When Josali Gonzalez, a Hollywood, Fla., resident and widow, first started working as an Instacart shopper 13 months ago to help support her two young children, she was making as much as $600 a week for a 30-40 hour stint.
After spending a year driving for Uber and Lyft, she was ready for the change of pace, she said. The idea of sticking close to home, not to mention being off the road, was especially appealing.
“It was easy,” she said.
But last year, Instacart changed how it pays contractors — “shoppers” in Instacart parlance. Today, Gonzalez she has to work nearly twice as long to earn the same amount. For now, she’s stuck with it, she says. But she’s looking for alternatives.
“If I get something better, I’m definitely going to change,” she said.
She’s not the only Instacart worker keeping an eye out for new work as a result of the changes.
Over the course of 2018, the San Francisco-based company, which offers delivery in certain North Bay areas, that picks up and delivers groceries from major supermarkets — including Publix — changed the earnings structure for its 70,000 active contractors. (The company declined to say how many shoppers or customers it has in South Florida, where it has offered its service in Miami since 2015.)
Prior to the change, contractors earned 40 cents per item, plus a base rate set for each city, plus a tip. There were also occasional bonuses for especially large orders.
But according to Instacart, some contractors complained it was not always clear what fee they would earn on a given order. The pay structure did not account for factors such as the weight of goods or distance traveled.
Now, before they decide whether to accept an order, contractors see an up-front estimate of what they will earn. The goal, the company said, was to spell out potential earnings on a given order, and also provide contractors more choice on which orders they accept. Instacart also now guarantees $10-minimum earnings for contractors on each order, more incentives, pay from a store to a customer, and changes the way it awards performance bonuses. Meanwhile, it has also cut prices for hungry customers as new competitors have come online.
But Gonzalez and numerous other Instacart contractors across the country say the changes have caused a sharp reduction in how much money they can make. And that cut is too much to absorb — even with the benefits of flexible work hours and community relationships.
Some contractors say a boycott is in order.
“We are connecting with Uber activists, helpful organizations already fighting, and lobbying Congress,” said Matthew Telles, a Chicago-based Instacart contractor involved in organizing the protest.
Instacart was among the first of a growing group of app-based, same-day grocery shopping services. It has remained the largest, thanks to $1.6 billion in venture funding, even though it faces competition from services including Shipt, Google Express, as well as in-house offerings from Walmart, 7-11, Target and Amazon-owned Whole Foods. In December, Instacart said it would start dismantling its Whole Foods service.
Last winter, Instacart began phasing in pay changes in select markets, then in all the cities it serves, which number more than 1,200. According to company blog posts, it first consulted with more than a dozen of its shopper-contractors before making the changes.
David Hahn, Instacart’s head of product, said contractors’ earnings have remained consistent even with the changes. He declined to say what average earnings were.