Instacart workers say that customers afraid to head out to the supermarket during the coronavirus lockdown are luring them with big tips only to cancel the gratuity entirely after delivering the groceries to their homes.
The practice, known as ‘tip-baiting,’ is particularly bothersome at a time when grocery delivery workers are risking their health to get food to Americans ordered to shelter in place during the ongoing pandemic.
‘I was flabbergasted. I couldn’t believe it,’ Instacart employee Annalilisa Arambula told CNN Business.
Arambula recalled one order that she received in late March. The customer, who lived just down the street from the supermarket, was offering a whopping $55 tip.
But after cobbling together all of the items and making the delivery as requested, Arambula received a message saying that the ‘customer modified the tip post-delivery.’
Instead of receiving a $55 gratuity, Arambula found she wasn’t getting anything.
The big tips are offered so as to increase the chances of having an order delivered within a reasonable time frame – a challenge these days considering the surge in demand for grocery deliveries.
An Instacart shopper is seen above in Washington, DC, making a grocery delivery on Monday. Some Instacart shoppers say they have fallen victim to ‘tip-baiting’ by customers
The image above is a screenshot from the Instacart app which shows how a customer can modify the tip after the delivery is made. In the case above, the initial tip that was offered – $12.34 – was eventually reduced to zero after the delivery
But customers also have up to three days after the delivery to change the tip amount, and they often reduce it or remove it entirely after the fact.
‘It’s very demoralizing,’ said Arambula, a resident of Portland, Oregon, who has worked full-time for Instacart since June 2017.
‘I don’t pretend to be a hero, like a nurse in a hospital … but I literally am exposing myself [to coronavirus] and when I return home, exposing my own family to the possibility of transmitting this disease.
‘When you know that it’s somebody who’s just doing it to game the system and to get their order when they want it, it’s really frustrating.’
Arambula is currently the only income earner in her household. Her husband is employed.
He is also a diabetic, which puts him at higher risk of falling seriously ill or dying if he contracts coronavirus.
As hundreds of millions of Americans remain indoors during the pandemic, delivery apps like Instacart have seen a surge in demand, so much so that the company said it plans to expand its North American workforce by some 300,000.
A spokesperson for Instacart told CNN that it is rare for customers to adjust their tips downward after delivery.
Instacart has seen demand surge during the coronavirus lockdown – so much so that the company says it will seek to expand its North American workforce by 300,000 workers
The spokesperson said the company recently removed the ‘none’ option for a tip, so if a customer chose not to leave a tip they would have to type in ‘0’.
One Instacart delivery worker, or ‘full service shopper’ in Pennsylvania said she has experienced several similar instances.
Jenifer G. told CNN that one customer originally left a $32.94 tip after ordering 27 items from a Sam’s Club location.
After she made the delivery, however, that number dropped to $0.
Another customer initially put down a $13.31 tip after placing an order for 38 items from a different store.
After the delivery, however, the customers wiped out the tip completely.
‘It’s a crapshoot,’ she told CNN.
‘These are affluent communities that I’m delivering to.
‘There’s almost no need to not tip, especially because not only is this a convenience for you but we’re in a pandemic right now.’
Instacart sent an email to its customers encouraging them to ‘please consider tipping above and beyond to reflect the extra effort of your shopper.’
Tips in some cases make up about half of income for Instacart shoppers, who on average earn between $10 and $17 per hour depending on several factors, including the distance shoppers need to go to deliver the products, the weight of the products, and other variables.
It is not uncommon for delivery apps to offer customers a window to reduce or increase the tip amount after the fact.
Uber Eat and Postmates, which offer deliveries of ready-to-eat meals, give their customers between one and 10 hours to change their tip amounts.
One lawyer told CNN that he is considering taking legal action either against Instacart or possibly individual customers.
‘It’s truly evil to bait and switch in this type of environment,’ said Bryant Greening, a lawyer with the firm LegalRideShare.
‘Their livelihood and well-being are on the line.
‘When these shoppers and drivers see a high tip, it’s an opportunity for them to put food on the table, so they’re more willing to take a risk on their health to achieve that goal.’