Automotive > Connected Mobility Blog

Instacart: The Gig is Up

by Roger Lanctot | 3月 30, 2020

The New York Times, and other media outlets, tell us this morning that "as many as 200,000 Instacart shoppers could walk off the job" today in a strike protesting the failure of the company to provide personal protective equipment as part of their employment picking and delivering groceries and other household items to customers' homes. Wahat might seem like a minor slip by a company like Instacart at any other time, is in reality a catastrophic and cynical oversight by a company valued at $8B.

That's right. Instacart, a simple gig economy pick-pack-and-deliver shopping service has an $8B valuation built upon the labor of undercompensated gig workers with little or no health coverage. In fact, Instacart - with its announced plans to hire 300,000 additional shoppers - has likely been perceived as some kind of white knight in the midst of the current pandemic which spiked unemployment claims to record levels last week.

The reality of Instacart is that it is brazenly exposing its shoppers AND its customers to the spread of a deadly pathogen. Rather than a savior as a virtual shopper for shut-ins or people lacking the time or resources to do their own shopping, Instacart is potentially a viral vector - spreading malaise in the name of convenience and community service.

Like Uber in the ride hailing sector, Instacart has failed to grasp and embrace its responsibility and liability in a time of pandemic. Like Uber, Instacart is scrambling to offer measures such as pay during sick leave and hand sanitizer to its shoppers.

The striking shoppers are demanding hand sanitizer, disinfectant wipes, sprays, hazard pay, and an expansion of its coronavirus pay to include those with underlying health conditions, according to a CNN report. They are also seeking an extra $5/order and a default tip of at least 10% of the order total.

What Instacart and Uber have failed to recognize is that a crisis on the order of COVID-19 calls for a comprehensive, pro-active response that recognizes the concerns of both "employees" and customers. Anyone who has been in a supermarket lately has seen shoppers with gloves and masks. There are even some shoppers sanitizing individual purchases.

It appears that Instacart sees it as sufficient to leave customer purchases on their doorsteps as an adequate prophylaxis, but I am pretty confident there are plenty of Instacart customers who are sanitizing those purchases post-delivery. The onset of COVID-19 ought to have either spurred Instacart to shut down completely or to shut down or pause its operations to institute new sanitary measures with appropriate messaging to shoppers and customers.

Uber has this same problem in spades. You cannot safely sit in the back seat of an Uber during the COVID-19 outbreak without a physical partition. And let's keep in mind that the current outbreak is expected by some to persist as a threat to public health for as long as two years. This is no time for business as usual. This is a time for unusual business.

The reality is that in the long run COVID-19 could be very good for Uber and Instacart and Lyft and so many other gig economy operators. Once the pandemic abates, the mass of the newly-unemployed will be ripe for gig opportunities. But in the short run, these organizations must take more affirmative and pro-active steps to ensure the health and safety of their "employees" and their customers.

Instacart is putting its $8B valuation at risk every day it fails to implement and enforce a safe shopping strategy. Failure to institute sufficient safety measures may ultimately serve as justification for legal action by public authorities. Has Instacart made any effort to test its shoppers for COVID-19? Has Uber tested its drivers? Should they? Should public authorities step in? At Instacart, at least, the shoppers have spoken. It's time for change.

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