Instacart Tweaks Policy Over ‘Tip Baiting.’ Here’s What to Know

This illustration shows a person ordering groceries online.
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Gig workers who shop for Instacart and deliver orders to customers rely on tips to supplement the income they earn on each order.

So the pernicious practice of “tip baiting,” which appears limited in scope, nonetheless prompted the company to update its policies in an effort to halt it.

What is tip baiting? It refers to when customers lure a shopper to their order by offering a large tip up front. Shoppers can see the tip when they are accepting the order. Customers may do this to get speedy and personable service. Then when the customer’s order is delivered, they reduce the tip to zero.

Chief among several policy changes, Instacart says it will deactivate customers who consistently tip bait.

“Shoppers risk their health and safety in order to deliver groceries and other goods to people who are sheltering in place—they should be able to count on reasonable compensation for that risk,” four U.S. senators said in an open letter to Instacart’s CEO Apoorva Mehta.

Instacart announced changes to its tipping policy one week after the letter.

What’s In Instacart’s Tipping Policy Update?

Instacart packaged a host of app-feature updates and policy changes into one announcement after the company received criticism regarding tip baiting. The changes have been rolling out since early June.

Here’s what’s going into effect.

  • Feedback requirement for tip removal: “We are requiring customers to leave feedback if they decide to remove the tip after delivery. In the coming weeks, we’ll be testing an option for shoppers to view this feedback, in an effort to help you better understand why a tip may have been removed,” the company announced June 5.
  • Customer deactivation: Instacart says it will deactivate the customers who “consistently and egregiously” zero out their shoppers’ tips after delivery.
  • Shorter tip-changing window: Prior to the update, customers had 72 hours to change their tip after delivery. They now have 24 hours.
  • Faster tip cash out: Through direct deposit, shoppers are paid weekly. They may also elect to cash out their earnings before payday through a service called Instant Cashout. The update allows them to cash out their tips as soon as they clear, now in 24 hours. Previously, shoppers would only have access to tips via weekly deposits.

Does the Update Stop Tip Baiting?

In Instacart advice groups, several shoppers aired frustration that the updates don’t prohibit customers from tip baiting. Other shoppers say incremental change is better than no change at all.

Shoppers were generally hesitant to speak to The Penny Hoarder out of fear of being deactivated by Instacart, although the company denies deactivating any shoppers who have spoken out publicly and says it encourages feedback of all kinds.

Jen L., an Chicago-based Instacart shopper, asked that we not use her full name for fear of deactivation.

She said she thinks the new tipping window doesn’t stop customers from zeroing out their tips. If anything, she says, customers will do it sooner – within the 24-hour window.

When asked about the tipping policy updates, Instacart responded that customers zeroing out tips is very infrequent, occurring only 0.5% of the time.

“In terms of the tipping window, it’s important to us to give customers the flexibility to change their tip amount after they receive their order to best reflect the quality of service they receive,” Instacart said in a statement. “In virtually every instance where a customer adjusts their tip after delivery, they increase it.”

Overall, earnings from tips have doubled during the pandemic, the company said.

Other delivery apps don’t allow customers to change their tips for very long after the delivery. For example, Uber Eats gives its customers only an hour after delivery to change their tip. Shipt, Instacart’s rival grocery-delivery app, skirts the tip-baiting issue entirely by not allowing customers to add tips up front. Shipt’s customers are prompted to tip post-delivery.

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Jen says she’s been tip-baited here and there.

“But the tips were not a huge amount to begin with, probably less than $10,” she said, noting that her tips have shrunk since she started shopping with Instacart five years ago despite being a highly-rated shopper.

Before Instacart implemented service fees in 2016, “I would regularly get tips of $20 to $50 per order,” she said. “Now, I feel like with the service fee, customers either assume we get that fee so they tip less, or they are just feeling nickel-and-dimed so they tip less.”

She views tipping etiquette for grocery shopping differently than other tip-based work.

“Most of the tips are insultingly small now, considering we are driving to the store, shopping, and hand delivering,” she said. “[Customers] are tipping us the same as you would a pizza delivery guy.”

What Can Shoppers Do If They’re Tip Baited?

The new update does not provide any direct recourse for shoppers who are tip baited, but it does require customers to explain why they’re removing the tip. Instacart will judge whether the reason is legitimate or not.

The company says it’s testing out a feedback system in certain markets where it will share the reasons why a customer removed their tip with shoppers, but it didn’t specify in which areas.

“By collecting this feedback and sharing it directly with shoppers, we hope it can provide more clarity about why a tip was removed and to help improve the customer service experience in the future,” the company stated.

When asked what direct action a shopper can take to dispute when a customer tip baits them, the spokesperson said the shopper can report the issue in the Shopper app to have it reviewed.

Adam Hardy is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder. He covers the gig economy, entrepreneurship and unique ways to make money. Read his ​latest articles here, or say hi on Twitter @hardyjournalism.