Instacart's "shoppers," a.k.a. independent contractors, forced the grocery-delivery startup to back down on a proposed major change to worker compensation in the face of a planned strike. In a blog post published today, the company said it would not do away with an in-app tip function after all — a move which some contractors told BuzzFeed would have significantly reduced their take-home pay — signaling a big win for a class of workers traditionally at the whim of "technology platforms" like Instacart and Uber.
"We recently announced a change to the way we pay shoppers to help them earn more on busy days, have a greater sense for what they will earn each week and receive a more consistent level of pay," read the announcement. "After announcing this change we heard from shoppers that they liked most of the changes but wanted to retain the ability for customers to tip online. We understand their concern and have decided to continue to accept tips."
This marks a quick turnaround from just a few weeks ago when Tech Crunch reported that Instacart would do away with the option for customers to tip shoppers within the platform. “Our current structure has shoppers being really reliant on tips for earnings,” Instacart COO Ravi Gupta told the publication. “It could work better for our shoppers. The reason is, 20% of our customers don’t tip. That’s a really tough experience of or shoppers.”
This argument didn't go over well with the workers themselves, who likely saw the 10 percent service fee to be collected by Instacart, and then distributed to workers, in lieu of a tip directly to the shoppers as the company yet again taking money out of their pockets. “I get a lot of big tips," a shopper named Matt told BuzzFeed. "That’s what I rely on. I knew it wasn’t going to be in my best interests.”
And so, echoing moves by Uber drivers in the past, employees began to talk of a strike. However, as independent contractors, they could quickly and easily be replaced should they not show up to work. Knowing this, they proposed an entirely different approach: Essentially DDOS'ing the Instacart app with shift availability postings.
"Sign up for as many hours as possible on [planned strike days] the 16th and 17th and keep letting batches expire all day long and getting back on shift," suggested a flyer circulated online. Or, if not that, "sign up for as many hours as possible and cancel your hours last minute. Or keep reducing your hours down and then cancel."
The threat alone, it seems, was enough to get Instacart to back down. Score (a very small) one for the working man.
Instacart, meanwhile, is facing other problems. In December the company raised delivery fees following a round of internal layoffs.