Skip to main content

Instacart claims it’ll now protect workers’ tips even when asshole customers bait and switch

Instacart claims it’ll now protect workers’ tips even when asshole customers bait and switch


Up to $10 if you get tip-baited

Share this story

Instacart personal shopper, Sydney Hollingsworth, carries a customer’s order after purchasing it at the Bi-Rite Market on Divisadero Street on Thursday, July 24, 2014 in San Francisco, Calif.
Photo By Lea Suzuki/The San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images

It takes a special kind of asshole to promise a big cash tip to your grocery delivery worker, only to snatch it away at the last minute. But as we reported in 2020, tip-baiting is a real problem for Instacart — and the company has introduced a new policy where it claims it will protect some of those tips.

Here’s the policy straight off the company’s press release:

Instacart’s first-of-its-kind tip protection offering will protect shoppers from customers who remove a tip without reporting an issue with the order. This protection will apply when a customer zeroes out their tip after delivery without reporting an order issue. Instacart will cover the amount of the zeroed-out tip, up to $10, to ensure shoppers are not adversely affected. While having a tip zeroed out after delivery is exceedingly rare, Instacart wants to ensure that shoppers are supported in the event that this happens.

While that sounds friendly and generous on its face, it makes me wonder what Instacart isn’t telling us about tip-baiting — because if it’s really that simple, those assholes are going to drive a semi-truck through its gigantic glaring loopholes.

First off, Instacart doesn’t have to pay these tips if a customer does report an issue with their grocery delivery. Do we think the kind of asshole who stiffs their delivery worker at the last minute really isn’t making up some bullshit excuse, too? That gives Instacart a huge out.

Second, what’s to keep a group of people who hate Instacart from forcing the company to pay a whole lotta tips out of pocket by intentionally omitting a reason for tip-baiting? I would be extremely surprised if the company doesn’t have ways to prevent that, ways that might make this offer less generous than it seems.

But I don’t know for sure, so I asked Instacart about both of these possibilities. Here’s what spokesperson Charlotte Healow sent me:

If the customer reduces their tip to $0 without reporting any issues with their order, we’ll cover the cost of the tip that they removed (up to $10).

This applies to all orders with a tip removed entirely after delivery, without a reported order issue — it does not apply to orders where a tip was never included.

Some of the order issues that a customer may report include if their order never arrived, their items were spoiled or damaged, or they had items missing from their order.

We have several anti-fraud measures in place to ensure that customers may not falsely report order issues, request refunds, or remove tips without a valid reason. If customers are found to be engaging in fraudulent activity, they will be removed from the platform.

This includes any customer found to be consistently removing their tips after delivery without a valid reason, as we previously shared in June 2020.

Instacart previously addressed tip-baiting in a small way in 2020 by giving tip-baiters only 24 hours to bait (which still seems like a long time?) and pledging to deactivate customers who “consistently and egregiously engages in this type of behavior.” This week’s move is definitely a bigger step, and it’s paired with another addition workers might like, too: if you as a customer give your delivery driver five stars, you’ll actually be prompted to tip or increase your tip now.

Please forgive my overall skepticism, but I think it’s extremely warranted with Instacart and similar companies, which have been found effectively stealing their workers’ tips, lobbying against their workers with promises that they immediately, shamelessly broke and are now boldly going forward into a world of instant delivery, which, we already know, can have disastrous consequences for the workers involved.

Instacart in particular is under pressure right now to show investors some growth: while it’s the leading grocery delivery company, it was recently forced to slash its valuation, and the WSJ profiles its current challenges in this story. Bloomberg’s Brad Stone recently wrote about how both it and its rivals are all getting squeezed.

Update, 4:30PM ET: Added Instacart’s response.