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Blind Bargains

Review: Instacart Grocery Delivery Lets you Order Eggs from your Couch, but Challenges Remain

is a grocery delivery startup that launched in 2012 and currently <a
href="operates">">operates in New York, San
Francisco, DC, Chicago, Boston, LA, , Austin, Seattle, Denver, Atlanta and
parts of Connecticut. But is it accessible for the blind? Guest writer Chancey
Fleet took the platform for a spin to find out. Her thoughts are below.

Using the company’s website or a smartphone app, shoppers select groceries from a local store. (Here in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, my choices were Whole Foods, Key Food, and Costco. At my office in the Chelsea neighborhood in Manhattan, Key Foods is replaced by Food Emporium). Once a customer has filled up her shopping cart, she chooses to schedule a delivery at a specified time, or delivery within the next one or two hours. (My first order came with free delivery; it looks like subsequent deliveries will cost me $3.99 as long as my order totals at least $35, with ahigher charge for deliveries within an hour). higher charge for deliveries within an hour).

Instacart shoppers are independent contractors who use their own vehicles to make deliveries. During the checkout process, the Instacart app anticipates what items might be out of stock and helps the shopper plan ahead by selecting acceptable replacements from a list of suggestions. The shopper also gets to specify whether replacing a given item warrants a phone call. (The shopper I worked with called me twice, clearly and patiently gave me a rundown of my choices when the exact item I wanted wasn’t in stock, and told me to look out for her in about fifteen minutes once sheleft the store. She even let me request an extra impulse item over the phone). left the store. She even let me request an extra impulse item over the phone).

I got my Instacart shopping done using the iOS app with Voiceover. When I last heard about the app in May of this year, it wasn’t very accessible. A VoiceOver user documented the inaccessibility of the app in the form of an audio usability memo, and submitted it to Instacart customer service. A couple folks from the AppleVis community also contacted the company to bring the app’s inaccessibility to the developers’ attention. Instacart’s customer service team responded by asking users to keep submitting feedback, and by suggesting a mobile site that blind customers could use in the meantime. Some users reported that the site workedfine; others not so much. fine; others not so much.

When I set out to order from Instacart this week, I found a patchwork of in/accessible elements depending on the platform I tried. I was able to create an account, sign in, choose a store and add items to my cart using VoiceOver on the Mac and NVDA or JAWS with Firefox on a PC. On neither platform could I find a way, using my screen reader, to remove items from the shopping cart. This was true whether I used Instacart’s front door or the “accessible entrance” that Instacart customer service believed that the mobile websitewould provide. would provide.

I downloaded the Instacart app for IOS and found, to my surprise, that most things worked well. To make a long storyshort, I successfully ordered groceries with the app. I noticed four significant accessibility challenges: short, I successfully ordered groceries with the app. I noticed four significant accessibility challenges:

  • When choosing a department, there are unlabeled buttons sprinkled amongst the labeled department choices. As with many apps where accessibility feels a little marginal, the way to win here is to explore by touch, and scroll up and down through individual pages of results, style='mso-spacerun:yes'> rather than to swipe left or right to find what you want. It’s annoying, like hunting through that Planter’s mix for anything that’s not a peanut, but it’s doable.
  • When searching for a particular item, it’s also best to explore by touch. As a VoiceOver user, you’ll be confined to looking at items from a specific department until you swipe up with three fingers to get to the next page, at which point results from another department (if there are any) will appear. Other than that, search seems to work pretty well except that searching for “mustard” crashed me back to the home screen — in spite of every kind of restart I tried — to the point that I just bought Chalula instead.
  • As was previously noted on the AppleVis thread on Instacart, it’s not possible to see the price of any item just by browsing past it. You can, though, double tap an item to reveal its price, nutrition information, and related items--and then dismiss this information or add the item to your cart.
  • Lastly, although removing an individual item from one’s cart is possible with VoiceOver, it’s an inelegant process. Find the item; double tap it; lessen the quantity (by repeated double taps (if it’s something that comes in pounds or multiples) until you’ve dwindled it down to zero), then double tap Remove. There is no way, using VoiceOver, to clear one’s cart entirely so if you decide, halfway through your Costco spree, that maybe you don’t have the shelf space for 8 of everything, you’ll have to unmake your selections one by one.

It’s also worth asking yourself whether Instacart is worth the costs as compared with regular grocery shopping or even other, slower delivery services. A typical order will cost you $3.99 plus a tip to your shopper (and really, for the attention to detail and level of communication that are part of making this service happen, you should always tip). You’ll notice that the Instacart interface never points out sales, and totals are calculated before your shopper ever enters a physical store. So if a particular item is on sale, you’ll be passing the savings on to Instacart. On top of all that, an analysis by the New York Times determined that Instacart prices include a markup of about 20 percent on most items from their sticker price in the store. Cumulatively, it’s a high price to pay for the privilege of shopping from yourcouch. couch.

Still, Instacart offers a few advantages. Unlike other delivery services, it let’s shoppers order from local stores. For me, that means getting my favorite veggie chips from Whole Foods without encountering the epic crowds that shop there at peak hours; and stocking up on essentials from Costco once in a while without investing in a Costco membership. Instacart will be a great option next time my plans are derailed by unexpected chores or a rainstorm, and a visit to my local Trader Joe’s just won’t work. And - although I’m admittedly basing this assertion on one order and a whole lot of starry-eyed press coverage, the Instacart shoppers’ efficiency, precision and communication skills seem to be top-notch. That’s why it’s critical that screen reader users who want to use the service keep sending specific, constructive feedback to the company. They’re @Instacart on Twitter or via email. Ask them to deliver accessibility toevery platform. every platform.

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J.J. Meddaugh is an experienced technology writer and computer enthusiast. He is a graduate of Western Michigan University with a major in telecommunications management and a minor in business. When not writing for Blind Bargains, he enjoys travel, playing the keyboard, and meeting new people.

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