Bringing the Magic or Shipt’s Sleight of Hand?

Imagine you’re a brand new app-based (app-bossed) worker who has just been approved as a Shipt Shopper. You’ve passed your video interview assessed by AI, cleared your Checkr background check, and submitted your necessary documentation through Fountain. You download the Shipt Shopper app, and it immediately prompts you to join a corporate-run Facebook community to “get tips, read stories, and more from experienced shoppers in the official Shipt Shopper Lounge.” To ensure you are directed to the corporate Facebook group they’ve included a “Join Lounge” button that hyperlinks you directly to the group — all without ever having to leave Shipt’s Shopper app.

Shipt Shopper Lounge comprises over 100,000 Shipt Shoppers. It is administered/moderated by a team of 16 corporate employees most of whom are employed as “Specialists” with Shipt’s Social Media Response department. To gain entry to Shipt’s online community Shoppers must provide administrators with their email address associated with their Shipt account. This email is then verified before Shoppers are allowed entry into the group. While the purported purpose of the group is to trade tips and tricks with seasoned Shoppers, the actual purpose of the group is to moderate and censor all channels of communications between atomized workers.

So how does Shipt utilize its Facebook group and Social Media Response specialists to manufacture consent? The answer is essentially a highly refined blend of censorship and an elaborate house of cards.

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Posts are set to approve. All posts must be manually approved by an administrator, posts that are not deemed “positive” are not approved.

  • Censoring comments. Comments are combed through, and any comments that are deemed critical are immediately deleted.
  • Promoting posts and stories from Shoppers that set unrealistic and problematic expectations of what is expected of workers.

Virtually all Facebook groups have rules, and rules are necessary to ensure that members are protected against hate, harassment, bullying etc. However, Shipt’s Shopper Lounge includes one incredibly vague rule against “venting” is actually utilized to silence dissent and censor worker’s grievances. Shipt utilizes censorship to unilaterally control the narrative around how workers feel about and relate to their working conditions.

So what types of posts are approved in the Lounge?

  • Shameless self-promotion. Shipt’s employee mods encourage folks to post pictures of themselves wearing Shipt branded merchandise which Shoppers can purchase with their own money from The Shipt Shop.
  • Not-so-humblebrags. Shipt Shoppers that boast about completing particularly challenging orders are cheered for, praised, and validated. The more extreme the parameters of the order, the more celebrated the Shopper is for completing it. No order is too extreme.

Shipt has not only censored Shoppers in its Lounge through post approval and comment removal, it has entirely removed workers that were critical, and even deactivated workers that took control of the narrative back into their own hands.

A Shipt Shopper named Chris started his own Shipt group, without the involvement or consent of Shipt. One of Chris’ frequent topics of conversation was encouraging other Shoppers to accept “promo orders” — more time sensitive, but significantly more lucrative orders. Shipt’s Director of Social Media Reponse, Nicole Adkins admonished Chris for creating his own group, and encouraging Shoppers to strategically accept promo orders. Shipt so strongly discourages Shoppers from cherry-picking promo orders, most Shoppers genuinely believe they can and will be deactivated for taking too many. When Chris later appealed to Nicole for help with harassment he was receiving in a Shipt-run Facebook group, he was deactivated within minutes — and so was his boyfriend, a fellow Shipt Shopper.

Another Shopper, Ashley Johnson tweeted critically about Beyond, Shipt’s MLM-style Shopper Summit. Questioning the practicality of the summit, Johnson’s tweet read, “You know what we need more than uplifting conferences? We need car repairs, car detailing, the ability to get our own groceries from Target, gas money, minimum wage, benefits like health care or sick leave, or even L&I when we are injured on the job.” Within an hour she received an email informing her she had been deactivated.

By now the stories of Shipt’s internal culture of censorship and retaliation have been featured in Vice, TechCrunch, and Gizmodo. Shipt has been heavily scrutinized for their Orwellian internal culture. However, if you thought the negative press, and public shaming might catalyze Shipt to improve its practices, and rehabilitate its reputation, you would be sadly mistaken. Shipt has only doubled down on its aggressive censorship.

After it’s first blows by the media Shipt has learned nothing. Several organizers with Gig Workers Collective have since tested the waters of acceptability in Shipt’s Shopper Lounge. One organizer, Sarah Clarke, gained entry into the lounge using another Shipt Shopper’s credentials. She silently observed during her first two weeks when she eventually posted below a picture flaunting Shipt’s newly redesigned bags, “that’s great! I love the bags. Can you please tell us about the new pay?”

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Within 20 minutes she was removed from the group. Ms. Adkins messaged Clarke explaining she was removed because they could not verify her email. When Clarke pressed back asking if she was removed for prompting a conversation about pay, Adkins responded it was just a coincidence and requested again that Clarke verify her Shopper credentials. Curiously after Clarke refused to comply, Adkins was instantaneously able to conjure up the “missing” email address that Clarke originally provided to gain access to the private group.

Another Shopper, Sarah Polito, challenged a Shipt corporate employee on their own post, “Amazing how the only thing Shipt allows people to see are all the “good” things. No one ever sees the issues shoppers have, like the pay structure, because you silence them. Shoppers have been deactivated for speaking out, their comments or posts are deleted and they are immediately removed from this group. Talk about censorship! What is Shipt so scared of? The truth? They wouldn’t have to censor anything if they treated their gig workers fairly.” Polito’s comment was removed in violation of Rule 3 in Shipt’s Shopper Lounge, no venting.

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Venting

Everyone needs to vent every now and then, but lets (sic) keep that between you and your friends. While we definitely appreciate feedback and have a whole forum dedicated to sharing feedback, we are successful because we maximize and focus on the positive! Shipt is all about solutions and problem solving.

Questions about pay cuts? Venting. Concerns over safety? Venting. Challenging unrealistic expectations of service? You guessed it, venting. Pushing back against censorship? Also venting. In short, anything shy of a worshiping at the altar of Shipt is deemed venting and accordingly grounds for sanctioning, anywhere from comment removal all the way to deactivation.

In addition to the massive centralized Shopper Lounge, Shipt has also created a vast network of dozens of smaller, localized Facebook groups for its Shoppers. Each of these groups contains an identical “About” section which states the purpose of the group and each one contains the same identical addendum: “PLEASE NOTE: this group was formed by and is run by shoppers. Although HQ employees post here and some are admins, that is more to distinguish them as who they are so that information is accurate. Shipt HQ does not control or otherwise run this group.” Though clearly this is fabricated because every group within a given metro area was formed on the same day as all the other groups within the same metro area. What does Shipt have to gain by claiming groups are run independently of Shipt’s corporate employees when its so obviously and demonstratively false? The illusion of a safe space for Shoppers, when in reality Shipt is actively and meticulously monitoring and clocking intel on every single grievance and sentiment that Shoppers feel so inclined to share.

Shipt has found a way to expand and build upon the surveillance feudalism that is inherent to the gig economy. Shipt has built a vast and unprecedented database of workers’ social media profiles, and maintains the highest degree of control over workers’ communication channels. Shipt’s true innovation lies in hoodwinking over 100,000 workers into plugging their social media credentials into a corporate-run Facebook community for a company that claims its not even their employer.

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