Open Letter to Fidji Simo
Dear Fidji Simo,
A belated congratulations on being hired as Instacart’s new CEO. I’m among the approximate 45,000 Shoppers that make up your Canadian workforce. While the Canadian market is not as large as the US, we were your first stop on international expansion in November 2017 and during that time millions of deliveries have been made here. Canadians were thankful to have more delivery options during the Covid-19 pandemic.
However, like our American brethren, “We The North” are also struggling with declining earnings. I’m not talking about fewer batches for Shoppers. It’s not gone unnoticed that, in the company’s pre-IPO drive to profitability, batch earnings pay has been drastically cut.
Last week I had the opportunity to speak with the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) and their “Go Public” segment about the documented drop in individual batch pay. Go Public tells the stories of individuals, sheds light on wrongdoing and “holds the powers that be accountable.” This chart was generated using my actual batch pay earnings based on my batch work time. See how it starts dropping in May this year?
The CBC interviewed myself and other Canadian Shoppers about the unilateral decision to slash batch earnings, the lack of communication, the “defective” ratings system and tip theft just to name a few. As uncomfortable as it was for me to be interviewed, I’ll continue to speak out and raising these and other concerns with those who can help hold Instacart accountable. On October 17th, the CBC will be airing the interview which will also be available on-line in greater detail.
I’m among the silent majority and like many Canadians, we don’t like to cause trouble. In case you didn’t know, there are several Canadian Facebook Instacart Groups which collectively represent over 7,000 Shoppers. As a collective group, it seems our private messages have been largely ignored. I’m sorry, but it feels like public pressure is the only way to ever get Instacart’s attention. Below, in no particular order, are just some of the issues that need resolution, but some possible solutions are provided. The most recent version of this, TLDR document, can be found on my personal website.
Updating the Ratings System
Nearly every Shopper has experienced an unfair rating. It’s one reason Instacart allows one order for every 100 deliveries to be forgiven. However, there’s still too much opportunity for Customers to rate Shoppers poorly. Better guidance needs to be offered allowing for a more uniform approach to rating Shoppers.
You have four detailed customer feedback areas, “Communication”, “Replacing”, “Quality”, “Finding Items”, use them to guide the Customer for the Shopper rating. Add in an “Overall Experience” question and you have five elements to make 5 stars. Many of these feedback areas can be pre-populated. It can also be quickly “translated” to the thumb up/down (👍/👎🏻) system. Also, if customers can confirm a tip within 24 hours, they can do so with a rating. None of this 14-day extended review nonsense. Should Customers not rate after 24 hours a 5 star or “thumbs up” (👍) needs to given automatically.
So long as Instacart processes irresponsible orders, Customers will continue to place them. Recently I had bear witness to a Walmart order which included the following as part of 159 items/520 units (CA$60 approx. US$45 IC batch pay)
- 12 18-count variety packs of chips and 18 large bags of chips
- 35 24-packs of water/pop
- 2 bottles of 45l (12 Gal.) water jugs
- 36 1 litre cartons of juice
The initial Shopper had to abandoned the order half way through. That delayed the customer order, wasted time by Walmart to re-shelve items from the multiple abandoned shopping carts, and forced Walmart to write-off the spoiled items. As an FYI, the order took two hours to shop and two cashiers twenty minutes to scan and bag. Attempting to pay for the $2,000 plus order crashed the cash register at which point it had to be re-entered manually by the store manager. The order was eventually delivered four hours after the initial start.
- Don’t allow irresponsible orders like this through the system. Instacart has the information available to determine if it can/can’t fit into a mid-sized vehicle.
- Place a notice on the order informing the Shopper that two trips may be necessary or access to a large vehicle.
- Have the order broken into smaller batches so that the effort can be distributed among additional Shoppers rather than burden one with the entire effort.
- Provide the option for Shoppers to identify themselves if they have larger vehicles like a cube van or truck.
Please stop making it increasingly difficult for Shoppers to get to help through chat. Last year the chat function was two clicks away, now it’s six. Don’t make it difficult for us to get the help we need.
Early last year it was possible for a Shopper to phone and get help. Now Shoppers deliberately receive a fake “the number you’ve reached is not in service” recording when calling Instacart. However, if I block my number or if I’m a customer I magically get through. That’s not playing fair. Reinstate Shopper phone support for more immediate and critical issues.
Tip Baiting is Theft
Tip baiting doesn’t impact Instacart’s profits, so I know it’s not a huge priority, however more needs to be done. Instacart acknowledged issues with tip baiting last year and the solution was to reduce the amount of time Customers had to confirm a tip, and deactivate any Customers who consistently removes tips. Now tip baiters have only 24-hours to steal. I did a survey in one Facebook group and found that 75% reported being a victim of tip theft. Often different Shoppers are victimized by the same Customer. In fact, I’m aware of one customer in my area who has successfully stolen from seven Shoppers (that I know of, maybe more.) No one would go back into the diner where they had breakfast earlier only to take the $10 tip left on the table. That’s theft, so is tip baiting and Instacart can provide better solutions.
Ratings should not be a one-way street. It’s reasonable to assume that internally Instacart “rates” Customers. After all, how would Instacart know if they should terminate a Customer for continually filing fraudulent “missing items/orders”? Customers should also have a rating that Shoppers can view after acknowledging an order. Instacart stresses the importance of maintaining a high Shopper rating yet provides us with zero tools for proactive management.
Shoppers Blocking Customers
Occasionally, Shoppers need to take extra precaution and protect themselves from Customers. It could be for any number of valid concerns. The blocking process requires Shoppers to make the request through the chat feature. This is also relevant to a “Customer Rating”. If Shoppers have legitimate safety reasons to block a Customer, why expose that same risk to other Shoppers?
I didn’t feel safe delivering any future orders to my “tip theft/baiting” customer, so I had to spend nearly an hour to have them blocked. A few weeks later I took a batch and it was the same customer. Now the impact to me was three-fold. First, my cancellation rate increased. Second, I had to waste another hour requesting the customer be blocked. Lastly, while this was happening, I wasn’t earning.
The current process is wildly inefficient and not always effective. An automated system would greatly improve efficiency and assure accuracy. Similar to the reimbursement process, Shoppers could make a blocking request from a list of recent batches/orders.
In my humble opinion, the customer service agents you’ve contracted through Qualfon are by far consistently the worst I’ve ever experienced. Ever. I routinely need to ask multiple agents in order to get a constant answer. Agents have deliberately terminated the chat before I’ve received an answer. Then there are the outright lies they disguise as answers. I am not alone in this opinion. Many other Shoppers have experienced inconsistent answers and misinformation.
Recently I wanted to understand the basics of how “heavy pay” was calculated. This is the actual response I received from an agent. If the agent is telling the truth, there are more serious issues at Instacart than people realize. I think part of the issue is that the agents don’t seem to receive good and consistent training.
The Batch Algorithm
Knowledge is power and it feels like Instacart is keeping us in the dark about why certain Shoppers see better batches. Shoppers always want better batches. While there’s no expectation that Instacart will divulge the entire mechanics of the algorithm, it would be useful for Shoppers to know the various elements.
Is my rating more important than proximity to a store? Is shopping speed a greater factor than scanning accuracy? What about having shopped for the customer in the past? Which are more important? Just like food manufacturers don’t provide their product recipes, Instacart can publish the algorithm ingredients. Like reading the ingredients on a loaf of bread, Instacart can list the algorithm ingredients in order of importance. This would allow Shoppers to know and act on factors they can better control. Now Shoppers feel engaged and an active participant with the algorithm rather than a by-product of some secret process.
While Shoppers are told how much we will potentially earn on a batch, we have zero understanding as to how the batch pay is calculated. Pay is already broken down into tip, distance reimbursement and Instacart’s contribution (pay). My guess Fidji, is that you didn’t accept your CEO role without a detailed understanding and breakdown of your compensation package. Why keep Shoppers ignorant of how exactly the Instacart batch pay is calculated?
I have absolutely no inkling how Instacart arrives at a batch pay. Here are three orders I recently completed:
• Sep 21, $7.79 IC earnings for 24 items, travelling 4.3km
• Sep 23, $7.00 IC earnings for 42 items, travelling 1.4km
• Sep 25, $7.22 IC earnings for 36 items, travelling 1.0km
They were all single orders that didn’t have any heavy pay. Even factoring in for distance reimbursement doesn’t explain the difference. Instacart was already found guilty of using tips to subsidize Shopper pay. Your continued utter dislike for transparency reinforces Shoppers’ distrust of Instacart’s ability to maintain financial honesty. Simply go back to paying by order (and not batch) and reintroduce item commission. After all, why hide from your 500,000 Shoppers how our pay is calculated?
Instacart has been around for over nine years and achieved its first profitable month last year. More international expansion is on the horizon and investing in automated picking, pack and delivery systems continues. However, at the heart of the company are 500,000 plus independent contractors of whom without Instacart would not exist.
The weekend of October 16/17 marks the first major response by Canadian Shoppers and I’ll be among the thousands of workers who will not available to Instacart. There are major issues that need to be addressed with real action, not just words. So long as Instacart continues to take advantage of Shoppers, keep us in the dark about our compensation, have Customers steal our tips, etc., we’ll continue bringing attention to these and other concerns.
Shoppers will still be here for the near-term, delivering millions of batches each month. Do right by those who have so heavily contributed to the company’s US$39 billion valuation. As much as I criticize Instacart, I still want to maintain my part-time status. Aside from making money, a huge reason why I do this gig is for the satisfaction I provide to customers. However, if the company continues to demean Shoppers with pittance batch earnings and failure to communicate basic and essential information, they can do so without my support.