For the very first time ever, my family of six opted to use Instacart for our weekly grocery shopping instead of going out ourselves. It was two weeks into our ongoing social isolation, and we were running low on the basics like fruit and milk. My husband downloaded the Instacart app, and we started “shopping” for groceries at 11:00 one night after we put our four kids to bed.
We were then prompted to leave a tip, in which we both looked at each other and shrugged. What did we know about tipping for this new service? All of our family and friends also do their own grocery shopping, so we couldn’t ask them about tipping. I suggested we offer 20%, which seems to be the standard for tipping in general. Were we tipping too much, not enough, or just the right amount? We didn’t have a clue, but it’s sort of like not pissing off the waiter, right? You don’t want spit in your food, and I didn’t want broken eggs.
The next day, I was perusing a local mom social media group, when an Instacart shopper popped onto a thread regarding grocery shopping in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. I promptly DM’d her and started (politely) grilling her about all-things-Instacart. After chatting with her, I was relieved to know that my tip was reasonable, and it could be adjusted after delivery if need be.
What I learned in that thread were some horror stories and victories. Some customers complained that their groceries arrived late or damaged. Some experienced items they paid for that had never arrived, and some said their packages reeked of cigarette smoke. Others said they had amazing service, with a polite and prompt delivery person and well-packed groceries. How each of them tipped largely depended upon the quality of the food (particularly meat and produce), the accuracy of the order, and the demeanor of the delivery person.
Choosing to use Instacart felt like a gamble to me. Maybe it’s because I’m a bit of a type A control freak who likes predictability. Plus, I loathe the smell of smoke and cats. I’m also brand and ingredient picky. However, I’m more scared of the coronavirus. So after a few hours of figuring out the app, we hit “send” and waited to see what would happen.
We were pleasantly surprised. Two different shoppers grabbed our first order, since we were requesting items from two separate stores. One order arrived within twelve hours. The other in about two days. We had zero issues and agreed that the 20% tip was appropriate. Maybe it was a case of “You get what you pay for?”
Those who shop for us, via services and apps like Instacart, Shipt, and Dumpling, are working around the clock right now to make sure we get what we need and want in a timely manner. They are zipping all over town with their trunks full of groceries. There are families like mine, who include high-risk, vulnerable individuals, who really shouldn’t be out shopping if at all possible. Shoppers are risking their own health, and the health of those who live with them, to make money to support their own families. They are among the essential, front-line workers.
Consider what’s really going on as you decide upon a tip. Experienced Instacart shopper Katherine R. told Scary Mommy, “For grocery delivery, your shopper has driven to the store, shopped, (sometimes) bagged, and then driven to your home to deliver using their vehicle and gas.” She added, “Since Instacart is paying quite a bit lower than minimum wage, even before taking expenses into consideration, shoppers rely on tips to earn a living.” Read that again. Your tip is their paycheck.
Katherine sent us a screenshot of a recent order from her app, which we aren’t disclosing to protect her privacy. The shopper had a seven-mile trip to buy and deliver groceries for a customer. The entire trip would take approximately forty-five minutes. The tip? $0. From Instacart, the shopper made a meager $5.82. Clearly, this isn’t a living wage.
What’s even more mind-blowing is that some who are ordering are pulling a tipping bait-and-switch. When you shop with Instacart, you set a tip before delivery, but you can change your tip after delivery. Those hoping to lure shoppers to choose them—perhaps giving them preference and priority—will offer a hefty tip prior to delivery, only to change it after the groceries have been dropped off, sometimes to $0. This is a jerk move, especially in times like these.
Shoppers are in the customer service industry, and we’ve found in our experience that they want to do a good job. Since our state issued a shelter-in-place order, we’ve used grocery delivery services five times, having five good experiences. It blows my mind that when the shopper arrives, hauling groceries with a smile on their face, that anyone would take advantage and break their promise by drastically reducing or canceling the shopper’s tip.
It’s also ridiculous that anyone would tip a meager amount in the first place. If you’re going to use the service, know it’s going to cost you more than if you went to the store yourself—significantly so. That’s the point. You aren’t doing the work, and someone else is. Therefore, the shopper should be properly appreciated with a fair tip. Katherine R. told Scary Mommy that 20% or higher is an appropriate tip for a job well done. Moral of the story: Don’t try to save a few bucks by skimping on tipping. Not cool.
You tip your stylist who put honey highlights in your hair and your barista for a latte with a cute heart swirled into the foam. So please drop a grateful tip for the person who literally risked their health and trekked all over the store to deliver groceries and toilet paper to your doorstep. If these grocery services are out of your budget, consider using order drive-up instead, where your order is brought to your car by a store employee, usually at no additional charge. In general, the employee is not allowed to accept any compensation for putting the items in your trunk.
All of us are walking a delicate tightrope, trying to balance all of our responsibilities. The best thing we can do is show our gratitude in practical ways, help each other out, and make it through the global pandemic–together.
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