instacart, On-Demand

Is Instacart misleading and taking advantage of their shoppers?


Instacart, an on-demand grocery delivery service, recruits new shoppers with images of a single shopping bag and flowers being delivered to a residence. The customer is portrayed as a new parent that needs last minute items before cooking dinner. However, the reality of what’s being delivered and who it’s being delivered to is often a very different story.

Online communities for Instacart Shoppers are filled with discussions and pictures of bulk deliveries that Instacart demands their shoppers deliver. In many cases, the customer is not a parent getting ready to cook dinner, but rather, local and national businesses.   These commercial customers use Instacart to stock up on supplies they need to run their business. These supplies can be large and heavy bulk items and are often in large quantities.

This order was delivered by an Instacart Shopper in Seattle to a large multinational company (another cart not pictured).


This order was for 198 units of 1 gallon waters. (Picture shows 1 of 3 carts)


This photo was for a large sandwich chain restaurant’s order!


There are many challenges with these large bulk orders

Weight and Lifting

When shoppers sign up to work for Instacart, they are required to check a box stating that they can lift 30-40 pounds. Many of these orders, however, include items that exceed 50 pounds such as bags of sugar, salt, and other items.   Often, there are multiple units of these heavy items, increasing total weight to hundreds of pounds. Instacart Shoppers are not provided training for heavy lifting or provided heavy lifting equipment such as dollies, weight belts, or cargo vans. Instead, shoppers are equipped with a shopping cart and their personal car. Many orders also require long hauls up many flights of stairs to deliver to the end customer. There have been numerous, documented instances of Instacart Shoppers being hurt on the job. As independent contractors, however, they don’t receive any help from the company. Worse yet, shoppers are punished with reliability incidents from Instacart for not accepting the next order after an injury. And during recovery time, injured shoppers lose Early Access eligibility, which hinders their ability to pick up new shifts after they heal.


Wear and Tear on Shoppers’ Cars

Working for Instacart requires a vehicle. Nowhere in the Instacart vehicle requirement, however, is any specification for the size of the vehicle or whether it can fit these large orders into the car safely. To complete their orders, shoppers often have to fill their car to the brim with these heavy and large items, creating unsafe driving conditions and adding wear and tear on the shoppers’ vehicle.

Compensation for Large, Batch Orders Needs to Change

To add insult to injury, Instacart doesn’t pay shoppers based on quantity, weight, or any other measure of effort. Instead, Instacart generally pays shoppers 40 cents per item type. For example, 198 units of 1-gallon waters weighing 1700 pounds counts as one item type. An Instacart shopper would receive 40 cents for this water delivery, the same amount they’d receive for delivering a single Snickers candy bar. This is something that Instacart should fix.

No way for Instacart Shoppers to Decline Large Orders without Repercussions

Most importantly, there is no easy way for shoppers to decline these large, bulk orders without negative consequences. Doing so can result in a Reliability Incident, which is Instacart’s form of a black mark on a shopper’s account. When a shopper receives 5 Reliability Incidents they lose the ability to schedule hours more than a day in advance. This in turn can cause the shopper to lose the majority of their income because available hours (i.e. shifts) are typically claimed much earlier than the day before.  It can take weeks, if not months for a shopper to earn back the ability to pick up hours in advance (Early Access).

In a recent incident, one Instacart Shopper in Las Vegas called Shopper Happiness, Instacart’s shopper support call center, to inform them that she was uncomfortable delivering twelve 50 pound bags of sugar. Even after telling them that the bags exceeded the 40-pound requirement that she signed up for, she was told she risked her account being deactivated if she didn’t complete the order. Since Instacart is the primary income for many shoppers, they are forced to accept these orders or face losing their livelihood.

If Instacart is going to continue to pursue these types of orders, they need to make improvements in two key areas:

  1. Don’t require shoppers to accept orders with heavy items, or large quantities that don’t fit into their vehicles. This should be an easy opt-out process and should not impact their ratings, reliability incident counts, or ability to pick up future batches.

  2. Compensate shoppers fairly for these types of orders. At a minimum, this should include larger commissions for heavy items, which should be per unit, and not by item type.

To see what other issues Instacart Shoppers would like to see changed, or to share your own ideas, click here: