One company that has really benefited from the recent boom in online grocery shopping is Instacart, As Instacart Inc.’s Chief Executive Officer Apoorva Mehta told Bloomberg Businessweek, "Every day, we would see that the volume was 20 percent higher than the last day. In a matter of a couple of weeks, we were already ahead of our end-of-year goal. A week later, we were ahead of our 2021 goals, and a few days after that, we were ahead of our 2022 goals. And so, at a certain point, we stopped counting."
Yeah, good times for Instacart investors. But the shoppers? Not so much. It wasn’t just health conditions but low pay that led some Instacart workers to go on strike — they’d wanted hazard pay of $5 per order (Instacart typically only guarantees $7 to $10 per batch of orders, according to the Los Angeles Times), but instead, The Hill says that Instacart only offered one-time bonuses of between $25 and $200 to its in-store shoppers as well as health and safety kits.
Accounts of Instacart earnings vary wildly
One New Jersey shopper told Fox Business that they’d been making up to $120 per day, and while a Minneapolis driver boasted to The Ride Share Guy about earnings over $2000 per week, the bulk of their earnings came from tips — and in the case of the New Jersey shopper, they were also earning performance-based "promotions," which are offered in certain regions at certain times (via Medium).
Other Instacart employees paint a very different picture. One Massachusetts employee who works as both a driver and a shopper left a review on Indeed in mid-April at the height of the COVID-19 stay-at-home shopping boom stating that their "pay has gone down drastically over the past year and a half I have worked. Tips are going down, batch incentive pay is as well," while a mid-May 2020 review from a New Jersey Instacart employee says "the pay as an in-store shopper is poor with no incentives for excellent customer service." The Los Angeles Times even reports the sad tale of an Instacart driver who earned less than $30 for about five hours of work — which is less than the minimum wage.
Instacart earnings are difficult to estimate
It’s hard to come up with an exact figure for what Instacart shoppers and drivers earn, since their pay rate is based on variable factors such as the size of the delivery, number of items, weight, and distance traveled — and of course, a significant amount of the earnings actually come in the form of tips, which depend entirely upon the mood, generosity, and financial state of the person ordering groceries. What’s more, an order can be canceled right up until delivery, and there’s also the shady practice of "tip baiting" where customers promise enormous tips, then change the amount to $0 after the order’s been delivered.
According to Indeed, though, Instacart shopper earnings (including tips) average out to $17.14, while Indeed‘s figure for driver salaries is just $10.07 per hour. A little bit confusing, since as The Ride Share Guy notes, both terms are often used interchangeably. A better measure might be the batch pay figure, which averages $15 to $20 per delivery, although the amount of time and trouble it takes to make that delivery is likely to vary widely. So yeah, if you’re thinking about working for Instacart, you may be one of the fortunate ones who lands a sufficient number of decently-paid batches and lucks out with generous tippers, or you could wind up underpaid, frustrated, fed up, and looking for a new gig.
Instacart is offering workers a vaccination incentive
Although there’s no denying that Instacart has profited greatly from the pandemic, for obvious reasons they still want to see things return to some approximation of normal as soon as possible. While many shoppers are not yet eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine in most states, with healthcare workers and the elderly receiving priority (as well they should), The Verge reports that Instacart is thinking ahead to better days when vaccinations will be available to anyone brave enough to roll up their sleeve. The company knows that for gig workers, time = money, so beginning on February 1st, they will be offering $25 to any full-service shopper who’s got 5 or more batches under their belt and provides proof that they’ve taken the time to be vaccinated.
Instacart doesn’t provide medical benefits for workers, as they are considered independent contractors rather than employees and such is the reality of the gig economy. They have, however, offered sick pay to workers who’ve either been diagnosed with or are living with someone who has COVID-19. (The Verge notes, though, that it hasn’t been easy for many workers to actually receive this pay.) Instacart is also pushing, along with fellow gig worker employers Uber, DoorDash, and Lyft, to have their contractors classified as essential workers who should receive priority vaccine access. No guarantee this will happen, though, since the Los Angeles Times lists numerous other groups including teachers, truckers, and meat packers who also feel that their services are not only essential but involve a high degree of risk.