Dear Instacart Customers

Vanessa Bain
Oct 9 · 5 min read
Instacart shopper Brianna Johnson of Buffalo shops a customer’s order at the Wegman’s location on Alberta Drive in Amherst. (Robert Kirkham/News file photo)

Dear Instacart Customers,

My name is Vanessa and for several years I’ve been an Instacart Shopper. On November 3–5, thousands of Instacart Shoppers will be holding a workers’ protest. We are demanding that Instacart restore the default tip amount to at least 10% and to remove the confusing “service fee” which the company pockets for themselves.

We did not arrive at the 10% figure arbitrarily, rather this is what the default tip amount was back when I and many others started working for Instacart. We are simply demanding the restoration of what was originally promised.

To illustrate what Instacart has done to its Shoppers, I’ll quickly go over how Instacart has gradually introduced anti-worker changes over the last four years:

When I started shopping for Instacart in early 2016 the default tip amount in the customer interface was 10%, and over 80% of customers left us tips of 10% or more. In October 2016, Instacart pulled a fast one on customers replacing the tip input with an identical-looking input for a “service fee” that also defaulted to 10%. What was not communicated was that this service fee went directly to Instacart, it was not passed on to the Shopper and was not actually a tip. Instacart’s ostensible pretense for the service fee was to provide shoppers with higher guaranteed order and item commissions and increase overall payouts by providing additional large order bumps, and bumps for club stores. Currently, we are subject to an algorithmic pay structure that includes none of these former incentives.

Tipping Shoppers was in fact entirely removed from the interface at this point, making it appear to customers as if those “service fee” amounts must actually be the tip. It was only ever an option to give the company extra money. This was, of course, ridiculous and outrageous, and after we protested and made the public aware, Instacart returned the tip option, with a catch — the “service fee” would remain, defaulting at 10% of the order cost, and the tip would default at zero. Shoppers sued, and Instacart was legally required to alter the wording behind the “service fee” and to stop propagating their outright lie that service fees went to Shoppers.

By 2017, Instacart’s pay cuts and lack of pay formula transparency led to some Shoppers making as little as $1 per hour.

In 2018, Instacart lowered our pay again. This time they removed pay transparency completely and took away our item commissions, per-order payments, and large order bumps. These were important pay bonuses that made working large, troublesome or multiple orders per shop possible. At this time the company also began using tips to supplement our pay — a practice that was met with derision from both Shoppers and customers. At one point Instacart tried to claim extremely low pay was the result of a glitch, and that offers that paid as little as 80 cents an hour, were simply “glitches” or “edge cases.” Shoppers, however, received thousands upon thousands of offers that by their standards were “edge cases.”

To quell the outrage and get the media to stop dragging them, Instacart reluctantly agreed to stop using tips to supplement pay and implemented a $7 minimum batch guarantee. This was still low compared to a commission-based pay structure, but it seemed their PR department calculated correctly that this concession would be enough to reduce media attention.

In February 2019, Instacart was forced to return misappropriated tips to Shoppers. With the introduction of yet another new pay structure, tips were on top, but Instacart did not restore commission-based pay. Instead, they continued to generate offers using a black-box algorithm, with their newly implemented $7 minimum batch guarantee. This $7 guarantee is for what Instacart terms a batch, which notably can include shopping and delivery of up to three separate orders grouped together from a given store. The majority of orders pay around the $7 minimum, regardless of how large the order might be, or if we’re shopping for one, two, or three customers. A large Costco order filled with bulk items and flat packs which can take an hour to shop often nets the Shopper even less than $7, once you factor in expenses such as gas, insurance, and maintaince to name a few.

Despite loyalty to Instacart and the customers we’ve gotten to know over the years, many of us have been forced to find other gigs to make ends meet. But not all Shoppers are so lucky or even have the ability to be so fluid with their careers or their time. A large portion of the working body are single parents, caregivers, are disabled or have other conditions or obligations that would make getting other work difficult or impossible. Instacart is highly aware of this and weaponizes this fact against us when turning the pay dials lower and lower.

All that said, we love the customers we get to meet. Many of us shop for the same customers routinely and have gotten to know them — many are sick or have mobility issues, new mothers, college students, or young professionals working to keep their own livelihoods, and we are happy to help by saving them a great deal of time each week. We want to keep shopping for you, but we are barely hanging on by a string.

Every week, our Shoppers are sharing stories with each other — stories about how they can’t afford to get their car fixed so they’re forced to work more hours and risk their safety. Or how a family member is in the hospital so they need to keep working to generate any possible income. Or how they lost their traditional job and have to keep going so they don’t lose their car or apartment.

It shouldn’t be like this. When I started in 2016, the pay system was transparent, predictable, consistent and fair for the work we performed. We now have none of that. Please help us by telling Instacart to raise the default tip back to at least 10%, to always give 100% of the tip to the Shopper, and to completely remove the intentionally confusing and obsolete “service fee.”

Vanessa

If you are a Shopper click here to learn how to participate and spread the word!

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