In a perfect world, your Instacart shopper would find all of the items in your order with no issues. In the real world, sometimes items will be out of stock and you may not get exactly what you want.
Fortunately, the Instacart app is designed to allow both customers and shoppers to select replacement items, so you can get the next best thing when your first choice isn’t available.
Here’s how to select replacements for an Instacart order, and how to guarantee that your replacements will actually be good.
How to choose replacement items on Instacart
Instacart gives you replacement options for every item in your order. Here are instructions for the mobile app and Instacart.com
Choose replacements in the Instacart app
There are two ways to choose replacements in the Instacart app while you create your order:
While browsing items, tap on the item, tap on ‘instructions,’ then tap ‘If item is out of stock…’ to select replacement options.
The other method: Tap the cart icon, tap on ‘instructions’ beneath an item, then tap ‘If item is out of stock…’ to find replacement options.
Choose replacements at Instacart.com
At Instacart.com, click on the cart icon in the upper corner, then find the item and click on ‘edit instructions.’ Scroll to ‘Your preferences’ and find replacement options in the section that says “If out of stock, replace with…”
There are three replacement options that you can select for any item: Find best match, find specific replacement, and don’t replace.
You can find replacement options in the ‘Instructions’ section for each item. Select “If items is out of stock…’ to reveal replacement options.
Find Best Match — This gives your shopper the flexibility to use their judgement and find a good match for your item. It is the default option for out of stock items. The Instacart app will suggest replacements to the shopper, sometimes with hilarious results.
Find best match is a good option if you’re not very picky about the replacement, or if you’re confident that most shoppers will easily find a good replacement. It’s best for common items that will have lots of very similar replacements.
Pick Specific Replacement — This gives you the option to search for a specific replacement item. If your shopper can’t find your specific replacement either, they will refund the item.
Choose this option if getting an exact replacement is important to you. It’s the best option if you have dietary restrictions or strong brand preferences.
Don’t Replace — Your shopper will not try to find a replacement, and you will receive a refund for the item. This is the best choice for very specific, one-a-kind items where you will only be satisfied with the exact item.
‘Items need backup choices’ – When the app asks you to choose replacements
Instacart will ask you to choose replacements when their system detects that the stock may be low for certain items.
During the checkout process, you may see a screen that says ‘Items need backup choices.’ Make sure to pick backup choices to avoid a bad experience.
The cost of replacements
You will be charged for the item that the shopper selects. That means that if a replacement item is more expensive, you will end up paying more than you may have expected.
If you think a replacement item may be significantly more expensive, choose a specific replacement that meets your budget. And monitor the app to make sure that the shopper doesn’t pick something that is too expensive.
You can approve or decline replacements, or you can chat with your shopper to let them know if a replacement is acceptable.
How to approve or decline replacements while your shopper is shopping
The Instacart app will show you when your shopper makes a replacement. You have the option to approve or disapprove the replacement.
If you don’t approve or disapprove the replacement, the shopper can still continue the order and proceed to checkout.
If you’re able to, it’s a good idea to approve replacements to reassure your shopper that they are making the right decisions.
If you need to chat with your shopper, tap the chat icon in the upper corner of the app. Shoppers can easily send a picture of replacement options, so don’t be afraid to ask to see other options.
Strategies to get better replacements
Choose backup choices during checkout — If the app tells you to pick backup choices, make sure to do them, and make sure to pick the best replacement option. Especially if you don’t want a replacement for the item.
Leave good instructions — Most items don’t require further explanation, but produce and other by-the-weight items may need more specific descriptions from you. Leave brief, specific instructions to avoid any misunderstandings.
Communicate with your shopper — Not every situation can be handled with a one-button option in the app. Chat with your shopper to let them know what you need. Try to keep your messages short and precise, and don’t overwhelm your shopper with messages.
Add instructions to clear up common misunderstandings
You can write in extra instructions for each item in your order. Many common misunderstandings can be cleared up with good instructions. Mixups usually happen on produce items or items that are purchased by the weight.
For example, mixups are common for bananas or grapes because the app asks you to input a specific weight. You might not know the exact weight of what you want, so you can leave an instruction that gives more detail.
Only want one banana? Write that in the instructions. Want just one large potato and you’re not sure how much that will weigh? Make a guess at the weight, then write an instruction that lets your shopper know exactly what you want.
How to report bad replacements
If you’re unhappy with a replacement, you can report it after your order is complete and request a refund for that item.
To report a bad replacement or other problem, find the order receipt in Menu > Your orders, then tap ‘Get Help.’ Select Wrong items,’ then follow the on screen steps to report the issue
You will likely get a refund for an item if you complain about a bad replacement.
Hilariously bad replacement suggestions from the app
Instacart uses automated systems to recommend replacement options to shoppers. The system usually works well, but sometimes the suggested replacements can miss the mark.
In the image below, the laundry detergent that the customer wanted was out of stock, so the app suggested…sunscreen…as the best matching replacement. Not even close.
This customer wanted melatonin, a sleep aid. It was out of stock, and the app suggested caffeine instead. Forget about ever going to sleep if you take that replacement!
Want a Covid test? It’s out of stock, so how about a drug test instead?
You can’t control everything
Even if you do everything you can to select good replacements and communicate with your shopper, bad outcomes can happen. Stores might be running low on many items, leaving no good replacement options at all.
And not every shopper has strong experience with groceries. Instacart doesn’t offer much training, and the shopper gig tends to draw younger workers who may not have as much life experience dealing with groceries and household items.
Shoppers are not always experts, and they’re not mind readers. Do your best to communicate your needs to shopper and don’t assume that they know everything that you do.
If you’re unhappy with your order, report items to get a refund and only give your shopper a poor rating if they were truly unhelpful or rude. Remember that the Instacart rating system can be brutal for shoppers.