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Shoreline Families

Shopping Costco in Store vs. Instacart: How Prices Compare

May 22, 2019 01:21PM ● By Rachel Belfield

With the busyness of spring activities, family vacations, and out-of-the norm schedules picking up in our household, I’ve been considering having my Costco shopping done by the service Instacart. A Facebook friend posted a referral link to get $10 off my order, and it got me wondering how prices would compare if I shopped in store vs. ordering through Instacart.

After filling my online and physical Costco carts a couple times over the last month, here’s a report of what I found.

Pricing Comparison

For more than half the items I compared, there was a fairly standard 22-23% markup on the items purchased through Instacart. For example, the Kirkland Signature applesauce pouches are $9.99 in store and $12.19 on Instacart, and 50 pounds of IAMS large-breed dog food was marked up from $47.59 to $58.09.

Occasionally, an item on Instacart would be on sale for a pretty big discount, making it roughly the same price as in the store (the Aurora Village location, to be precise). When I assembled an imaginary order, a few of those sale-priced items brought my average price difference down to 18% more through Instacart compared to buying in person at Costco. One item was drastically more expensive on Instacart: Fresh Steelhead fillets in store were $8.19/lb, whereas they were $12.19/lb through Instacart (a whopping 36% markup).

While I wasn’t able to do a direct comparison of in-store sales to online sales, I did notice that some items on sale in the store also had discounts applied to their Instacart price. And if you’re new to Instacart and find someone with a referral code to send your way, that can save you $10 off your purchase as well.

One other cost factor to consider is the Costco membership fee. If you're not already a Costco member, the annual fee (as low as $60, as of the date this article is written) may be worth avoiding by purchasing once or twice through Instacart. (But there are some ways to shop at Costco without a membership--see this article for some ideas.)

Instacart Delivery Costs

In Shoreline on a typical weekday, Instacart charges a delivery fee of $8.99. But it appears that buying certain product brands will waive your delivery fee. For example, CLIF was offering free delivery on orders of $35 or more since I had their kids’ Z-Bars in my cart, as was Huggies since I had a pack of Pull-Ups included in my purchase. From what I could find, however, there was no way to search for the items that would remove the delivery fee, rather something to stumble across as you searched the site for your items.

What About Tipping?

Here’s what the Instacart site has to say: By default a 5% tip is suggested at checkout, with a minimum suggestion of $2 per individual store delivery. Tips are optional and the default tip may be adjusted at checkout or up to 3 days after the order is delivered.

Shoppers (Instacart’s term for the person shopping for and delivering your order) appreciate tips as a way of recognizing great service. 100% of your tip goes directly to the shopper delivering your order.

What’s Available via Instacart

Many of the Costco day-in-and-day-out staples are available through Instacart. Shelf-stable foods, frozen food, produce, meat, vitamins, personal hygiene and grooming, and bakery all appear to be well represented in the online array of products

What’s Not Available via Instacart

  • Alcohol, including beer and wine

  • Seasonal items, such as lawn chairs, swim goggles, outdoor lighting

  • Electronics and home goods, such as suitcases, Sonicare toothbrushes, and memory cards

  • Clothing and shoes

  • Books

When Is Instacart Most Useful?

There are times when you really, really need to outsource something: packing the family for a vacation, cleaning and prepping the house for guests, or stocking up so the household is set when you’re leaving on a business trip. In those situations, I can see how someone simply delivering the much-needed string cheese, sandwich bread, and applesauce to my doorstep would be a godsend. (Not to mention that 50-pound bag of dog food!)

It also depends on how you prefer to shop Costco or what the intent of your purchase is. Do you love to stroll the aisles and explore what’s new, taking your time and finding cool things you never knew you had to have? Or are you a focused, stick-to-the-list sort of shopper who’s annoyed by the impulse purchases vying for your attention and blowing your budget? If you’re the latter, then buying online and not having the temptation of rogue purchases adding up might actually help you stick to your budget better than heading into the store.

I put together an imaginary Costco order that would come to $381.79 in the store. (Definitely a big trip, but not unheard of for big families or when cupboards get bare!) The same items through Instacart came to $448.92--an 18% increase over buying in the store. When I added the $8.99 delivery fee and standard 5% tip, the total rose to $480.36--that’s $100 (or 26%) more than what I’d pay in store.

Costco In-store Total: $381.79

Costco via Instacart Total: $448.92 (18% over in-store prices)

Costco via Instacart Total with 5% tip and $8.99 delivery fee: $480.36 (26% more than buying in store)

So while there are days when I might fantasize about throwing down a Benjamin to avoid the chaos of Costco and feel like a high roller with my own personal shopper, I wouldn’t consider one of those major, stocking-up trips the best use of Instacart’s service (or my household’s budget, more importantly). A more modest order of household staples, where perhaps the added markup, delivery, and tip total more like $50, seems somewhat reasonable and like a big relief when one is really strapped for time.

See the attached PDF for an (un-pretty) look at prices of the items I compared side by side.