The previous policy allowed for customers to entice shoppers with generous tips, only to remove them after the order had been delivered.

By Jelisa Castrodale
June 08, 2020
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On Friday, Instacart announced that it would be changing its tip policy, in an attempt to protect its network of shoppers from getting "tip-baited" by literally the worst people in the world. It also said that it would be updating its Instant cashout feature, which will allow its shoppers to cash out their tips 24-hours after they've completed a grocery order, and it will temporarily waive all of its cashout fees for shoppers who use Visa cards.

But back to tip-baiting, which is a gross kind of switcheroo where customers entice shoppers with the promise of a large tip, but then significantly reduce the tip amount or even remove the tip altogether after the order is complete. In March, Instacart said that only 0.5 percent of orders placed through the app had their tip amounts reduced after delivery—but that still affects real shoppers who were willing to put themselves at greater risk during a pandemic so they could deliver our cartons of orange juice or whatever.

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"I was flabbergasted,” Annaliisa Arambula, a full-time Instacart driver, told CNN about having a $54.95 tip taken away after delivering an order. “It's very demoralizing… I don't pretend to be a hero, like a nurse in a hospital... but I literally am exposing myself [to coronavirus] and when I return home, exposing my own family to the possibility of transmitting this disease.”

Going forward, Instacart says that any customer who removes a tip after an order has been completed will be required to leave feedback explaining why, and any customers who "consistently" removes tips will be removed from the platform entirely. It is also shrinking the "tip-adjustment window," so customers will only have 24 hours to change their shopper's tip. (Previously, they could adjust the tip for three days after the order.)

"Our goal is to deliver a high-quality experience for both customers and shoppers. By allowing customers to tip after delivery based on their overall service, we see shopper tips increase or stay the same on 99.5% of orders," Instacart said in a statement. "Additionally, since the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak in North America, shoppers’ earnings from tips have nearly doubled. Tips are always separate from any Instacart earnings and all tips go directly to the shopper."

Instacart changed its policies the week after four U.S. Senators wrote a letter to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) asking the agency to investigate “potentially unfair and misleading” tipping practices on Instacart and other online grocery delivery services.

"Shoppers risk their health and safety in order to deliver groceries and other goods to people who are sheltering in place—they should be able to count on reasonable compensation for that risk [...] Shoppers choose which orders to take based on the expected compensation, which is largely driven by the estimated tip," they wrote. "By permitting customers to 'bait' shoppers with high tips that are then revoked, online delivery services facilitate the deception."

It's depressing that Instacart has to change its policies to try to make it harder for people to be awful instead of people just not being awful, but here we are.