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Why Be Mad at Your Instacart Shopper When You Could Be Mad at Instacart?

Blame the company offering you cheap rates by underpaying its workers, not the underpaid workers

A man in a grocery store, with his back turned to the camera, wearing a neon green Instacart t-shirt
He probably got the order WRONG because he’s a GUY
Jaya Saxena is a Correspondent at, and the series editor of Best American Food Writing. She explores wide ranging topics like labor, identity, and food culture.

*pinches bridge of nose* Look, everyone is still getting used to some new normals, one of which is the proliferation of grocery delivery services like Instacart. On the surface it seems great — someone else brings your groceries to you! But, as with any service that relies on the folly of humans, there are setbacks and mistakes. Maybe you asked for low-fat mayonnaise, and the store was out, so the person bought you Miracle Whip. Maybe there are a few bruises on your apples, or maybe they couldn’t find the apples so they swapped them out for something else, maybe even something ridiculously un-apple-like, such as onions. Annoying, yes! Maybe even ridiculous, yet still people should roll with it, understanding that mistakes happen, especially when you’re using a service that brings groceries to your door.

But sometimes people do not roll with it. On April 27, Bitch editor Evette Dionne tweeted that “Men must be banned from being Instacart shoppers,” and after receiving dozens of affirming replies, tagged Instacart, writing, “Train male shoppers better please.” Later, after receiving pushback, she said that the previous tweets were jokes, but whatever her intention, the tweets launched thousands of complaints about incompetent men who couldn’t find certain items, or made replacements the recipient considered odd, or asked too many questions about the order.

Spun into a joke about the incompetence of men in the pop feminism space of the internet, the assumption was that these mistakes were somehow connected to manhood and patriarchy, and that it is the women, as it were, who should be shoppin’. It’s true, yes, that many men are terrible. It’s also true that the gig economy is based on paying next to nothing for a service that offers cheap rates by underpaying workers of all genders.

Grocery delivery services like Instacart have seen a profit boom since the pandemic began because not everyone has the physical ability or the time to do their own grocery shopping. And yes, it is ridiculous, as one person tweeted, to order eight potatoes and receive eight bags of potatoes. But someone, maybe even some idiot guy, is being potentially exposed either way, only now it’s typically an underpaid gig worker. Over the past year, Instacart workers have gone on strike for increased pay, only to be retaliated against with a cut to their bonuses. They rely on tips to make anything close to a living wage, and Instacart has a history of penalizing workers and suspending their accounts for things that aren’t their fault, like canceling an alcohol order when it’s discovered the customer was a minor.

Shoppers are also subject to low ratings when they get orders wrong, usually because a store was out of a certain item, which in turn keep them from higher-paying orders. One Instacart shopper described the experience of receiving a low rating to Vox, after trying to communicate to a customer that several of the items were out of stock:

The way Instacart works is this: A handful of orders appear on the shopper dashboard, and shoppers choose which orders they wish to fulfill, typically by how much pay the order promises. However, shoppers with higher customer ratings get first pick — the higher-paying orders. Even though shoppers in the, let’s say, 4.9- to five-star range provide virtually the same quality service, those even slightly below a perfect five-star rating can slip to orders that pay significantly differently.

...When I received a four-star rating after dozens of five-star ratings, my average dropped to 4.96. With it, my newly limited batches shrank my average earnings from $25 per hour to much lower, likely below New York’s $15 minimum wage. I became a bottom feeder, seemingly receiving the leftover orders that, by other shoppers’ definition, paid an amount that was not worth accepting.

Twitter user Dan Sheehan also commented on customers’ expectation of a “luxury service,” and that when shoppers must take dozens of orders to make a decent day’s wages, they don’t have the time to make sure every piece of produce is perfect. Also worth noting that those who complained on the thread of dumb mistakes — like the eight bags of potatoes — were fully refunded after informing Instacart and the shopper who messed up was likely penalized with a blow to their rating. (And if they happen to be looking for a home for those free extra potatoes, try a community fridge or offering them to neighbors. We are living in a food crisis, after all.)

This is all to say we’re all human, and a man who has made it his literal job to go grocery shopping is not your shitty husband who forgot milk again. It’s a pandemic, and if you are this mad about your Instacart shopper bringing you the wrong ice cream flavor, there are other ways to focus your energy: Like, say, writing your senators about supporting legislation that classifies gig workers as employees who can earn living wages.