Worker Correspondents: Instacart’s Absurd Ratings System Threatens Worker Livelihoods

Source: Instacart

By an Instacart Shopper

I started working for Instacart in July of 2021. In the beginning I was able to make about $1,000 a week as I long as I stuck to the goal I set for how many hours I needed to work a week. However, I soon learned about Instacart’s arbitrary rating system, which can dramatically reduce pay overnight. Instacart shoppers are not employees of the company—they are independent contractors, left to fend for themselves.

Instacart’s rating system prioritizes the highest-rated shoppers for the highest-paying batches, and lower-rated shoppers receive lower paying batches. Customers can rate shoppers on a star system and give low ratings if their order was incomplete; if they received damaged items; if the shopper was unprofessional, rude or untimely; or for no reason at all. They can also claim items are missing for a refund, which might motivate a low rating.

Instacart says they automatically remove low ratings for reasons out of a shopper’s control such as severe weather, items being out of stock, and app outages, but in my experience, they have not removed ratings for these reasons even when I dispute them. Sometimes the customer doesn’t provide any reason at all. I have shopped thousands of batches, and have disputed many ratings, yet I have only had one rating removed. It seemed as if Instacart just randomly decided to approve that dispute.

A shopper’s rating is based on their last 100 orders, and about 50% of customers rate shoppers, so I usually have around 50 ratings determining my current score. Shoppers can dispute customer claims, and Instacart’s policy is to review these matters two weeks later. Keep in mind that any full-time shopper is going to shop for well over 100 batches in a two-week period. This leaves nothing for Instacart to review.

Low ratings can affect my livelihood overnight. Last week I received two 1-star ratings in one day, one with no reason given, and my disputes still haven’t been reviewed. If I were to receive another low rating I probably wouldn’t be able to work at all because my access to batches would be almost nil.

My overall rating with those two 1-star ratings is 4.84 which is considered Average. The rating tiers are Excellent, High, Above Average, Average, Below Average, and Low. If you are in the Low tier, you might as well look for another job because you aren’t going to make nearly enough money to pay your bills. It’s kind of like being in Instacart jail. Average typically provides very few opportunities to receive batches, and the batches you receive are very low-paying—probably around $10 on average, maybe less. In my estimation, the quickest batches take at least 30 minutes to complete if you are super fast and the number of items requested are minimal. The typical batch takes 45 minutes to an hour to complete.

The punitive ratings system coupled with the useless dispute process leaves people like me in a constant limbo, wondering when we can make a living or when the next arbitrary low rating will take money out of our pockets for weeks on end.

Recently I have started to feel like my livelihood is staked on a dice roll while the owners risk nothing. It has been made abundantly clear that this company does not care about my voice and opinions, let alone my livelihood.


Editors’ note: Individual Instacart workers, while working in isolated conditions, all experience the same tyranny of a company that sees them as nothing more than numbers in a computer program. This worker’s experience is not unique, and when more app workers begin to talk about their experiences and unite together, they can take on the company’s exploitative practices. The tech monopolies themselves will not stop their exploitation under this system, and workers must fight for a new society where their lives do not depend on a roll of the dice.

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