I’ve Been Using Shipt to Get My Groceries — Here’s How It’s Been Going

published Jan 29, 2020
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Credit: Shipt

I’m not the kind of person who is typically attracted to gig-economy startups or the convenience of having things done for me. I was a late adopter to Uber; I still kind of prefer hotels over Airbnbs; and the idea of having strangers do my shopping for me makes feel feel a little uncomfortable.

But I live and work in Birmingham, Alabama, where Shipt was founded and is still headquartered. It’s kind of a low-key big deal to have such a well-known techie app/brand/company in our little city. Their green-shirted minions move through our public shopping spaces with a dignified efficiency that speaks to their role in our local economic renaissance.

Add to that the fact that former bosses, colleagues, and neighbors here have spoken and continue to speak highly of the service, both as users, and as ad-hoc Shipt-shoppers, and I’ve felt almost guilty for not trying it out. So when Kitchn offered me the opportunity to review the grocery-delivery service of my choice, I knew that there would be only one for me. Would I learn to love it, or would my discomfort overwhelm me? And would the cost be worth the convenience?

How Shipt Works

The elevator pitch for Shipt is pretty straightforward: It’s like Uber but for groceries. Essentially, you download the app, sign up for a membership, and put in your personal info. (Unlike Uber, though, there are monthly or annual membership fees.) You shop through the app — choosing which of a variety of local stores you want to shop at, including most, but not all, grocery stores, but also (in my area) Petco, Office Max, Sur la Table, CVS, and Target. (Target bought Shipt in 2017, though it operates independently.) You can only order from one store at a time, however. And they don’t have every store — my local Publix is on there, but the Aldi across the street is not. Add what you want to your cart, and then select the hour-long window when you want it all delivered.

The order is then posted to available Shipt-shoppers who, much like Uber drivers, are able to vie for the gig. They’ll pick up the groceries you ask for — texting questions about substitutions, or taking direction about, say, the kind of tomatoes you want, even texting you photos of the food for your approval. And then they’ll buy it all and bring it to your door. You pay (and tip!) all through the app, so no money has to exchange hands.

  • Pricing and fees: Currently it’s $14 per month or $99 a year (which works out to $8.25 a month). Deliveries are free for orders totaling more than $35. For deliveries less than that, it’s $7 per delivery.
  • Where it’s available: Though it’s in most major cities, Shipt isn’t everywhere — a quick spot check revealed that it’s in Bozeman, MT, but not Montpelier, VT, for instance. It seems it mostly depends on where folks have signed up to become Shipt-shoppers. There isn’t a map, but you can input your local zip code here to see if they’re in your area.

    Sign up for Shipt here.

How My Shipt-Shopping Experiences Went

I bought groceries from a variety of local grocery stores — Publix, Target, Piggly Wiggly, and even Costco. (You don’t need a membership, though the Shipt membership ultimately costs more than a basic Costco membership.) I expected that, in addition to the membership fees and the generous tip, the products themselves would also all be slightly more expensive. To verify this, I ordered a typical set of groceries from my local store (onions, carrots, milk, eggs, chicken, ketchup, yogurt, butter, toothpaste, etc!) and then went the next day to the store to compare the prices. Here’s what I bought.

Credit: Christopher Michel
Groceries ordered through Shipt.

What I found was, honestly, a little confusing. Some items were slight more expensive. Others were oddly cheaper than they would be if I went to the store and bought them. When it all came out, the Shipt bill was $78.82, and the cost of buying everything myself would have been $76.46. Not much difference! Of course, that’s before the $15 tip (which is 20 percent!), and not counting the membership fees.

Overall, and regardless of where I shopped, this seemed to be the case. Prices on the app were near, but not the same as they would be if I was shopping myself. And there were items that I knew existed in said stores, that wouldn’t show up on the app. Shipt has a way around this — there’s a “special request” button at the bottom. But it would often require some description and negotiation with my shopper, who would often, but not always, be able to find what I had described. (Though that may just be me — I can get picky about certain things.)

What I Like About Shipt

In terms of convenience, Shipt is every bit as useful as I expected it would be. The experience is much like the incredible convenience of shopping on Amazon — pressing some buttons for things you want or need, and having them magically appear on your doorstep. I loved that I could specify, say, the brand of organic eggs that I wanted, or ask my shopper to look for not-too-firm tomatoes, and tell them a few blemishes are okay. And for a father of two, in a household where both I and my partner work full time, the ability to outsource my shopping really did feel like a valuable convenience.

What I Didn’t Love So Much

No matter how often I used Shipt, I continued to have the same fraught feelings that (for me) come with paying to have someone else do something for me that I’m perfectly capable of doing myself. Every time my Shipt-shopper showed up at my front door, I found myself thanking him or her profusely for going to the effort of picking up my necessaries, and practically apologizing for needing so much. (“Oh, god. I know those cans of sparkling water are heavy. I don’t even know why I drink them! Here, let me get that out of your car for you.” Makes mental note to add $5 more to tip.) When I found the occasional moldy onion from an ill-picked bag, or broken egg in the carton, I was overly reluctant to say anything or ask for redress — more reluctant, even, than if I’d bought it myself.

Then there were the back-and-forth negotiation that occurred when the Shipt-shopper couldn’t find, say, the big bag of organic carrots and needed to know if conventional was okay. Or for some reason couldn’t find the brand of local coffee I love most, and we needed to have a ten-minute back-and-forth with her texting me photos of the entire coffee aisle so I could squint and try to find something that would be amenable. (“They don’t have the single-origin Dominican Republic? Argh. No, I don’t like the Guatamala, it’s too acidic. What else is there?”) Occasionally moments like these came when I was working, in a meeting, or otherwise occupied, and the stress and frustration of trying to multi-task made me feel like it would just be easier to wait until the end of the day and do the shopping myself.

Finally, Shipt removes the experience of going shopping — especially at a place like Target — “just to see what they have.” Their list of items is (and maybe always will be) a little incomplete, and of course it’s impossible to pick something up and hold it, and see if you like it. In that way, Shipt may make certain kinds of shopping easier, but I can’t imagine it would every fully replace shopping. Obviously this isn’t Shipt’s fault and I’d have these same criticisms for any grocery delivery option out there.

My Final Thoughts

I think the service is smart and valuable — every bit as valuable as Uber, or Airbnb, or one of the dozens of other services that now exist. The pricing is reasonable. The app is easy to use. And even with a few snafus over finding the right coffee or discovering that I’d gotten a bum onion aside, Shipt’s service is user-oriented, and it’s pretty easy to make sure you’re getting what you actually want.

Ultimately, I ended up cancelling my membership. It’s not you, Shipt. It’s me. I’m too much of a stick-in-the-mud when it comes to having other people do my chores for me. I’d rather do them myself. And there’s an undeniable upcharge to the service. Including membership and tips, using Shipt ended up increasing my grocery spending by about 20 to 25 percent. If convenience were more of an issue for me, that might be money well spent, but I usually ended up wishing I’d saved the money and just gone myself.

Your turn: Have you used Shipt, or another grocery delivery service? What was your experience? Tell us in the comments, below!