The New York Times called it—online ordering companies are back like it's 1999. Remember the rush of getting a box of Klondike bars delivered to your door from Webvan or Kozmo before the dot com bubble burst? All of this has happened before and will happen again: Instacart, the one-hour grocery delivery service based in San Fransisco, launched Portland operations at the end of August and is partnering with Uwajimaya, Whole Foods, and Costco to end the era of shopping trips.
So...what's the big deal? Sure, it's pretty convenient to avoid the drive out to Beaverton for a Uwajimaya fix, especially with car-free living on the rise, and you don't need to be a Costco member to order from Costco on Instacart (hellooooo giant tub of olives). Moreover, new local stores are on their way, and you can order groceries from multiple stores in a single order for one delivery fee—starting at $3.99.
We tried out the service to see how it works—and to load up on Asian staples like curry paste, rice, coconut milk, and taro.
The process: The online ordering is pretty streamlined—just create a log-in and start browsing. You can search for specific items, or digitally wander through an "aisle"—a selection of items that would be found in the same section of the store. They'll delivery fresh produce, meat, pantry items, baked goods, and some oddball ingredients you might not know how to find (or pronounce). Choose a delivery time, give any access info (e.g. building entry codes or directions to your hidden backyard studio apartment), and sit back—your groceries are on their way.
The follow-up: Well, they're almost on their way. After we ordered, we were given options for substitutions in case a specific item wasn't available at the store. Personal shoppers can be instructed on swapping white sweet potatoes for orange, a different brand of curry for your first pick, or a smaller or larger size. If you're dead set on a specific item, you don't need to pick a sub—you'll just be refunded in the event the shelves are empty.
The delivery: Our shopper showed up a bit early, which might have been a problem if we hadn't been ready to accept the delivery at the time, but overall the process was super easy and straightforward. One thing: next time we'll be tipping in cash, because the online add-a-tip option, while convenient, led to an awkward moment at the door.
Our verdict? if you live in Portland or Beaverton (see Instacart coverage map, right), try it out—before the bubble bursts again. Your first order of $10 or more is free, and the reusable tote bag is actually kind of cute. Besides, you can always use it at the farmers market if you discover the "personal shopper" thing isn't really your style.