Some Instacart Users Promise Big Tips, Only to Take Them Away


There’s no getting around the fact that getting a hold of food is a little more difficult and dangerous right now. Naturally, that’s put an unexpected strain on grocery delivery services, not to mention the independent contractors who put themselves at increased COVID-19 risk to get food to your door.

With Instacart orders surging about 300 percent over this time in 2019, getting a worker to take on your order is an increasingly competitive process—so much so that some shameless people have stopped to a pretty despicable new low in order to effectively jump the line.

According to CNN, some Instacart workers are reporting that customers seeking a priority time slot have offered lucrative tips of $50 or more in order to jump the line—only to stiff the deliverer by modifying or even eliminating their final tip. Given that a “batch” of deliveries features info about tips (which often make up to half of their income from the service), it can affect what assignments Instacart deliverers decide to take on.

Needless to say, this is a particularly heinous way to treat Instacart workers like Annaliisa Arambula, who might not otherwise put themselves at increased COVID-19 risk had they known the promise of a big tip was a lie.

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“It’s very demoralizing,” Arambula told CNN. “I don’t pretend to be a hero… 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.”

While plenty of people are still tipping faithfully, this trick isn’t an isolated incident, either. Chicago-based attorney Bryant Greening tells CNN that he’s fielded inquiries from a few dozen Instacart workers upset by the practice. His firm LegalRideshare hasn’t ruled out bringing litigation against Instacart or even some of the customers who mislead their deliverers.

“It’s truly evil to bait and switch in this type of environment,” Greening said to CNN. “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.”

For their part, Instacart has at least taken some steps to discourage the practice. The app recently removed the “none” option on a tip, which at least forces miserly customers to manually enter “$0” to skip the tip. An email Instacart sent to customers cited by CNN notes that they should “please consider tipping above and beyond to reflect the extra effort of your shopper.” It’s also possible that new app functionality like a “Fast & Flexible” delivery option could help customers get their order faster without incentivizing them to act like a jerk.

The bait and switch problem only piles on to an already difficult and desperate situation for Instacart workers. As a company based on a gig economy model that can be perilous even in normal times, Instacart workers believe that the increased risks of COVID-19 exposure their job entails demands extra hazard pay and company-issued protective gear to mitigate their risk of exposure. Similar to Amazon, that led some of the company’s gig workers to strike in the hopes of winning concessions.

So if you do plan to continue ordering from Instacart, leave a real tip and tip well. Times are hard for everyone right now. The least you could do is not go out of your way to make them harder.





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