Five demands to fix on-demand shopping

02 Nov 2021

Gig work doesn’t have to be so bad. Today, Sharon Goen of Gig Workers Collective tells us why she enjoyed shopping for Instacart over Amazon Flex, how one thing after another got worse, and what demands she and thousands of other shoppers have for Instacart to fix their job. For workers on the corporate side of gig economy companies, it’s free advice from shoppers who talked it out, did the math, and spelled out their demands.

Photo of a blonde older and wiser woman wearing an Instacart lanyard in front of a wall with ivy

Sharon Goen, a long-time shopper-organizer, strikes a pose

The Worker’s Perspective

by Sharon Goen

I have done gig work since 2017, and I used to really love it, especially the personal touch with people I help. But as of October 16th, I’m on strike, and I’ll tell you why.

I recently semi-retired from decades in the Las Vegas hospitality industry, but I missed the face-to-face interaction. I loved the clientele I was meeting everyday. I started gig work with Amazon Flex, but not long after that I discovered Instacart. It was the perfect job for me. I was providing a necessary service to elderly folks and people with mobility issues and others that for whatever reason sought out the service that Instacart provided – that doesn’t really exist delivering packages for Amazon. And shopping isn’t the “no brainer” job people make it out to be. I had to learn to shop quickly, efficiently, and communicate with customers to make sure that replacements I thought were the right choice worked for them.

Initially, I felt Instacart’s pay model was fair. I could look at the order being offered to me and see exactly how my pay was calculated. Delivery distances varied; some of my clients were just around the corner from the store and some could be 10 miles away. I knew that my pay would increase if I had a long distance to drive, or if I had an unusually large order, or if my order included heavy items such as cases of bottled water. Instacart had a transparent pay model back then, providing what they called “Bumps” – as in a bump in pay for certain situations.

About six months into my job as a shopper, Instacart implemented a change in their pay structure, replacing our fair pay with algorithmic pay that they dubbed “dynamic” pay. I quickly noticed my pay was considerably less. Not long after that, because of shoppers crowdsourcing, we discovered that Instacart was stealing our tips! We protested loudly, and Instacart’s CEO Apoorva Mehta was forced to publicly apologize and pay us back!

At the end of 2018, Instacart rolled out yet another pay cut, replacing dynamic pay with a black box algorithm. My pay was cut an additional 50%, and shoppers were paid as low as $1.50 an order. This method of pay that was forced on us really meant that Instacart could pay us anything they wanted. They would never have to admit to a pay cut. It was, after all, an algorithm, just doing what algorithms do.

The algorithm change was a big wake-up call for us. Shoppers would vent to each other via social media. Realizing that not everyone used social media, I began to look for shoppers in stores when I was working to see if they knew what I knew. I met so many shoppers, listened to their stories, and understood their frustrations.

The pandemic should have left no doubt about what Instacart shoppers do everyday. In my opinion, we were always essential, but the recognition and respect from the general public we initially received was nice. We didn’t get that from Instacart though. They didn’t offer to provide any PPE, hazard pay, sick pay, or even acknowledge us at the beginning of the pandemic. We made noise in the media and planned a walk off. Then, they heard us and we eventually were offered PPE and extended pay for workers that were quarantined with Covid. I have no doubt nothing would have been provided had we not used our collective voices.

It was once again through crowdsourcing in our social media groups full of Instacart shoppers that we could not ignore the fact that our pay was shrinking again. It really was unbelievable; they actually cut pay during a pandemic!

Enough was enough. Being an Independent Contractor shopping for Instacart will test you everyday, financially, emotionally, and ethically, but we are committed to keeping pressure on Instacart until they come to the table.

Our activism has made Instacart sit up and pay attention. I work with a group of people that are committed to this cause. Everyday, it’s all about talking to people. Educating them to know about declining low paying orders, knowing their worth, and getting involved. Showing them that we are absolutely stronger together. We don’t meet in a break room at lunch or have phone lists to refer to if we need a shift covered; our office is a group chat. This movement is about as grassroots as it gets.

The worst part for me is when I look at the offers coming through the Instacart app and see those triple orders with high mileage and 50+ items to shop, offered for $7.00 total, and it gets picked up right away. It makes me sad for the person that took that batch. How bad off do you have to be to accept a horrible order like that? I will keep fighting for whoever felt they had no choice but to accept that kind of pay. Gig work is real work, and we deserve fair pay.

Earlier this year, Fidji Simo, the new CEO of Instacart, publicly invited shoppers to reach out, so we wrote a letter. We got no response. We started a Twitter campaign and asked customers to #DeleteInstacart, and the social media outpouring was incredible. It was beautiful to watch it catch on, and the mainstream news coverage featuring our voice and demands – even! It was our first walk off in almost two years.

Now, as of October 16, I am officially on strike! We simply ran out of options. I know thousands have stopped working, but we won’t ever shame anyone who can’t – for some it’s a critical or sole source of income and they feel trapped. But for me, I won’t shop another order until Instacart meets our demands.

Here is what we’re asking, none of which could be considered unreasonable:

We are asking that we are paid per order, not by batch. A batch can have up to three individual orders in it and the base pay for that is $7.00. Let that sink in. We are also asking for item commission to be reinstated. It only makes sense that the more items you shop for, the more you get paid and it would bring a little transparency back to our pay. And we are asking for the default tip to be at least 10%. It is currently at 5%.

We are also asking for a revamp of Instacart’s rating system which currently punishes shoppers for customer ratings that are out of our control, such as items out of stock. A single four-star rating can cost a shopper hundreds of dollars, due to the way batches are offered through the app. One shopper in a remote, saturated area had a 5.0 rating, but after two four-star ratings beyond their control dropped them to 4.98, and realizing it’d take 100 batches to repair the damage, they said it was the end of their three-year run.

Our final demand is really important. We are asking Instacart to step up and offer death benefits. So many shoppers are stuck. They live day to day, not even paycheck to paycheck. We have seen a tremendous rise in violence targeting gig workers. If a single mom or dad were to be killed while shopping (and, unfortunately, it has already happened), what happens to the kids at the worst moment of their lives?

We deserve a little peace of mind. That’s not a lot to ask for from a multi-billion dollar company that the shoppers represent everyday. Not a lot at all.

Follow our organizing online at Twitter @GigWC. Donate to support our organizing at And reach out if you can help from whatever corner of the tech industry you find yourself in. Thank you Sunny R and Danny S for the ongoing conversation, and to everyone in Tech Workers Coalition for real solidarity with fellow workers.