivery and $3 instant cash back on all same-day orders. It runs $99 a year. Fair warning: expect a lot of suggestive sell for Express membership throughout the online transaction, and even afterward, as Instacart really wants you to sign up for this. We were invited to join during the checkout process and right after the checkout process (with the lure of a credit), to say nothing of the steady diet of emails we’ve received.
A big reason for shopping at Aldi is the low prices, but shopping at Aldi through Instacart introduces a number of additional costs. They include:
Potentially higher product prices. Some products are priced a little higher than we see in store, although not all. We noticed a difference between what we pay in-store for a product. For example, we paid $2.79 for Happy Farms String Cheese at the store, but on Instacart it was $3.09. In other cases, the cost was smaller — eggs were only a difference of 4 cents a dozen — while in still other cases, like shredded mozzarella, the prices were identical. So it varies.
A delivery fee. Delivery fees can vary depending on 1) the time of day, 2) whether it’s a busy time (i.e. Saturday morning), and 3) how much you spend. In our area, fees go down considerably when the purchase is $35 or more; whereas a $10 purchase can run a delivery fee of $7.99 or higher, a purchase of $35 or more is as low as $1.99.
A service fee. This was a flat fee on our bill. According to Instacart, “this fee helps support the Instacart platform and covers a broad range of operating costs including insurance, background checks, and customer support.” At one time in the past this fee could be waived, but as of summer 2018 it is mandatory. According to Instacart, the fee is fixed at 5% of the order, with a minimum fee of $2. Be aware that Instacart also imposes a separate fee for alcohol.
Driver tip. You can pay through the credit card and either choose a percentage or specify a dollar amount. According to the site, “100% of tips go to your delivery person, tips are always optional, and you can change your tip after your delivery.” The default tip is, like the delivery fee, 5% or a minimum of $2. (We upped it to 15%.)
A “bag fee.” According to the website, “a bag fee may be added to your final total if required by law or the retailer. The fee will be visible on your receipt after delivery.” Because Aldi doesn’t give bags away for free, on our order of 10 items, we paid a 14-cent bag fee.
Sales tax. For most people this is not a surprise, since it’s something you’d have in-store, too, but it’s still probably worth mentioning, especially since higher prices mean slightly higher sales tax. On a related note, we didn’t see any way to claim tax-exempt status, something tax-exempt entities like churches and charities should be aware of.
To put the various fees in context, here is our total bill. Note that our item subtotal was less than $35 but we still had a lower $1.99 delivery fee; this was because the shopper reported she could not find one of the products. (More on this below.)
|Checkout Bag Tax or Fee||$0.14|
The discount you see, by the way, was the promo code ALDILOVE, which let us get $10 off our first three orders. The catch: the promo code expires (at least in our case) for our remaining two orders in less than a month, so beyond that we’d pay full price.
The Instacart Delivery Experience
On the morning of our scheduled delivery, we received a text to let us know when our shopper started shopping, and it stated we would be notified if there were any changes to our order. We were also told our perishables would be temperature controlled while in-store and carefully handled by our driver until delivery.
We got a text a short while later informing us that the SimplyNature Organic Cage Free Brown Eggs we wanted were not available, and we were asked to approve a refund on our account for the eggs.
Soon after that, we received another text saying: “Instacart is on the way!” It gave us an estimated delivery time of about 10 minutes from that point.
The driver actually pulled into our driveway just 2 or 3 minutes after that. She was a young woman in an SUV, dressed in a coat and earmuffs for our cold Midwestern Decembers. She came to our door with two of Aldi’s plastic shopping bags in her hands, and she noted that our eggs were in a specific bag. We thanked her, wished her a nice day, and she returned to her car. Then we went inside to check out our groceries.
Everything was there that we had ordered, minus the Organic Cage Free Brown Eggs, which we already knew about. The ice cream sandwiches we ordered were still suitably frozen (something we had wondered about). We put everything away and thought all was good.
Then, about 45 minutes after delivery, we realized we had forgotten to check the condition of the other eggs we ordered — the Goldhen Cage Free Large Eggs. Normally, we automatically check for cracked eggs when we pull a carton off the shelf in the store. (When groceries are delivered, we may not remember to check the eggs right away.) We pulled the eggs back out of the fridge, and there was a crack in one. To be fair, it was on the bottom of the egg, and we might have missed it ourselves if we were doing the shopping.
We received a final text shortly after delivery thanking us for using Instacart. It gave a link where we could view order changes and leave feedback. We clicked the link, gave our shopper a favorable review based on a five-star system, and then reported that we had a problem. It asked the nature of the problem — options included missing items, damaged items, wrong item, poor service, other, or no problem.
We selected damaged item and were prompted to select the product in question from a menu. Then we selected the problem from another menu — options included poor quality, damaged packaging, item expired, or item not properly temp controlled. There also was a space — although it was easy to miss — where we could write exactly what the problem was.
Instacart then asked what we wanted to do. Options were 1) nothing, 2) receive a credit, or 3) have someone contact us. We opted to receive a credit, which ended up being for the entire $2.29 cost of the eggs.
The key word here, though, is credit. It’s not a refund, but a dollar amount that can be applied to our next Instacart purchase. We figure the point of giving a credit rather than a refund is to help discourage fraud, but it also creates a potential dilemma. In order to redeem the credit, we have to make another Instacart purchase, which means spending another $35 (plus fees) on the site. We’re not sure if we’ll use Instacart again, so we may never put the credit to use. The credit, we noticed, expires one year from the date of issue.
Alternatively, if we wanted our money back but didn’t want it in the form of Instacart credit, Aldi states on its website that Instacart purchases are covered by the same guarantees that in-store purchases are, so if we wanted to, we could have taken the eggs back for a refund and / or replacement. Having to go to the store to fix a problem kind of misses the point of grocery delivery, though.
There are some things to like about the Aldi Instacart option. It’s fast, it’s convenient, and in a pinch it could really be helpful for someone who needs some items but lacks the time or ability to go out and get them. We could especially see this being valuable for people who are disabled or sick, or for young moms who don’t want to take their newborns or young children into a crowded store, or just for people who are in a busy or difficult season of life.
On the other hand, there is a not-insignificant price difference between using Instacart and going to Aldi yourself. That’s not a surprise, since you’re paying for a real person to go and shop for you, but there are a number of additional costs, including price differences and a number of fees that can really add up. What’s more, you need to spend at least $35 to keep the delivery fee down, so small purchases aren’t really cost-effective unless it’s a big emergency. The fees, in particular, might be a hang-up for Aldi customers, who by nature shop for the low prices.
Also, Instacart will keep trying to get you to sign up for the Express membership, which can get annoying pretty quickly if you’re not interested.
That all said, if you do find yourself having to use Instacart, Aldi does have one useful quality: we found that, on balance, it had some of the cheapest product prices in our Instacart area, since other grocers have similar price markups and fees. If you have to use Instacart, going the Aldi route is not a bad idea.
However, if keeping costs down is your primary concern, going to the store yourself is undeniably the better option. That, or hoping that Aldi decides to give its curbside pickup testing the nationwide treatment, too.