Is driving for Instacart in 2021 worth it?

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We’ll spare you the predictable pandemic intro and jump right into what matters.  

While rideshare business suffered a sudden decline, delivery services like Instacart and Grubhub found their own. Propelled by lockdowns and stay-at-home orders, people relied heavily on delivery for food and grocery orders, which sharply increased demand.

Instacart grew rapidly under the conditions created by the pandemic, attracting many drivers to the platform. But with the economy reopening and people returning to life as normal, is it still an attractive option for drivers?

What are Instacart drivers taking home in 2021?

Unless it’s something to brag about, companies like Instacart don’t usually reveal how much drivers are making per hour. Thankfully, more than 100,000 drivers use the Gridwise driver assistant app to track their earnings across various rideshare and delivery services – and that allows us to analyze earnings and provide you with the information you need to make the most of your time on the road.  

So, what does our latest Instacart data suggest?

Well, data from Q3 of 2021 show that median earnings dropped from $18.12 per hour in July to $14.85 in September.

Median earnings per trip have also dipped from $16.24 to $15.38 during this period. Based on those numbers, it’s looking like Instacart earnings are on the decline as we leave behind the worst of the pandemic.

Median earnings per hour for September 2021 were still more than what drivers used to make before the COVID outbreak last year. Instacart drivers made $12.31 per hour in January of 2020. The following April, when lockdowns were in full force, drivers made around $16.65 per hour and $23.43 per trip. For the rest of 2020, hourly earnings ranged between $14.50 and $16.50.

Interestingly, Instacart drivers made more money in Q1 of 2021 than any quarter last year. Median earnings per hour touched $17.08 in January 2021, the highest we have seen so far. Median earnings per trip were also higher in Q1 2021 than any other quarter.

What that means looking forward

From the data, Instacart drivers are making more money than they did in the months prior to the COVID outbreak in the U.S.

However, compared to Q1 of 2021, Q3 earnings show a downward trend, suggesting either the number of orders has gone down, or the number of active drivers has gone up. Unfortunately, either scenario is bad news for hopeful Instacart drivers.

How does Instacart compare to other services?

If Instacart drivers made the switch to drive for Uber or Lyft, they would be making around $20 to $35 per hour on average.

In fact, final earnings could be even higher as these ride-hailing companies are currently spending millions of dollars in incentives to bridge the driver shortage.

It’s a flip-flop. While rideshare suffered significantly during the pandemic, delivery businesses grew rapidly. But now that people are moving more freely, there is a growing demand for rideshare drivers and a reduced need for delivery drivers.

So, should you drive for Instacart in 2021?

At the end of the day, it’s your decision. Let’s look at the factors you need to consider and the questions you need to answer to decide whether Instacart is a viable option for you:

  • Instacart earnings are significantly lower compared with Uber and Lyft. Even other delivery services like Amazon Flex and Walmart GoLocal boast higher earnings per hour than what Instacart drivers made in Q3 2021.
  • Ridesharing involves sharing a small enclosed space with dozens of strangers every month, some/many of whom may be unvaccinated. If you are not fully vaccinated or have health conditions that make COVID deadly for you, you’ll need to seriously consider the health risks associated with ridesharing.
  • Rideshare earnings are heavily influenced by your location. If you operate in any of the worst-performing markets, you may not make more than you would on Instacart.
  • Delivery services usually allow you to see how much you are going to make (excluding tips) before you accept an order. Though rideshare services are experimenting with this feature, it’s not as widespread or transparent. So, if you want to be picky about your orders, delivery jobs have the upper hand.

What you can do to earn the most with Instacart

If Instacart is your app of choice, here are some tips to help you improve your earnings:

  • Be picky. Don’t accept any and every order that comes your way. Wait for high-value batches for better payout and tips. It is possible to strike a balance between your acceptance rate and accepting worthwhile orders.
  • Function over form. If you don’t already own a vehicle, opt for a fuel-efficient model (either purchased or rented). Unlike picking a car for rideshare, you don’t have to worry about riders’ comfort when delivering groceries.
  • Over-deliver. Maintain a high customer rating to get priority access to batches. Being courteous, punctual, and proactive in anticipating customers’ needs can help you maintain a high rating without much effort.
  • Get ahead. Set an alarm to quickly claim peak time slots for your shifts. Planning in advance will help you improve your earnings significantly through Peak Hour Pay Boosts and more batches.
  • Share the love. Refer your friends to become Instacart drivers to earn a referral bonus. When someone shows interest in your job, help them decide if it’s right for them and guide them through the signup process.
  • Work where it works. If feasible, move to busy zones to get more batches. Keep an eye on zones to spot patterns and schedule your shifts accordingly.

And, as always, rely on the Gridwise driver assistant app. Gridwise helps you keep track of all your Instacart earnings by comparing your performance and earnings across different services to gauge what’s working best for you … and your wallet. Download Gridwise today!

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