The gig economy of ride-sharing and grocery delivery has become notorious for exploiting and mistreating workers — and now, Motherboard has an inside look at one particularly bad example. A new piece digs into Target-owned grocery delivery company Shipt, examining all the extra work drivers feel pressured to do just to stay active and keep receiving work on the platform. It’s a thorough investigation of a company culture that seems based on fear and intimidation.
Workers say Shipt customers often live in gated and upscale communities and that the app encourages workers to tack on gifts like thank you cards, hot cocoa, flowers, and balloons onto orders (paid for out of their own pocket) and to offer to walk customer’s dogs and take out their trash, as a courtesy. Shipt calls this kind of service “Bringing the Magic,” which can improve workers’ ratings from customers that factor into the algorithm that determines who gets offered the most lucrative orders.
So it’s not enough to deliver the customer’s order from Target, now if you want to keep getting good ratings and more work you have to take out their trash and walk their dogs. Cool system! The article also details how Shipt workers worry about the company retaliating against them for posting negative comments or asking pointed questions on internal message boards and Facebook groups. One worker described being temporarily deactivated after criticizing the company’s new logo.
And then there’s the issue of pay: Shipt workers told Motherboard that the company recently switched from a straightforward per-order pay structure to a confusing algorithm that considers... some factors... to determine how they’re paid. You will be shocked to hear that the new algorithm does not favor the workers; some report their pay has dropped by 50 percent since Shipt made the switch.
It’s part of an unsettling pattern for gig worker platforms. DoorDash had to address complaints it was skimming drivers’ tips. Uber workers went on strike to protest unfair pay, poor working conditions, and an overall lack of transparency from the company. Independent contractor drivers for Amazon have described brutal working conditions, including long shifts with no breaks to meet the demands of Prime shipping orders. And The Verge has written about the appalling conditions for content moderators at Facebook and the waiver YouTube moderators sign acknowledging they’ll likely get PTSD from the work.
But go read this Motherboard story about Shipt because it has a lot of great details about how real people are affected when a company treats them like disposable cogs in their corporate wheel. And you should be aware when you place an order online — whether it’s at Amazon, Target, or some other company — how they treat the workers who bring your deliveries.