Some services allow customers to change tips after deliveries are made. Some jerks are taking advantage.

By Mike Pomranz
April 10, 2020
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The underlying principle being used to combat the coronavirus is that we’re all in this together working for a greater good—and if you’re not practicing social distancing or otherwise breaking the rules, you haven’t found a “loophole” in the system; you’re putting other people at risk. Needless to say, we should treat the people who bring us our groceries with the same consideration—and just because you can get away with misleading how much you’re going to tip them, you definitely should not be “tip baiting.”

Cyrus McCrimmon / Contributor/Getty Images

The concept of “tip baiting” is deviously simple: When you place an order through a service like Instacart, you’re asked to put in how much you plan to tip as an incentive for shoppers to take it. However, Instacart also lets people change their tip after their order—which also makes a bit of sense. In theory, a tip is supposed to reflect on the quality of service, and if you receive terrible service, then, yes, you may want to lower your initial tip amount. Other services, like Amazon Fresh, reportedly have similar policies. (Granted, if tips weren’t such an important part of shoppers income—something that’s already been criticized—this wouldn’t be such a big issue, but that’s a separate conversation.)

On rare occasions, though, customers have been taking advantage of this system, promising large tips upfront to bait shoppers to take their orders, and then dropping them once the order has been completed. CNN recently reported on a shopper who thought she was receiving a $54.95 tip but later saw it adjusted all the way down to zero. “I was flabbergasted,” Annaliisa Arambula, who relies on Instacart as her fulltime job, told the news site. “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.”

The problem has reportedly gotten worse as COVID-19 has caused a surge in delivery demand making it harder for people to secure delivery times—and Recode writes that some delivery people are calling on delivery services to suspend these tip-changing policies during the pandemic.

That said, in March, Instacart told the tech site that the number of users who lower their tips is extremely small: Only 0.5 percent of orders result in lowered tips. And in general, tips have reportedly increased since the pandemic hit the U.S.

Still, Bryant Greening—co-founder of LegalRideshare, a law firm that focuses exclusive on the gig economy—called the whole practice into question, even pondering whether bait-and-switch customers could be sued. “[Shoppers’] livelihood and well-being are on the line,” he told CNN. “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.”