Personal food-shopper Instacart rolls in to city

Posted: March 01, 2014

So, it's Saturday afternoon and guests are coming in a few hours; the house needs cleaning, the dog needs walking, and you're short half the ingredients for dinner.

Aditya Shah has a suggestion: Instacart.

The brainchild of Shah's boss, 27-year-old Apoorva Mehta, Instacart is the latest entry into the Internet retail world, offering consumers a way to order groceries online with delivery within one to two hours.

The twist is that Instacart has no products or even a delivery fleet of its own - unlike competitors such as Peapod, which has distribution centers and company trucks for deliveries.

Instacart relies on a staff of "personal shoppers," who troll the aisles of local stores, fill orders and, using their own cars, deliver the groceries, which are typically priced at a small premium per item. Beyond that, your cost is $3.99 on orders over $35.

Launched in San Francisco in 2012, Instacart is making a leap to a national stage, having already expanded to Boston, Chicago and Washington.

The service arrived in Philadelphia on Feb. 18, according to Shah, Instacart's head of expansion. It is available in most of the city and a few surrounding neighborhoods, including Bala Cynwyd, Wynnewood and Penn Valley. (For a map of Instacart's Philadelphia service area, visit www.instacart.com/locations/philadelphia.)

Instacart, Shah said, has proved particularly attractive for young urban professionals, who live in the city and may not have cars, and couples with young children, for whom hours on the weekend could be put to better use than shopping.

"People really value saving time," Shah said. "Everyone is busy these days. Any time you can save for them is a plus."

Instacart has no formal agreement with any particular retailers, but tries to offer consumers a choice of places to shop.

In Philadelphia, Instacart users can select items from either Whole Foods or Super Fresh. The process is simple: go to www.instacart.com, create an account and begin shopping.

Once a shopping list is created and paid for online, the list is transmitted to a "personal shopper" to fill.

Jordan Schlenker, 26, is one of Instacart's local personal shoppers. While he already has a full-time job, Schlenker said Instacart was appealing because he can set his own schedule and he genuinely likes the work.

Once given his shift schedule, he goes to his assigned store and waits for an order. When the order arrives, he shops, pays for the purchase with a company credit card and then makes the delivery.

Shoppers are paid a per-item commission, Shah said, in recognition that larger orders take longer to fill. He estimates that a typical personal shopper should expect to earn anywhere from $15 to $25 an hour per shift.

Schlenker said he has yet to hit that range consistently, but attributes that to the newness of the service. He noted that customers also tip.

Shoppers like Schlenker get special training in selecting produce and other perishables, Shah said.

"We put our shopper through extensive training," he said. "Our shoppers are trained to pick produce better than our customers themselves."

Schlenker has a simple rule: If he would not want it for himself, he won't buy it.

"I love the job," he said. "I feel like I'm working for myself. And as long as you are detail-oriented and pay attention to customer service, it is easy."


chepp@phillynews.com

215-854-2594

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