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If you get your groceries delivered through Instacart, you’re either going to pay an annual membership fee, or a delivery fee and a service fee, to get groceries sold at marked-up prices, and you can’t even use paper coupons. So it’s hardly the type of service you’re likely to use if you’re concerned about saving money.

But a California man says it’s even worse than that – he says Instacart is purposely overcharging customers by making them pay for higher-priced items, substituting lower-priced items, and pocketing the difference. So he’s suing.

James Andrews of Riverside County, California filed suit against Instacart in a California state court last week. The dispute centers on Instacart’s practice of providing substitute items when the specific items a customer ordered are unavailable. Andrews’ lawsuit claims that Instacart often substitutes cheaper items but doesn’t refund customers the difference in price.

Andrews says he became aware of the issue in April of last year, during the early weeks of the coronavirus pandemic – just when many grocery shoppers were trying grocery delivery for the first time. He says he placed several orders using the Instacart app to have groceries delivered from his local Stater Bros. grocery store.

Andrews “selected specific items he wanted and was specifically cited the price of those items and was charged those prices,” the lawsuit states. But when his groceries were delivered, he discovered that Instacart “had made substitutions for certain selected products… which were cheaper,” including “produce which was at a lower weight that quoted and paid for.”

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But Andrews says he was not charged a lower price for the lower-priced products – Instacart just kept his money, leaving him to feel he had been “ripped off” and “cheated.”

Instacart’s help center tells shoppers, “keep in mind you’ll be refunded or charged for the difference in price for replacement items.” So officially, what Andrews says happened to him, shouldn’t have happened. But his lawsuit claims this is a regular practice, “part of a common scheme to mislead consumers and incentivize them to purchase” from Instacart without knowing they’d be taken advantage of.

Along with most every other grocery delivery service, Instacart was overwhelmed last spring, as shoppers reluctant to get their groceries in person chose to order online instead. So not everything went as it was supposed to. Delivery slots were hard to find, the company announced plans to hire hundreds of thousands of new shoppers to handle the extra workload, and the substitutions that Instacart offered weren’t great. Bloomberg reported last spring that shoppers desperate for toilet paper found that the Instacart app “repeatedly suggested, for example, that customers looking for Cottonelle try printer paper instead.”

Andrews isn’t arguing that his substitutions were inappropriate – just that they were overpriced. He’s suing for false advertising and unfair business practices, and is seeking class-action status on behalf of other shoppers who may have found themselves in the same situation. Instacart has not yet responded to the allegations in Andrews’ complaint.

So while this case makes its way through the courts, keep a close eye on your receipt if you decide to order your groceries online. Delivery fees, service fees, marked-up prices and an inability to use paper coupons aren’t the only ways you could be paying a whole lot more than you might expect.

Image source: Instacart

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