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Tech Savvy: Online grocery orders arrives with Instacart

Cub Foods and Costco now offer online grocery deliveries through Instacart, making it easy to shop and have groceries delivered to your home. 1 / 6
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After an order is placed, the personal shopper's progress can be tracked in real time. Before the shopper starts, customers can add or subtract from the order. 3 / 6
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Ordering from a smartphone provides shoppers with this view of items, cost and a tap to add them to the online cart. Image from Instacart5 / 6
Grocery shopping from a tablet like an iPad or from a laptop or desktop computer provides an expansive view of products and opportunities to filter searches, such as gluten free. Image from Instacart6 / 6

Ordering groceries just got a lot easier.

And the appeal should cover a wide range of people from parents of young children, busy single workers and older retirees. Instacart arrived in the lakes region this summer. It allows customers to shop Cub Foods and Costco without ever leaving their couch. Online orders may be placed from a smartphone, tablet or computer.

I tried it in August to get an idea how the service would work.

The online screen is attractive and uncluttered with crisp graphics/photos of each product. For the items people shop for all the time, it's a simple word search and the items pop up. Shopping for Tab Coca-Cola, for instance, brings up an image of the bright-colored carton. In four clicks, four 12-packs were in the virtual cart in no time.

But it's also easy to browse the virtual aisles and look for general products. Click on the search bar and a host of popular searches automatically form a list for items like bread, milk, butter. Clicking on that search or starting your own will reveal the variety of options for milk in the store. On the left side of the screen is a filter to reduce the options by picking those on sale or with coupons, or specific brands, or flavors, or for specific needs like gluten- or fat-free. Then click on the plus sign in the circle to add the item to the cart.

People can also pick items by shopping by department to get frozen meals, deli meat, back to school supplies or dairy and egg, pet food, household items or flowers, or shop from the coupon book list.

For items with coupons, the savings is shown in red on the screen.

After placing the order, Instacart notified me that my order was received and when my shopper was in the store filling the list. Instacart gave me a time frame of when to expect the grocery delivery. I had the option of adding something I thought of at the last minute or deleting an item from the shopping list anytime before the personal shopper started.

When there are items that may be in shorter supply in the store, Instacart sends a note to ask if it would be OK to get the same thing from an alternate brand. You can say yes or no.

Once my shopper, Mary, was in the store picking up items, I had an online tracker to show me when shopping was complete and when it was in transit. It's similar to the tracker you can get with an online pizza order.

When shopping, a little clock and note on the main screen to the right provides a time when shoppers are available to fill orders, whether instant delivery is available or whether it may be delivered later in the day. It's possible to set up an order for a delivery later in the week.

My receipt had Mary's photo on it, an itemized list of the items with cost and coupon savings highlighted. The delivery fee for the $75 order was $5.99 with a pre-calculated tip of $3.76. A note came after everything was delivered, giving me the option of changing the tip.

Grocery shopping can easily take up an hour or more after driving to the store, parking, going up and down the aisles and then back again when I realize something on my list is at the other end of the store, and then unloading the car. By ordering online from the couch, the groceries arrived in less than an hour, were brought to the front door and were put away in about five minutes. The delivery and tip were easily compensated from the items I would have purchased on impulse—those chips or maybe the package of Twists licorice. So the online shopping can also help stay on track in terms of getting the items on the grocery list and not grabbing everything that looks good when shopping on an empty stomach.

Instagram reports the delivery area here covers more than 20,000 households and is bringing income earning opportunities to the area as they planned to bring on more than 100 new shoppers.

The personal shoppers are hired by Instacart, which then provides the service at a cost to Costco and Cub Foods.

"So far it's been wonderful," said Chris Quisberg, president of S&R Quisberg at Cub Foods, "It keeps growing week after week after week."

Quisberg said they get a report of total sales and transactions and are seeing the growth in the service. The rollout is going extremely smooth, Quisberg said.

The service started with the online shopping option and is expected to move to another option for people who want to order online and then pick up the groceries at the store. That part of the service, expected to start in Pequot Lakes, may roll out next year. Quisberg sees it as a beneficial option particularly for cabin owners and seasonal residents who want to pick up their groceries as they arrive in the lakes area. All that is expected to come as the service grows in use here.

Quisberg said the pick-up option can track the customer's cellphone and will then notify the store when the customer arrives in the parking lot.

While summer, with the influx of seasonal residents, seems as though it would provide more numbers for the service, winter may bring its own reasons to order online. The cold, snow and ice may create a demand for the service as well.

Quisberg said the Instacart personal shoppers are trained to pick ripe fruit, fresh meat cuts and to look at expiration dates when filling orders. Instacart also noted customers can leave a note for the personal shopper so they pick the correct ripeness of a particular fruit in case an avocado is needed for dinner tonight and one for later in the week.

So whether it's a busy family trying to fit everything in, long working hours, a sick day, people without transportation or those who no longer drive, or those avoiding weather, construction or traffic, the online store orders provide a service for convenience and independence.

"I think there are a million reasons," Quisberg said of using the service, noting he hears from those with young children who are using the service. Ordering online should be an easy choice compared to loading up the kids and then managing them and the shopping through the store.

For those looking to save time, stick to a shopping list, or shop from the comfort of home, Instacart is giving the lakes area residents and visitors more options to put their time and effort into other things and leave the shopping to them.