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Terrible tippers are making underpaid delivery jobs even worse

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02.10.2019

Amanda Jenerou wanted to supplement income from the tattoo shop she and her husband own near Phoenix. So in November 2018, she signed up for a freelance gig with grocery-delivery service Instacart. While the money initially beat out minimum wage jobs, Jenerou started noticing some disturbing trends: lower pay from Instacart, lower tips from customers, and some customers dangling tips that they deleted after she’s completed the delivery.

“I delivered to one woman three times and every time she took away her $2 tip,” says Jenerou, whose customer ratings have always hovered between 4.97 and five stars. “I purchased everything the customer wanted and made sure the customer was happy with the purchases.”

App-summoned deliveries from companies like Instacart, Amazon, and DoorDash have made our lives very convenient—but at a price. “Customers [are] getting sticker shock when they see the final total,” says Sarah, a Silicon Valley-based Instacart delivery person who asked that we publish only her first name. “Thirty-five dollars worth of groceries can easily become $60” when fees and tip are added in, she says.

It’s enough to make customers regret the expense and wish they could take it back—which they can, to an extent. Several delivery services offer the ability to change or remove a tip that’s already been set in the app. Instacart, a pre-IPO unicorn valued at $7.87 billion according to research firm PitchBook, allows consumers to adjust their tips up to three days after delivery. “The tip is the one thing you can take away,” says Sarah, who’s averaged a 4.92 star rating.

But for gig workers, tips have become a lifeline. Workers claim that companies like Instacart, striving to make a return for investors, have started lowering payments. And for consumers, there are few norms around what you should tip delivery people—leaving some to default to the low (or zero) tips that delivery apps suggest, or even delete their tips after the fact.

Amanda Jenerou and Sarah are among over a dozen people complaining of deteriorating pay conditions in national Facebook and Reddit groups where Instacart’s freelance delivery workers, known as shoppers, trade war stories. In recent months, there have been more examples of declining base pay from Instacart. In the past, customer tips helped make low-paid assignments worthwhile, but........

© Fast Company