Money at 30: Aldi Curbside Pickup — Is it Worth it?
Over the past few months, I’ve been a bit torn. While I love saving money and keeping costs down, the convenience of grocery delivery has proven too powerful for me to resist. Now one of my favorite discount grocery stores is rolling out a better option with the introduction of Aldi Curbside Pickup. Yet, the question still remains: is this option actually worth it?
Let’s take a look at what you need to know about Aldi Curbside Pickup, including the process, the fees, and whether I’d recommend it based on my personal experience.
What is Aldi Curbside Pickup and How Does it Work?
Powering Aldi’s new curbside pickup option is the service Instacart. Incidentally, the grocer already had a partnership with the app in place to order delivery. In fact, I only happened to discover the existence of the pickup option while looking to place an Aldi delivery option.
If you’ve never used Instacart before, signing-up is both easy and free. The app also offers their Instacart Express service, where users can subscribe for a month or a year to get waived delivery fees and other perks. New users can also get a two-week trial of Instacart Express for free if you want to try it out.
For much more on Instacart itself, you can check out my full review — but, for now, let’s talk about Aldi’s new offering specifically.
Assembling your order
Once you’ve signed up for Instacart, you can select the Aldi in your area and begin putting together your order. This can be accomplished through browsing by department or using the search tool. On that note, since Aldi stocks mostly generic/private label items, it’s nice to know that the search tool does a pretty good job of suggesting items regardless of whether you enter a type of item or a brand name.
As you’re looking for items, you can tap on a product to get more info, such as the cost breakdown and, occasionally, the nutrition facts label. Then, you can select how many you want and tap “Add to Cart.” You can also add items directly from the search results by tapping the + button and entering additional units if you need to.
Perhaps my favorite part about shopping Aldi through Instacart is the ability to browse Aldi Finds. If you’re not familiar, in addition to its staples, the store also stocks a number of limited-time items. Thus, while I usually have a pretty good idea about what I actually need from any given Aldi trip, it’s always fun to fill out my shopping list with Finds that catch my eye (and, by extension, my stomach).
After gathering your items, you can tap the cart button in the upper right to see all of your selections. Here, you can also adjust the quantities, remove items, and even add instructions for associates in the event that a certain item is out of stock when they go shopping for it. If all looks good, then it’s time to checkout.
Selecting a pickup time
After choosing your items, you’ll want to select the pickup option and select a timeslot. To do this, first hit “Go to Checkout,” then choose the “Pickup” option to the right of “Delivery.” From here, you can first choose a store location and then view available pickup times for the next several days along with the fee associated with each (more on that in a moment).
In my case, the first available pickup time was about two hours from when I placed the order — although it actually ended up being ready well before that. I suspect this level of availability will be harder to come by in busier markets and continue to be strained as more people learn about the service. Then again, if the program does prove popular, Aldi might make efforts to expand its capacity. Whatever the case may be, we didn’t have any issues claiming a spot this time around.
Prices, fees, and tipping
As I noted, one of the downsides of getting delivery with Instacart is that the fees can really add up, with delivery fees, service fees, and of course a tip for your shopper. Luckily, while you will still pay a bit extra for Aldi Curbside Pickup, the extra costs are much lower and fewer.
Currently, pickups for orders over $35 come with a fee starting at $1.99. If your order total is less than $35 in product, the fee starts at $3.99. Alternatively, Instacart Express customers can enjoy free pickup on orders over $35.
Unlike with Instacart delivery, pickup orders don’t charge service fees. That said, I did notice a charge of $0.28 on my bill under “Checkout Bag Tax or Fee” since my order consisted of four paper bags. I know Aldi typically charges for paper bags but I’ve never actually purchased them to know whether or not this is in line with their normal cost. Either way, this small fee on $50 in groceries was hardly a dealbreaker.
Something else to note is that the prices you find on Instacart may not exactly match what you’d experience in store. While Aldi doesn’t highlight these individual discrepancies, they note, “Prices may be higher than in-store prices to cover the cost of personal shopping.” Personally, I haven’t noticed any major differences as the prices still remain remarkably low. However, considering that some items like produce, eggs, butter, and other staples tend to fluctuate at Aldi anyway, it would be more difficult for me to recognize such hikes without going into the store. Nevertheless, this is something to be aware of.
Finally, when it comes to tipping, this is where the cost of Instacart typically skyrockets for me (especially during the pandemic when I feel compelled to give my shopper what I think is a decent bonus). Well, if you’re picking up, you can skip this expense too. Not only is there no option for tipping in the app when you select pickup but, according to their site, Aldi associates do not accept tips. As they write, “We prefer to pass these savings to you for your next order!”
Watching your shopper shop
Thankfully, one of my favorite aspects of using Instacart remains intact with the Aldi Curbside Pickup option: the ability to follow your shopper’s progress and make adjustments if needed. The only real difference is that, instead of an Instacart shopper, your order will likely be filled by an Aldi Associate.
Once the Aldi Associate starts preparing your order, you can watch in real-time as your items are collected. If something is out of stock, they may suggest a replacement either by messaging you in the app or sending a swap for you to approve. Should you prefer a different substitute or wish to be refunded for missing items instead, this process is also simple and fairly painless. Plus, you’ll be able to message the shopper until they’re done with your order.
Holding your order
After the associate has assembled your order, it will be held in a “temperature-controlled environment” until you come pick it up. This is something I was actually curious about since some of my selections were frozen. But, despite arriving more than an hour after my order was ready, everything was as it should be.
The Aldi Curbside Pickup Process
“On my way” and “I’m at the store”
Once you get the alert that you’re order is ready, you’ll have a couple of different options related to your pickup. Namely, you can choose to share your location with the store so that they know when you’re pulling in or you elect to just notify them once you’ve already arrived. The benefit to the former is the potential of a reduced wait time as associates can begin carting out your order as you arrive. By the way, if you do opt-into location services and later change your mind, you can elect to stop sharing this data at any time.
Another option I noticed in the app is the ability to share details about your vehicle. Obviously, this will make it easier for the associate to recognize you and bring you the correct order (especially if it gets busy). Since I choose to share my location, this didn’t seem necessary so I skipped it.
Regardless of which method you choose for informing your shopper of your arrival, you’ll want to park in the designated pickup spots. At my local Aldi, there were four spots near the front middle of the lot that were painted blue, numbered, and had signage denoting that they were for pickups. It turns out that this location was likely chosen for its proximity to the staff door, which our associate emerged a few moments after we parked.
Receiving your bags
Prior to picking up our order, Instacart noted how many bags we’d be getting. This is helpful as you may not realize how much you’ve actually ordered and might not have the room in your vehicle. Interestingly, however, not every “bag” was an actual bag. Let me explain: we ordered four cases of seltzer along with four bags of actual groceries, but Instacart labeled this as six bags. I suppose, in theory, two cases of seltzer could each fit into one bag, so that’s likely where this came from. In any case, be aware that the term may be more of a unit of measurement and not exactly literal.
Another notable aspect of the bag receiving process is that labels bearing your first name and first few letters of your last name are attached to each bag. Additionally, each will show “1 of [X]” so you can further keep track and ensure that you’ve got everything.
Lastly, I feel compelled to mention that the associate was able to bring everything out to us in a cart, making the loading process super quick and efficient. And, just like that, we were on our way back home.
Final Thoughts on Aldi Curbside Pickup
As someone who loves Aldi but doesn’t always enjoy the experience of shopping there — especially these days — Curbside Pickup is a certified game-changer. To me, it’s the perfect middle ground between shopping yourself and splurging for Instacart delivery. Instead of paying $4.49 for delivery, another $3 or so in service fees, and a $10 to $15 tip, we just needed to shell out a Jefferson ($2), drive two blocks, and wait about two minutes to restock our grocery supply for two weeks.
With that in mind, do I think it’s worth it to get Instacart Express and get free pickup? In short, probably not. Considering that Express is $9.99 a month, you’d need to do five orders just to breakeven. Of course, this calculation assumes that the fee is always $1.99 like it is in my area, and is subject to surge pricing.
Overall, I was really impressed with my Aldi Curbside Pickup experience — from using Instacart to retrieving my order in no time at all. Because of this, I think it’s well worth the small fee. In fact, unless I was only going to be buying a few things, I definitely foresee this service becoming my new normal going forward.
Also published on Medium.