Instacart Shoppers Say Change To Tipping Policy Has Led To Pay Cuts, Deactivated Accounts

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Things between Instacart and the people it uses to deliver grocery orders have been a bit contentious ever since the company decided to overhaul its tipping practices last fall. Months later, it doesn’t appear to be getting any better, as shoppers tell Consumerist the company has cut their pay by way of decreasing delivery rates, prevented them from picking up orders, and at times, deactivated their accounts.

The moves by Instacart represent just the latest strife between the company and its workers, who are classified as independent contractors.

In September, the company announced it would do away with customer-selected tips for shoppers. Instead, users would be charged a “service amount” that Instacart said would be used to pay higher wages to all shoppers.

After a backlash from workers who claimed this shift would significantly cut their pay, Instacart modified the policy by keeping both tipping and the new service fee, a move that some shoppers said was only causing more confusion for customers.

Now some of those workers who spoke up about this policy change believe Instacart is retaliating against shoppers.

A Lighter Paycheck

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Shopper Lisa, who works in the Los Angeles area, tells Consumerist that rates in her area dropped $1 for full-service orders and $0.20 for delivery-only orders this week.

She was first notified of the changes last week when Instacart sent a reminder to shoppers about its dynamic rates.

“The rates are based on how busy we expect to be and how many deliveries you are able to do,” the company said in the reminder. “Most importantly, though the numbers will vary by zone and by day, we are always targeting for you to earn a reasonable take-home that is similar or better to comparable roles, with the fastest shoppers able to earn well above that.”

spokesperson for Instacart tells Consumerist that its model creates rates based on a number of factors including availability and demand.

“Our goal is to offer a fair and competitive wage in each market,” the spokesperson said. “Rate card are posted every week and shoppers are aware of the rates before they book their hours.”

By posting the rates in advance, the company contends shoppers are able to base their work schedule around when they might be able to make the most money.

Instacart goes on to note in its notice to shoppers that commissions will change as the company evolves, but that shoppers would be able to make more by completing more deliveries each hour.

Except, according to Chicago-area shopper Matthew, that’s not the case. He claims that shoppers are now forced to work even longer hours without coming close to their original pay.

“I work 50-plus hours a week, no days off,” he says. “I used to make $1,100 to $1,200 easily. Now with the same hours, I’m lucky to hit $800.”

Matthew tells Consumerist that he’s spoken with several of his fellow shoppers who have reported being affected by the cuts to both full-service and delivery-only rates.

The changes, according to Matthew, range from $1.55 in Austin to $1.00 in West Los Angeles. While that might not seem like a lot, he says that every penny counts when shoppers can only complete a handful of order each day.

Instacart had insisted that the shift from tips to a service fee would result in higher pay for all in-store and delivery shoppers. This new policy, which went into effect in October, automatically add a 10% charge to customers’ bills, with funds being split evenly between all workers.

But Matthew tells Consumerist that any hope of a pay increase quickly went out the door, thanks in part to the new pay cuts and other changes the company has implemented, including cutting the types of orders shoppers can cover.

He calls it a “long con, to lower pay across the board.

“I knew it was going to happen,” says Matthew. “Nothing surprises us about this company anymore.”

Delivery Only

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While Instacart noted in its announcement of the decreased delivery rates that shoppers would be able to complete more deliveries in one hour than before, Matthew tells Consumerist that the company has also limited the number of full-service orders — which pay more — that shoppers receive.

“Instead, they’ve turned a lot of the orders into delivery-only,” Matthew says, noting that those orders come with a lower pay rate. “I do a full-service shop maybe three times a day, and the rest is all just pick up and deliver for the lowest commission they offer. This is another money grabbing tactic as the in stores get hourly so it’s taking money from contractors pockets.”

The Instacart spokesperson tells Consumerist that the company in no way is cutting down on the types or volume of orders shoppers can obtain.

“That’s not happening,” the rep said. “We’re not in the business of purposefully making things harder for shoppers. We have tens of thousand of shoppers that we need to make sure we are doing the best for them and our business”

Shoppers get orders based on a number of factors, including current demand volume, geographic location of the shopper, and current orders available to fill.  When a shopper selects hours, they can see the hours most likely to maximize their earnings.

Additionally, by limiting the number of full-service orders available, Matthew contends that the company is essentially preventing shoppers from receiving the $100 bonus Instacart unveiled when it announced its service amount option.

The bonus was intended to provide the top 25% of shoppers with $100 weekly based on their five-star ratings.

But achieving a 5-star rating with delivery-only orders is nearly impossible, according to Matthew. That’s because delivery-only orders are compiled by a dedicated in-store shopper and then delivered by someone else.

Despite having two people working on the order, customers are only allowed to rate the transaction as a whole. So, if a customer doesn’t receive a product or is charged incorrectly, the blame is shared between the in-store shopper and the driver, even if only one is at fault.

As for the assertion that the company makes it difficult for shoppers to obtain the $100 bonus, the rep says that simply isn’t the case.

If an worker believes there is an inconsistency or that something is wrong with an order they are encouraged to contact their shift leader.

You’ve Been Deactivated

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While it’s never nice to have a smaller paycheck than you think you deserve, some shoppers tell Consumerist that slashing delivery rates isn’t Instacart’s only alleged retaliation against shoppers.

In fact, a number of shoppers from across the country told Consumerist that they were deactivated without notice in recent months after they either didn’t sign a new contract, signed it including the statement “under duress,” or signed it with derogatory notes.

Lisa tells Consumerist that she had just finished a shift on Dec. 2 when her dashboard showed she had been disabled.

“About 30 minutes later, I received an email from shopper support that my signature on the latest online agreement was not valid,” she said.

Unable to determine what wasn’t valid about her contract, Lisa looked to shopper support groups on social media.

It turns out, that many of her fellow shoppers were also deactivated after they signed their new contracts “under duress,” or “all rights reserved” in protest of the company’s tip/service amount changes.

“We were mad about the tip button and watching our income decrease by 30% or more,” she recall. “I knew I had signed mine that way, so I figured it was just a matter of time.”

Lisa soon received an email from Instacart confirming her contract was invalid because she had signed it to include “under duress.” She was sent a new contract, and reactivated the following day.

Still, she says that the short time being deactivated made her lose her early access to picking shifts for the following week.

According to Instacart, its scheduling system provides shoppers who worked 90 hours or more in the last three weeks, or who worked 25 hours or more in the last three weekends first dibs on choosing their hours for the next week.

“Many of us, including myself, rely on Instacart as a full-time job, so it really sent us over the edge,” Lisa says. “I think the way they do business is unprofessional.”

Pam shared a similar story, noting that she was also deactivated Dec. 2 after her shift. She notes that she had received the new contract that same day and had to sign it or she wouldn’t be able to work.

“I added the ‘under duress’ because the fine print was too small for me to see through my phone,” she recalls. “They never emailed me a copy of it after signing. A few hours later they emailed me a PDF copy of the contract and I signed it and was reactivated almost immediately.”

Still, like Lisa, Pam says that upon reactivation she lost all hours that had previously been earned through early access.

While Pam believes that the deactivation was because of the way she signed the new contract, she can’t help but wonder if her actions after the tipping change went into effect had anything to do with it. Like many other shoppers, Pam believes that the change from tip to service amount has been confusing for customers, who don’t know where to enter amounts or what each charge truly means.

“Yes, I have issues with the wording being changed from ‘tip’ to ‘service,’  I was putting informational flyers in all of my customers’ bags,” she tells Consumerist.  “I received a phone call from a general manager in my area warning me to stop. Coincidently, that phone call was just two days before my deactivation.”

Pam says that she’s stopped putting flyers in her customers’ bags, but that her tips have suffered.

“Back in September, I received tips from approximately 90% of my orders, then after they changed the tip to service I stopped getting tips completely,” she says. “When I started putting flyers in my customers’ bags I would get tips from about 40% of my orders. Now that I stopped with the flyers, I get tips from about 10% of my orders.”

Susan, a shopper in the Los Angeles area, shares a similar plight: she was deactivated after signing her contract “under duress,” signed a new contract, and lost all her scheduled hours.

While she’s back to work as usual, she’s left wondering if working for the company is worth it anymore.

“I find that they keep coming up with more and more unnecessary complicated ‘rules’ to make this job as difficult as possible, and it shouldn’t be,” she says. “I find I am spending the majority free time stalking the app for hours, checking to be sure I’m not deactivated, checking metrics, doing screen shots of my daily pay, just in case, and documenting every detail possible. It’s a tad too all consuming considering there’s no benefits, over-time, workers-comp, reimbursements, nothing.”

An Instacart rep tells Consumerist notes that any assertion that the company is retaliating against shoppers is false.  While going through a contract update, it is important for workers to understand and read the contract, the rep said.

“If they sign ‘under duress’ we can’t continue letting them work until they have a contract they can agree to,” the rep said. “For legal reasons, we need a a valid, signed contract for shoppers to work on our platform. Anyone signing under duress has had the opportunity to review the contract and sign. We worked with them to promptly return them to the platform.”

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