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Is the Instacart Rating System Fair? Here’s How it Really Works

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Almost every gig app uses a rating system that asks customers to rate their experience on a 5-star scale. Typically, anything over a 4.6 star average is pretty good. Most Uber drivers are happy with anything 4.7 and up. The same goes for DoorDash and Postmates.

But Instacart is different. Anything less than a perfect 5-star rating can be cause for panic. Just look at what Instacart Shoppers say on Reddit:

  • “It only takes 2 customers to give to give you 4 stars and poof, you have no more access to view batches worth a damn”
  • “I just dropped to a 4.94 and I’m more or less fired. I don’t think I can recover from this. I’m not taking $8 batches “
  • “My rating dipped to 4.97 over another bogus 4 star rating. Now I’m seeing no batches or they’re disappearing quickly. Instacart’s rating system is so broken”
  • “I automatically wake up around 3 AM to check my ratings and then go back to bed. It’s horrible how IC has conditioned my brain.”

What’s going on with the Instacart rating system? Why are the ratings standards so much higher than other gig apps?

It turns out that Instacart distributes order batches to shoppers based on ratings, so any rating less than a perfect 5 stars can stick lower-rated shoppers with less profitable orders. That’s not how it works with Uber, Lyft, or hardly any other gig app.

If you’re a shopper worried about ratings, what can you do? This article covers the rating system in detail, and gives you tips to fight back against bad ratings.

The Instacart Rating System for Shoppers: Explained

Instacart customers are asked to rate their experience on a scale of 1 to 5 stars. A shopper’s rating is the average of their last 100 rated orders. Customers are not required to leave ratings, so a non-rating order is not included in the overall average. Ratings are refreshed overnight each night.

Batches are offered to shoppers according to ratings: Instacart says, “Shoppers are offered batches based on average customer star rating, starting with the highest rated shoppers.

In other words, if you want the best batches, you have to have the best ratings. And in many markets, the best rating is a perfect 5 star average, or close to that. If you’re not getting good batches, it might be due to your rating.

Update: Instacart is Rolling out a New Thumbs Up/Down Rating System

In fall of 2021, some Instacart Shoppers noticed that the old 5-star rating system had been replaced with a thumbs up/thumbs down rating system.

Under the new rating system, it still appears that highly-rated Shoppers get first dibs on the best orders.

Instacart is still testing and rolling out the new rating system, so watch for changes in your app.

The new thumbs up/thumbs down rating system

Ratings Forgiveness

There are a few exceptions to the ratings rules that can ease the negative effects of bad ratings.

  • The lowest rating out of every 100 orders is automatically removed
  • Low ratings for extreme factors out of your control are removed: Extreme weather, continually out of stock items, app service outages
  • Multi-store orders: Ratings aren’t counted for orders that include more than one store
  • Customers can submit issues while still rating 5 stars
  • Speed and quality don’t impact star ratings

Example showing how low ratings drop off: Let’s say you’ve done 30 orders and your lowest rating is a 4. It will be removed from the ratings calculation. 5 orders later, someone rates you a 3. The 4-star rating will be added back into the calculation and the 3 will be removed because it is now your lowest rating. 

How do low ratings drop off? In what order? Ratings follow ‘first in, first out.’ Ratings disappear in the order that they come in, meaning your oldest ratings are replaced by newer ratings. Calculating exactly how a rating will fall off can get complicated because of ratings forgiveness. This Reddit post offers a clear explanation that might help you count exactly when a low rating will fall off.

Very generous rating forgiveness was offered in the early days of Covid-19, but Instacart gradually removed the most lenient ratings forgiveness and is back to their normal system.

A perfect 5-star rating, with two ratings removed

Other Performance Factors: Quality and Speed

Instacart also tracks other performance factors: Quality and speed. Quality and speed don’t affect your average star rating, so getting a low quality or speed rating won’t prevent you from getting the best batches. But you do risk deactivation if you have too many issues with quality and speed (for in-store shoppers).

Quality ratings: Customers can leave feedback on the quality of their order. Some quality issues include: Wrong items, missing items, damaged item, poor replacements, and poor communication/service. The app allows customers to rate 5 stars while still marking a quality issue, but often a quality issue will come along with a <5 star rating.

Speed: The Instacart shopper app tracks several speed metrics to help shoppers improve customer experience. Speed ratings are an important metric for in-store shoppers; Slower shoppers can be deactivated. Full-service shoppers don’t need high speed scores to keep their job, but it’s a useful metric that can help to improve performance.

Speed metrics include shopping speed, checkout speed (for in-store shoppers), and total speed. Shopping speed is seconds spent shopping divided by the numbers of items. Checkout speed is time spent checking out and staging orders. Total speed is the sum of the two, presented as ‘seconds per item.’ Speed ratings are based on the most recent 30 orders.

Order issues with quality and speed don’t necessarily cause you to lose batches. So if you get 5 stars but a report for poor replacement, your batches won’t be harmed.

Why the Instacart Ratings System Can Feel Unfair

The biggest complaint about the rating system is that just one poor rating can seriously reduce your earnings potential. With more shoppers on the app competing for batches than ever, there are enough 5-star drivers to claim all of the best batches and leave the rest of the shoppers to fend for lower-paying, non-tipping batches.

Batch priority is too sensitive to ratings: You might understand if a 4.7 shopper loses priority  to a 4.95 driver, but in reality the 4.95 drivers are losing out on batches to 5-star drivers. Does a shopper with 100 5-star ratings really deserver better orders than a shopper with 99 5 stars and one 3 star?

Rating standards can feel random: An experience that is 5 stars to some might be 4 stars to others. And that might be fair if you could still get great batches with a 4.90. But when you can’t get the orders you need with a 4.90, the natural variation of ratings standards from one customer to the next feels like it has an unfair outcome.

You can be down rated for things out of your control: Instacart does remove some ratings for things out of your control (commonly out of stock items, app outages), but there are many other things out of your control that can lead to a bad rating. For example, customers might mark ‘no replacements’ and then give you a poor rating for not finding a replacement. Or they might choose ‘no communication’ and then leave a bad rating for communication. You can ask Instacart support to remove those ratings, but there’s no guarantee they will.

Many customers don’t rate: It’s a well known occurrence that unhappy customers are quick to leave a rating while happy customers don’t. Shoppers report that many customers don’t rate at all, so those who do rate sometimes end up being the disgruntled ones.

Some customers lie, make false reports: Whether they are looking for a dishonest refund, or just venting frustrating about the service, shoppers often suffer for customer lies. Customers leave false reports that might say an order never arrived even when it did, or that an item was missing when it wasn’t. False reports can seriously harm your ratings and even put you at risk of deactivation. That’s unfair.

You know there’s something wrong when your ratings system makes shoppers wake up in the middle of the night. Credit bm962 on Reddit

How to Get Low Ratings Removed

It is possible to have low ratings removed by contacting Instacart support, but it’s often a frustrating battle with non-responsive support agents who don’t seem to take the time to investigate your issue. Instacart support can give you more details about customer feedback on an order, and they do have the power to remove ratings, but it’s not something they frequently do.

You don’t have to contact Instacart for ratings that meet automatic ratings removal criteria, but for other ratings that you feel are unfair, you’ll have to reach out to Instacart.

When you contact Instacart, make sure you are very familiar with ratings policies. Use as much proof as you can. Try to keep your story as short as possible, including only the necessary details. Stay persistent, but try not to be rude. If you keep up the effort, it’s possible that the rating will be removed.

Tips to Improve & Protect Your Ratings

Preventing bad ratings in the first place is easier than having a bad rating removed.

Be the best shopper you can be: It’s a common sense suggestion, but getting good at the gig is your first step. When you’re a new shopper, do demo orders. Closely read all of the shopper guides available in the app and at Communicate with your customer and be and honest about bumps in the road. Look at your quality and speed feedback and find ways to improve. Visit forums like the Instacart subreddit to get answers to questions and learn how other shoppers navigate difficult situations.

Protect yourself against fraud: Leave a large paper trail by communicating with the customer when things are going wrong, or are out of your control. Take photos of the order before you deliver it, trying your best to get most of the items in frame to protect yourself against missing item fraud.

Cancel on bad customers: After awhile, you’ll be able to tell when a customer is so difficult and unfair that there’s no way for you to satisfy them. If a customer is rude when you communicate with them, consider contacting support to let them know the customer is being abusive, then cancel the order. But keep an eye on your cancellation rate, a rate of 15% or higher puts you at risk of deactivation.

How Instacart Can Improve the Ratings System

Many shoppers aren’t happy with the Instacart ratings system, so what can Instacart do to improve the situation? The most impactful change would be to change the way batch distribution works so that good, but not perfect, shoppers can still get the best batches. Is it right that a 4.95 loses out on a batch opportunity just because they got one 4-star rating? Rebalancing the algorithm could help make things feel more fair.

Instacart could also do a better job at encouraging ratings from customers, so happy customers who don’t typically rate will be motivated leave more 5 star ratings. Or Instacart can do what Lyft does and make the default rating 5 stars. If a customer doesn’t rate, it would be assumed that it was a 5-star order.

Instacart could also do a better job at explaining the ratings system to customers. Customer don’t know that just a few sub-5 star ratings can really cut into a shopper’s earnings. One improvement is that customers are now required to leave feedback if they rate less than 4 stars, but shoppers say that Instacart doesn’t enforce the rule.

Creating a balanced rating system is a huge challenge that will never satisfy everyone involved, but the current Instacart system should make some changes to make life a lot better for shoppers.

Read This Next on Instacart

Want to Shop for Instacart?

Originally Published
Filed Under: Delivery Gigs


It was the last job of the night. At 9 o’clock in New York City, my Instacart Shopper app alerted my phone: an order for a store in Brooklyn with delivery to Manhattan. I was exhausted from a long day of shopping and delivering 24-packs of Poland Spring bottles and gallons of milk jugs, but I decided to chase the extra $30 and deliver to Jill on the Upper West Side. [Author’s note: Details have been changed to protect her privacy.]

The order was typical, but there were several out-of-stock items given the time of day, which I messaged Jill about through the app to no response. Hoping for the best, I dropped off the order. To my chagrin, the next morning a four-star rating appeared on my phone, which in the world of Instacart shoppers meant that I was effectively facing a massive pay cut.

Instacart does not give us insight into whom our low ratings come from, only a dose of paranoia and anxiety to figure it out and save our income. So, out of desperation and a sense — given my deliveries of the day before — that Jill was the rater in question, I drafted her a letter explaining how, thanks to Instacart’s ratings system, a rating like hers can destroy a shopper’s livelihood.

For a minute, I thought about dropping it off at her apartment, but then reality sunk in. Such a letter might appear extreme, accusatory, or aggressive, as well as make matters worse. I didn’t even know whether Jill was actually the customer who rated me. At the same time, the repercussions of four-star ratings have left me with little choice but to tell others about what it’s like on my side of the app.

I have been shopping for Instacart for eight months and usually work 40 hours per week to meet my expenses. As a commission gig, it felt like an opportunity to make more money than an hourly wage entry-level job in the entertainment industry, where I am pursuing a career. Yet relying on the app for income has illuminated to me the divisiveness of platforms that facilitate services such as Instacart. As a shopper, I believe the app perniciously prevents genuine communication between the two parties using it, while arming one with the capacity to truly punish the other in a way my customers might never know.

Instacart is a third-party app, similar to Uber or Airbnb but for grocery delivery. Just like other gig economy platforms, the app has two sets of users: those who order groceries and those who shop and deliver them. What transpires between shoppers and customers feeds on a precarious ratings system where a shopper’s wages tremble on a razor-thin margin of error. Someone in college with a 3.9 GPA would be considered an exceptional student, and an Uber driver with a 4.8-star rating is a trusty motorist, but an Instacart shopper whose rating falls to even 4.96 out of five stars could struggle to pay rent for the next month or even two.

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.

Although Instacart automatically drops the lowest rating, I know that just one additional rating still has an impact: 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 hourto 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.

For many, the urge to rate a delivery service four stars or lower makes sense on the surface. If the service did not deliver on its promise, the customer has the right to report and penalize this service — or, in this case, the worker.

A ratings system allows customers to feel safe using the service, filtering out any untrustworthy employees from handling your personal tasks. However, minor mistakes on several orders that might warrant a stern talk from a manager should not be enough to slash a worker’s wages. In my experience, however, thishas beenthe case when receiving anything less than a five-star rating as an Instacart shopper.

For me, and for so many of the other shoppers I’ve talked to, a five-star rating versus a 4.96-star rating could mean the difference between a shopper who can pay the bills and one who cannot. That this might not even reflect the quality of their shopping but merely the bad luck of serving a punitive customer seems unjust. Shoppers should not have to live in financial and mental paranoia that one or two customers will demolish their income, livelihood, and family security with the swipe of a finger.

Ultimately, though, most customers aren’t aware of how harmful the ratings system can be. It is Instacart’s responsibility — and the responsibility of the many tech companies that pit workers against each other for profitability.

Though Instacart’s ratings system can lead to particularly perverse outcomes, it is indicative of a larger problem. Communicating through these apps on our devices, especially in a transactional way, will always put workers at the mercy of tech corporations, with little tolerance for small misunderstandings that can have serious ripple effects. It is a troubling precedent as third-party platforms increasingly become how we do not only business but also anything else in our modern world.

Unfortunately, my public service announcement will likely not enlighten Instacart on this matter. I believe it fully understands the toll of ratings on shoppers. When the Covid-19 pandemic hit last year, Instacart gained popularity as Americans feared crowded supermarkets. With a new spotlight shining on the app, Instacart suspended the effect of customer ratings on shoppers in March. Capitalizing on an emotional moment, Instacart then reversed the move months later as the pandemic raged on.

Then, just as 2021 began, a dozen in-store shoppers — salaried shoppers who pack “delivery only” orders for full-time shoppers like me to pick up — attempted to unionize at a Mariano’s in Skokie, Illinois. Instacart supported their right to do so, but shoppers reported that high-level Instacart managers soon appeared at Mariano’s touting “anti-unionization literature.” The unionization was eventually successful, but Instacart ultimately included 10 of these shoppers in a mass layoff of 1,900 in-store employees at select supermarket chains in January, which potentially had a chilling effect on other in-store workers considering unionizing.

As the pandemic has pushed Instacart to publicly care about shoppers, many, like me, feel it privately neglects us. Shoppers still suffer and work in the same treacherous environments that leave them vulnerable to Covid-19. As shoppers have witnessed the app fine-tune labor issues — such as a wage policy that counted shoppers’ tips toward their guaranteed base pay rather than paying them out directly — it often feels like Instacart thrives on a power dynamic of punishment and command between shoppers and customers. Customers possess a near-godlike judgment over shoppers, who never fully know which customers rated them and why, while it seems to me that customers don’t know that their ratings can have such drastic effects on shoppers’ incomes.

While some people are genuinely ruthless raters, I believe the reason most Instacart customers submit lower ratings stems from the app itself, including the fact that shoppers cannot rate customers for their own conduct.

Unlike Uber, where both parties can rate each other and drivers can get a sense of which passengers are more likely to drunkenly vomit in the backseat, Instacart shoppers cannot warn each other about customers who make their order a shopping hell.

In some cases, we must wait up to an hour in crowded supermarkets full of people coughing — our parking spot expiring — waiting for a customer to respond, knowing they may penalize us for any unseen messages about refunds and replacements. Instacart customers, conversely, can act as neglectfully as they please — being unresponsive to shopper messages, canceling the order as we deliver (which results in lost tips, sometimes up to 75 percent of our total pay) — without penalty.

Instacart doesn’t do a great job of notifying customers through the app about issues beyond a shopper’s control, like replacements or missing items, putting the onus on shoppers to communicate this. A large portion of my customers do not respond to my in-app messages about out-of-stock items, which are part of virtually every order, and on the occasions they answer my calls, they are often shocked to learn I have sent them a plethora of messages in the app.

If a customer is distracted or not tech-savvy, they can miss every message from a shopper about out-of-stock groceries, only to receive a bag of replacements and missing items, leading them to believe the shopper botched the order. Though Instacart says it removes low ratings if the customer’s feedback is a reason outside of the shopper’s control, such as an app outage, it also allows customers to choose among a variety of reasons for their low ratings. The limited protections Instacart flashes are like sweeping up dust in a burning building, overlooking their larger power structure where one party is at the mercy of another.

This stark reality highlights a dark side to Instacart’s old advertisement that shoppers can “earn up to $25 per hour”: Just as I surpassed that average, four-star ratings brought me right back down below it. I was first told by Instacart support that the closest way to recover those high-paying orders and dispute a rating is to contact a support team member in the app or file a complaint with the fraud department.

I, as well as other shoppers I have spoken to, have watched complaints sit in queues for weeks or even months, while support agents have told us different time frames for addressing these reports. I was even told by another agent later that there is, in fact, no way for a shopper to remove a rating, that we can only work our way out of it by taking on more orders.

Instacart’s policy is that a shopper must complete a whopping 100 orders — roughly a month of work — following any rating in order to erase it. Despite Instacart assuring shoppers their first low rating is removed, this policy means it takes only two ratings out of 100 orders to potentially harm our wages.

After Vox reached out to Instacart, the company released an update earlier this month about the measures in place to help shoppers with its medieval ratings system, such as automatically forgiving the lowest rating. But to someone who has been a full-time shopper for almost a year and knows the ins and outs of these policies — I have experienced the brunt of them — the update felt disingenuous. Instacart mentions at the end that “there may be small pilots and adjustments in the coming months.” I am rooting for Instacart to do it, but I will hold my praise until I see it.

At this point, you might be wondering why I would stay working at a job like this. Like many shoppers, I do enjoy the process of shopping, the autonomy of accepting orders, and the flexibility of the hours. Some transactions can be touching when I have the opportunity to deliver to a customer who is clearly in need of this service, such as a single parent at home with their child or anyone unable to carry 40 pounds of groceries up the stairs.

However, Instacart has chosen to highlight the flip side of this concept, leaving interactions like those few and far between. More commonly, a class war of ratings prevails. The Covid-19 pandemic only accentuated the tension of ratings and forced Instacart to reveal — as another shopper put it — those who can afford to stay home and those who cannot.

Instead of truly connecting customers and shoppers, Instacart exposes the power dynamic between us. This tension divides us as humans, each side walled off from genuine communication through the threat of a rating. While shoppers are aware of what we sign up for, the “we appreciate essential workers” signs on the windows of the wealthy residences we deliver to become tiresome when their ratings do not reflect it.

Sadly, so long as our future is ruled by a similar fleet of third-party apps, the two parties actually using them will drift further from mutual understanding, always viewing each other based on the designs of a middleman making a profit. This digital reality conditions us to expect our every need to be satisfied instantly, distancing us from what others endure to deliver it. In turn, it is easier to pin our frustrations about the unrealistic promises of these apps on the workers immediately carrying them out. But in rating some employees as “bad apples,” we ignore the companies that might be rotting trees and instead keep their business model alive.

The ratings system feels like a way of teasing eager workers with high-paying orders before luring them into low wages. At any given time, countless shoppers with low ratings are accepting orders that amount to a wage they might not otherwise agree to in order to claw their way back to the high-paying orders they relied on previously. Such a dilemma is likely why Instacart axed its old claim that shoppers could “earn up to $25 per hour,” as many felt sustaining that pay was unrealistic.

Instacart is a microcosm of a more pernicious future where consumers believe a utopia can exist for themselves without creating a dystopia for someone else. On the other side of each transaction, though, in the case of Instacart, is a shopper politely fearing a low rating.

Even reviews for the positive interactions, which I cherish, that yield grateful feedback on the app are deleted when they fall outside the 100-order range. The ratings system so much defines the experience of the platform that I often feel judged not as a shopper or person, but like an updated version of myself, a sum of my recent ratings — a four-star version of myself. I do not want to move into a future where we view others and ourselves that way.

In the end, it was this tension that made it inherently hostile and uncomfortable for me to deliver a letter to Jill asking her to reconsider her rating. Instead, I messaged an Instacart support agent about the issue. Following our chat, I was taken aback when the app forced me to rate the agent and our interaction.

In all honesty, my instinct was to rate them one star — the agent did nothing to help me, and this was seemingly the only place I could make my voice heard. But I stopped myself, knowing how these ratings systems might work and that my low rating would hurt them. I understand that ratings pit us against each other, and this is core to Instacart’s success. My hope is for customers — and maybe the company — to understand this too.

Ehud Sopher is a screenwriter and director based in New York City.

Correction, March 19: A previous version of this article misstated the timing of an update Instacart posted on its ratings system. It was earlier this month, not last week.

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Unfair ratings cost some Instacart shoppers hundreds a week. Here’s what’s happening

Bags of groceries don’t just vanish into thin air. But in case the laws of physics ceased to exist, Loreen Zahara does her due diligence. The Instacart shopper keeps receipts for purchases and even photographs them upon delivery — on a customer’s stoop or in front of their garage.

Yet when one customer gave her a one-star rating over a missing bag of pineapples and another awarded her one star and claimed an entire order wasn’t delivered, it was Zahara who suffered the consequences: a loss of hundreds of dollars of potential earnings per week.

Instacart’s order-allocation system takes the “customer is always right” mantra to new extremes, some of its professional shoppers say. The grocery delivery company presents its workforce of independent contractors with orders based in part on their in-app ratings: Those with higher scores get first pick, often leaving behind fewer and less lucrative batches for everyone else. Interviews with more than 10 shoppers and receipts reviewed by The Times show a sharp decline in earnings for shoppers whose ratings drop just slightly below 4.95 out of 5 stars. Often, shoppers said, the negative reviews were beyond workers’ control.

Even though Zahara has evidence those two complete orders reached the customers’ homes, it was enough to drop her rating to a 4.94. She went from earning an average of more than $1,270 per week to $690 per week, while working the same total hours, screenshots and weekly earnings reports show.

When Zahara had a rating of 4.95, compensation for batches of deliveries available to her ranged from $15 to $45. At a 4.94, screenshots show orders dipped to $9 to $22, with those at the higher end in a different county from where she lived and typically worked.

“I just had to live with the bad ratings and bad batches and no money,” she said.

Instacart says the system was developed to ensure ratings are “fair and accurate,” and do not unfairly penalize shoppers.

To protect shoppers, Instacart automatically forgives a customer’s single lowest rating, Instacart spokeswoman Natalia Montalvo said. And “ratings that are outside of shoppers’ control” are also forgiven — such as when a customer complains that requested item is out of stock at a store, she said.

The system helps the San Francisco company with its effort to maintain high quality control and comply with labor laws in the U.S., three former employees said. It also has a benefit for workers, the company said.

When Instacart began testing the system in 2019, it billed it as a reward to shoppers “who offer an excellent experience for customers.”

“Shoppers significantly preferred being incentivized by quality, as opposed to any other factors such as time spent shopping or speed,” Montalvo said in a statement.

The dozen shoppers interviewed by The Times said they have seen low ratings when customers complain that a specific item — a certain brand of alfredo sauce, in one case — is unavailable. Screenshots of communications with Instacart’s support team show that even when presented with evidence that shoppers have done everything expected of them, poor ratings don’t always go away.

Customers are asked few questions when reporting items or even entire orders missing, which has allowed some shadowy businesses to take advantage of the system. A network of “refund brokers” on forums like Discord, Reddit and Telegram can be hired to help Instacart customers get their money back. Dozens of satisfied customers have posted receipts to show the refunds the brokers managed to secure for them, some receiving as much as $500 of groceries for free. It’s unclear if Zahara, or any of the shoppers in this story, was the victim of a refund broker or an ordinary customer making a false report.

Instacart says bad actors are few and far between, and brokers insist their process doesn’t harm delivery workers — “shoppers keep their tips and this will not [affect] them negatively,” one broker’s FAQ read.

But shoppers say they suffer when customers pair false reports with low ratings.

Donatus Okeke, a full-time shopper who began working for Instacart after he was laid off from his job during the pandemic, struggled to persuade Instacart to remove low ratings he says he doesn’t deserve.

In one case, Okeke said, he was dispatched to deliver an order to a hotel room. The customer didn’t answer the door, so Okeke said he spoke to the hotel receptionist, who agreed to hold the groceries for the customer. Okeke said he called the front desk to check whether the order had been retrieved; hotel staff confirmed it had. The customer later reported the order missing and gave Okeke a one-star rating. Though Okeke said the hotel receptionist confirmed the order had been delivered on a conference call with Instacart customer support, the company did not remove the rating.

Instacart policy forgives a shopper’s single lowest review, but Okeke was still saddled with another low rating he thought was unfair. A customer gave Okeke permission to purchase antibacterial wipes, but issued him a three-star review over his product selection, calling it a “poor replacement.”

In the month before he got the one-star review, screenshots show Donatus averaged close to $1,900 a week. After the hotel incident, he earned an average of $1,200 a week for the same number of hours, as the orders available to him were smaller or offered lower tips.

“I have 74 ratings that are above four stars,” he said in October. “I’m sitting at 4.92 on the power of two ratings that I don’t deserve. And if those two ratings are not being held against me, I’m at a 4.98. It’s an unbelievable thing.”

Ratings-based system

Instacart introduced the ratings-based order system just before the pandemic brought on packed supermarkets, empty shelves and an unprecedented spike in grocery delivery orders.

It was part of a broader effort to delineate more clearly between Instacart’s contractors and its part-time employees, who work in partnering grocery stores, brought on by mounting regulatory pressure, three former Instacart employees said.

In Instacart’s first few years, both employees and contractors worked shifts, as opposed to the on-demand model common in the gig economy. Orders were doled out based on a number of factors including a shopper’s average speed.

But that approach bumped against labor law, which limits how closely a company can govern the actions of contractors.

Among the legal challenges, for example, is a 2019 lawsuit filed by the city of San Diego that alleged Instacart had crossed the line by giving priority in assignments to contractors based on speed and efficiency. In doing so, the city argued that Instacart was dictating how contractors were expected to perform their jobs — a level of oversight that meant they should be classified as employees and provided with benefits.

In response to the city’s request for a preliminary injunction, Instacart filed a motion that pointed to the introduction of on-demand orders in July 2019, among other factors, as evidence of the flexibility granted to contractors. In granting the injunction, the judge said Instacart’s actions suggest the company “already took steps to bring itself into compliance” and would need to make just a few additional changes to ensure shoppers are truly “free agents.”

According to three former employees, including two senior managers, policy changes such as switching to an on-demand system and prioritizing ratings rather than speed and efficiency could bolster Instacart’s general argument that it doesn’t dictate exactly how its contractors should do their work.

Instacart did not respond to the specific question of whether it changed systems in response to regulatory pressure.

In rolling out the new system, Montalvo said, “we listened closely to feedback from the shopper community, who indicated that quality was the preferred way of being recognized with priority access to batches.”

After a key victory at the ballot box in November, legal pressure may prove lower in California. Instacart spent $30 million backing Proposition 22 to secure a carve-out from a state labor law that makes it harder to classify workers as contractors. Under Proposition 22, Instacart shoppers will remain contractors but are being offered a few additional benefits such as a healthcare subsidy if they qualify. Fights remain on the horizon, however, in other states, and the San Diego lawsuit, filed in San Diego County Superior Court, is ongoing.

“We will continue to vigorously prosecute our claims since nothing about Prop. 22 is retroactive,” Hilary Nemchik, the director of communications for City Atty. Mara Elliott, said.

The new system also helps Instacart manage one of the biggest challenges for gig economy firms: quality control.

“Customers rely on Instacart shoppers to pick their groceries as well or better than they would themselves,” read a blog post the company published when the ratings-based system was first launched. “As such, we want to recognize shoppers who offer an excellent experience for customers, giving the highest quality shoppers more prioritization and opportunities to shop.”

Under the new system, shoppers who have the highest ratings in a particular market get first pick of available orders. They usually snatch the most lucrative orders, leaving shoppers with lower ratings to choose from jobs that pay less, are farther away or have lower tips. Other variables, such as the number of available orders, when orders are expected to be delivered, and where the shoppers are located also play a role in what orders each shopper sees, according to the company.

“A shopper’s average rating is just one factor that determines which available batches they see,” Montalvo said.

Shortly after the company introduced the system in March, Instacart decided to pause the rollout as the pandemic spread.

“In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, with an increase of customer orders and limited available inventory at many retailers, we found that shopper ratings were fluctuating based on many factors that were outside of shoppers’ control,” Montalvo said.

An onslaught of bad ratings for out-of-stock items prompted the company to temporarily forgive any rating under five stars to prevent low ratings for things that shoppers could not control. In June, the company restarted the program and rolled back low-ratings forgiveness as the marketplace “came back into balance,” Montalvo said.

Instacart says shoppers support the new method.

“We’ve heard from shoppers time and again that they value providing a great experience for customers, and they want to be recognized for their efforts,” Montalvo said.

Refund brokers

Several times a week, screenshots of customers complaining of missing items or orders appear on one of the dozens of Facebook groups frequented by Instacart shoppers. “Woke up to this awesome email this morning of a customer claiming that I did not deliver their order,” read an Instacart shopper’s post. “Sick of lying customers,” read one. “How do customers get away with saying things were not delivered?” read another.

Zahara says it has cost her hundreds of dollars a month. She started working for Instacart in March after being furloughed as a flight attendant. At first, she made $4,800 a month, more than she expected and far more than she would have had she applied for unemployment. But on July 19, a customer complained about a missing bag of frozen pineapple chunks.

Zahara had taken photos of the pineapples in a bag at the customer’s door and uploaded it in the app at the end of her delivery, screenshots show. Still, the customer retracted her tip and gave Zahara a one-star rating. When Zahara reached out to customer support, an agent said that the company would investigate and that if a low rating was unsubstantiated, it would be removed. As of November, the rating had not been removed.

Montalvo said the company reviews any incident a shopper has reported as fraudulent behavior. If a customer is found to have behaved fraudulently, “the ratings they left their shopper will be automatically forgiven,” she said.

Zahara went from a five-star rating to a 4.94, and with that, her weekly earnings plummeted. Though she worked the same number of hours, Zahara’s weekly income fell roughly $650 a week, copies of her weekly earnings show.

“I always had a five-star rating,” said Zahara, who complains of two additional poor reviews that were accompanied by what she said were false claims of missing orders and items. “But now we have a few dishonest customers and they give you a low rating, I’m assuming, to back their claim.”

Zahara resorted to spending $200 on a GoPro camera, which she wears conspicuously around her neck as she completes her orders. She hopes recording every delivery could help her against any additional fraudulent claims or at least discourage customers from lying. She’s also circulated a petition, with 3,406 signatures, demanding Instacart change its system and create a team dedicated to unwarranted customer ratings and fraud.

“This system is flawed,” the petition reads. “INSTACART provides no restitution for the Shopper even with proof of their delivery, item, etc. They offer no department, resource, phone number or other, for us to dispute these issues. Yet they can resolve a customer complaint in an hour!”

“We always welcome shopper feedback and are constantly working to make sure we’re delivering the best offering for shoppers,” Montalvo said.

Shoppers have expressed their frustrations to the company in emails to customer support and in a forum in the shopper app called ShopTalk. Some complain that customers are able to leave low ratings without giving any feedback, despite Instacart’s insistence that this would not be allowed. Others complain about customers who report missing orders despite proof of delivery. Many vent about how one or two poor reviews have dragged down their ratings, and in turn their earnings. There are numerous complaints that customer support is unresponsive or unhelpful, screenshots show.

Montalvo said Instacart has added thousands of agents to its customer care team since March. She said there is a team within the company’s trust and safety organization “dedicated to addressing potential instances of fraud.” Montalvo declined to say how big that team was or how many people are assigned to handle specific instances of customer fraud.

She said it is company policy to deactivate any customer engaging in fraudulent activity.

Still, customers have discovered tricks for getting refunds from Instacart and many online delivery services, and have taken to sharing their best practices online. In a subreddit called Illegal Life Pro Tips, with half a million members, users recommend the “DNA” — or “did not arrive” — method to get refunds on Instacart orders.

Some hire refund brokers to make false claims. Refund brokers don’t reveal their methods, but experts at Dark Owl, a company that monitors the dark net for corporate clients, say they abuse Instacart’s refund policy by reporting either that something is wrong with the order or that it wasn’t delivered. Certain refund brokers require customers to fill out forms providing their Instacart username and password. Receipts posted online show refunds are processed by Instacart’s customer service team. If the ruse works, brokers take a cut.

Some, though not all, brokers limit the size of orders they will challenge. One lists a $150 maximum; another shows receipts for refunds that exceeded $400. Brokers say they have higher success rates complaining about orders within three days of receiving them — the sooner the better. To ensure accounts that use their services don’t get deactivated, they recommend at least three normal orders between each attempted refund. If a customer gets more than three refunds on one service, they recommend creating a new account, or getting groceries delivered to a neighbor.

Montalvo said refund brokers are not a widespread problem. “We have a dedicated team that closely monitors activity on the platform and will deactivate individuals for fraudulent behavior,” she said.

Shoppers, however, believe they’re being penalized due to unseemly behavior from customers.

One New York contractor, who asked not to be named after her account was recently reactivated, said she lost her job until she managed to prove that a complaining customer was actually a repeat offender.

The shopper said she had communicated with the customer in the app and was buzzed into the customer’s building. When she knocked on the customer’s door, however, no one answered, so she took a picture of the order at the door with a time stamp, according to screenshots reviewed by The Times.

The shopper said she received a call from Instacart 20 minutes later saying the customer did not receive the order. She said Instacart deactivated her account soon after.

Distraught, she messaged a friend, who is also an Instacart shopper. They soon realized they both had delivered orders to the same address that were later reported missing. After submitting screenshots of the messages with her friend to Instacart, she said, the company reactivated her account.

“The customers will continue to lie to get free things and the shoppers ultimately lose their income,” Zahara said. “There are so many people on the Facebook pages complaining about the same thing happening to them.

“I just can’t see how this benefits Instacart,” she said.


Instacart shoppers challenge ratings system

At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Ehud Sopher, a screenwriter and director based in New York City, found himself without a job. The global health crisis had shut down the city -- and the entertainment industry along with it.

But then, Sopher found Instacart, a grocery delivery smartphone app, and thought he hit the jackpot: flexible hours and quick cash while working on personal projects to hone his craft.

"I felt like I found a hack to our economy, and I'm like, ‘Wow, you don't have to work a 9 to 5,’ and you can do these contract gigs where you shop for people and make $25 an hour,” Sopher said.

Sopher became what Instacart calls a “shopper” -- he would log onto the app on any given day, at any time, see customer orders for groceries, select the ones he wants to fulfill, head to the customer’s preferred grocery store, shop and deliver the items to the person’s doorstep. It was easy enough that Sopher would sometimes make hundreds of dollars a day. But just as he was getting the hang of it, Sopher said, he noticed something changed.

“Within the month that I signed my new lease, I got my first 4-star rating, and I wasn't seeing orders that matched why I got into Instacart in the first place for a few weeks," he told ABC News.

Sopher doesn’t know why he got the 4-star rating but suspects it was from a customer whose items were out of stock at the store. He said the customer did not respond when he repeatedly messaged her to ask whether she wanted replacements. In the end, he refunded her money and delivered the groceries he was able to get.

That one rating, Sopher said, dropped his overall customer rating, which according to Instacart, is an average of the last 100 deliveries made.

Shoppers with higher ratings get first dibs on delivery batches, meaning anything less than a perfect score and the batches you can access are fewer and will likely yield lower pay. Some critics call it "ratings prison."

Sopher said when it first happened to him, he didn't know what the 4-star rating would mean for his income.

“I just assumed it was like anything else in life ... if you have like a 3.9 GPA, you're a really good student. If you're a 4.86 Uber driver, you're probably a good driver. So, I just assumed it was like that. I'm like, ‘Oh, that's unfortunate, but I'm still at 4.96. But then I wasn't seeing orders for a while,” Sopher said.

In Ohio, Sharita Williams, who has been an Instacart shopper for two years, said she also remembers something similar happening to her after a less-than-perfect customer rating.

"Versus making $150 a day, I would maybe make, maybe, $70, $80 or you'll see less batches coming in instead of the normal 6, 7, 10 [orders],” she said.

For shoppers who rely on the service as their only or main source of income, anything less than a 5-star average rating can cost hundreds of dollars in earnings each week, making it hard to make ends meet. Some have taken to YouTube to document their frustrations.

In a May 20 video posted to a YouTube channel called Instacart Dude Adventures, Twisters and 101's, the shopper who runs the channel tells his subscribers, “3 stars and I go from making $200 to $250 a day to nothing.” In another video posted Dec. 5 to the Chanty Marie YouTube channel, the influencer takes her viewers along for her shopping and deliveries. At one point, she tells them, “Now I have a bad rating, and I can’t get any batches.”

Sopher himself has made a documentary about his and other Instacart shoppers' struggles.

“You're putting your heart, your energy to shop for somebody, and just because they’re in a bad mood, they’ll give you a low rating, and it's downhill from there,” one shopper said in the documentary, “Four Stars.”

“It’s just unfair. We’re working very hard, and customers rate us very poorly, and they’re doing it viciously and it’s unacceptable,” another shopper in the film said.

Recently more and more of Instacart’s shoppers have been speaking out, calling the rating system “unfair.” Combined, thousands of people have signed on to different online petitions demanding that Instacart immediately change how the ratings are calculated.

The biggest frustrations, shoppers say, include not knowing which customer left them a bad rating and sometimes not even getting an explanation about what they did to deserve it, though Instacart encourages customers to leave feedback. Shoppers also say the system mostly assumes the customer is always right and sometimes they get a bad rating for circumstances beyond their control, such as a store not having an item the customer wants.

“You know, I'm out here hustling. I'm trying to provide good customer service, and it's not my fault there's not an item in stock,” Williams explained. “I don't have control if the tomatoes are bad, and sometimes all the bananas are bad. So, it's a lot of things that are not your fault, and then you get rated a bad score.”

In 2020, as the pandemic was raging, Instacart said it suspended the rating system, seemingly because of its negative impact on shoppers’ earnings. But as of June, the ratings are back, supposedly rewarding hardworking shoppers and weeding out those who don’t always get it right.

Clinical and forensic neuropsychologist Dr. Judy Ho told ABC News the negative impact of rating systems can be detrimental to a worker’s mental health and behavior.

“I think the toll can be enormous especially because you feel like you have to live and die by this rating system and that it could cost you your job, your pay, it could cost you tips, and that can cause a person to do some really unsafe behaviors like driving fast and erratically to try to deliver quickly or on time,” she said. "I also think it’s much harder for them to actually focus to do their job in a quality way, because they’re so stressed out about changing that rating."

A spokesperson for Instacart said in a statement that the company has been gathering feedback from shoppers over the past few months.

“We’ve heard from shoppers time and again that they value providing a great experience for customers, and they want to be recognized for their efforts," the spokesperson said. "We're always working to provide a consistently fair and reliable experience for shoppers, and we look forward to continuing to evolve our systems and processes to deliver the best offering for shoppers."

The company pointed to measures like deleting a shopper’s worst rating after 100 deliveries, saying those steps help ensure the “customer rating system is fair and accurate.”

But “there is such a small margin for error," Sopher said. "And, of course, you strive to be perfect with this job, but we're flawed human beings. And, just like anything in life, there's going to be an error along the way, and it shouldn't result in you losing your income."

Williams agreed.

“If the customer doesn't respond when you need to replace the item ... you can't sit in a store for an hour waiting for a customer to respond,” she said. “And some customers are upset with that ... so then they'll give you a lower rating.”

Instacart said some of those issues are resolved in favor of the shopper and that a recent survey shows 75% of shoppers feel that the customer ratings system is fair. “Similarly, 71% of shoppers believe the customer ratings system accurately reflects the level of service they provide," a spokesperson said.

Some shoppers, though, have resorted to emotional pleas, begging customers to withhold tips instead of leaving a rating that could haunt them for weeks. Sopher has since left the app because of his frustrations and also because of car issues -- though he said he might return.

“I do believe there should be some way to hold shoppers accountable,” Sopher explained. “You're paying for a service, and you need to filter out any shoppers who are untrustworthy or who are constantly messing up the job.”

But, he added, “Customers don't know how harmful even a 4-star rating is, so the average person might think a 4-star rating is a good thing."

“Oh, my gosh!” Instacart customer Dia Rucco exclaimed as ABC’s Faith Abubey relayed shoppers’ frustrations with the ratings system.

“That makes me feel bad,” said Rucco, who used to spend Saturday mornings at the grocery store and now mostly uses Instacart instead.

Rucco said she couldn’t have appreciated the grocery delivery service more during the pandemic.

“It's just kind of been a lifesaver,” she said. “Even now that things are opening, it's just so much easier to get groceries done during the week instead of trying to fit it in on a weekend with kids in the house.”

Rucco said she didn't realize that as a customer, she had so much power over the livelihood of the Instacart shoppers and now that she knows, she supports overhauling the rating system.

“I definitely understand that it's a business,” she said about Instacart. “Take care of the customer. I get all those things, but I also think you have to take care of the employee.”


Rating removed instacart

Asked By: Robert Edwards Date: created: Aug 19 2021

Does Instacart rating affect batches

Answered By: Alan Miller Date: created: Aug 20 2021

Your ratings determine the batches that you see.

Instacart says: “Shoppers are offered batches based on average customer star rating, starting with the highest rated shoppers.” In other words, high ratings = access to more batches and low ratings = less access to batches..

Asked By: Martin Brown Date: created: Aug 26 2020

What does 1 star rating removed mean on Instacart

Answered By: Sebastian Wilson Date: created: Aug 28 2020

Your lowest rating is removed when calculating your rating average. In this case you recieved a 1 star rating and since that was your lowest rating it is removed from the average.

Asked By: Seth Allen Date: created: Mar 11 2021

Is Instacart a ripoff

Answered By: Morgan Howard Date: created: Mar 11 2021

Instacart heavily pushes Instacart Express with free delivery for a year. Now the only way to make sure shoppers get paid properly is for customers to scam the system by putting a fake tip and tipping cash. … Most customers won’t know to do that.

Asked By: Jayden Cooper Date: created: Oct 11 2020

Why are there no batches Instacart

Answered By: Philip Brown Date: created: Oct 14 2020

Why are there no Instacart batches lately? … There is currently a group of hackers who have “broken” Instacarts programming protocols and are snatching every batch so that they can sell the batches through a third party app (this has happened with other apps and they also did nothing about it).

Asked By: Miles Moore Date: created: Dec 06 2020

What happens when Instacart order is wrong

Answered By: Jose Ward Date: created: Dec 06 2020

Call Instacart, and use their app if you can. If something is wrong, they will work very swiftly to correct it. … Not only did Instacart refund it almost instantly, they went ahead found a shopper and got my groceries to me within an hour. If there are items missing, they will credit you for them, too.

Asked By: Carter Harris Date: created: Aug 23 2021

Do Instacart shoppers see ratings

Answered By: Morgan Green Date: created: Aug 26 2021

We do see our total ratings every day but unless you were the only delivery for the day it would be difficult to identify the customer who gave us a poor rating.

Asked By: Anthony Sanchez Date: created: Jun 18 2020

Do Instacart shoppers get penalized for mistakes

Answered By: Kyle Powell Date: created: Jun 18 2020

No, they won’t be penalized. Just call and explain the situation and they’ll refund you. It does not actually penalize the shopper. Also, they can see their ratings and performance so they’ll see that they got the wrong thing so they can learn from it.

Asked By: Diego Lewis Date: created: Jun 16 2020

How much should I tip Instacart

Answered By: Juan Flores Date: created: Jun 19 2020

5%So how much should you tip on Instacart? Instacart recommends a 5% tip which is less than the 15% to 20% recommended tip in the restaurant industry. So if you paid $75 for your groceries, you should at least, leave the Instacart shopper a tip of $3.75.

Asked By: Gavin Morgan Date: created: Dec 13 2020

How long do ratings stay on Instacart

Answered By: Harold Robinson Date: created: Dec 13 2020

The Instacart Rating System for Shoppers: Explained A shopper’s rating is the average of their last 100 rated orders. Customers are not required to leave ratings, so a non-rating order is not included in the overall average. Ratings are refreshed overnight each night.

Asked By: David Price Date: created: Dec 22 2020

Was Instacart hacked

Answered By: Luke Miller Date: created: Dec 22 2020

Instacart, one of the top three brands in the grocery and pick-up services in the world, was recently believed to be hacked, after more than 270,000 accounts of its clients were seen being peddled in the Dark Web. … Days after the report, however, Instacart denied that a security breach happened.

Asked By: Hunter Johnson Date: created: Aug 26 2021

Can Instacart customers request a shopper

Answered By: Timothy Ramirez Date: created: Aug 29 2021

There is NOT a way to request a certain shopper on Instacart or Shipt platforms. You can up the chances of him/her getting the order by making sure they are on the schedule when you place the order. Also placing it at a time when not a lot of people would be normally placing orders may help.

Asked By: Charles Mitchell Date: created: Sep 09 2021

Can you make a living off Instacart

Answered By: Lucas Howard Date: created: Sep 10 2021

Full-service shoppers’ pay depends on the order. Instacart provides an estimate of potential earnings for every order and guarantees shoppers will earn at least $5 for each delivery-only batch and $7 to $10 for each full-service (shop and deliver) batch. … Full-service shoppers can also earn tips when making deliveries.

Asked By: Leonars Evans Date: created: Jul 30 2021

Can Instacart customers see your location

Answered By: Gabriel Cox Date: created: Jul 31 2021

The customers CAN see your profile picture, they track your every move, as long as you have your location on they can see you!

Asked By: Wyatt Harris Date: created: Apr 10 2021

What happens if no one picks up my Instacart order

Answered By: Isaiah Adams Date: created: Apr 10 2021

In the Instacart app or website, you can report: – Missing items – Incorrect items – Damaged items – Poor replacements – Early/late orders If an order never came, or you get someone else’s order, you can reach out to Instacart Care. The service fee is essentially a donation to Instacart.

How to fix Instacart Ratings 101 #Instacart #Instacartratings ( How to remove 1-Star rating)?


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