So I happened to notice the other day that my site gets a lot more traffic than I realized (thanks, PointHQ!), so I tossed a little, lightweight analytics thing onto it so I can see where people are going and maybe we’re they’re coming from. (Hi, people! 👋)

One of the things I noticed was that an old, old blog post of mine was getting hit. Like…so old that I didn’t migrate it originally, considering it defunct and no longer applicable.

Apparently, I was wrong.

And people are still interested in it.

So I’ve resurrected it (this is why I kept a backup of my old blog 😉), but I also found myself wanting to make a bunch of notes on it. Since I try to avoid doing that as much as possible, I figured I’d write an update to it.

All Good Things Must End 

I ended up doing the Shipt thing only until about October. I had wanted to try to keep doing it after I started working full time again, but that just didn’t happen. It didn’t help that by that time, they had made changes such that it became infeasible for me to do so, given the nature of the Central Ohio market. (The work essentially dried up for the times I was available.)

It was fun while it lasted, though, and I do miss a couple of the repeat customers I had. That time, especially during the earlier months, showed how such a service could have been, I think.

The Grocery Store Sector Is Weird 

The competition in the grocery sector is weird. I never would have thought that grocery stores would get all up in arms about third parties that literally come in and pay retail price with a value-add model.

By the time I quit doing it, Shipt was about to head into the third chain here – Meijer. When Shipt originally came here, they had been going to Giant Eagle. That lasted all of about a week before Giant Eagle kicked them out (apparently it was pretty hostile, too). Kroger was cool with it for a little while, but soon got weird about it as they started preparing to launch their own curbside thing (from the looks of Shipt’s marketing, that relationship seems to have improved; Covid probably helped show that there was plenty of room for everyone).

Target clearly loved the idea enough to straight-up buy them, which kind of makes Shipt’s ability to shop at a bunch of the other stores even more weird. You’d think that if they only begrudgingly accept an independent third party throwing money at them, they’d hate a comptitor doing it and basically getting extra money on top. And yet, there are now more store options in a given area than ever.

The Gig Economy Goes To Pot 

Circa 2017 is when the rose colored glasses about the gig or “platform” economy as a whole had fallen apart to the point irreparability. The time I stopped working for Shipt is about the same time Uber started getting beat over the head by the regulation and legal bat for worker misclassification, wage theft, and other issues. Other gig platforms flew under the radar, but from what I saw, they were doing not-dissimilar things, albeit in more subtle ways.

Shipt was no different, unfortunately. They started with “metrics” that were ostensibly “guides” for the shoppers. Things like pass rate (how many available orders a shopper passes on), rating based on whether the delivery was logged late (there was something like this when I started, but it became more extensive as time went on), overall rating minimums (the damage from “I don’t do 5 stars because no one’s perfect” customers be damned; and I’d hate to have been a shopper this past March and April), and a few others I’ve since forgotten. The initial claim was that they wouldn’t affect anything.

That claim is never true. Ever.

As soon as something starts getting measured, it starts being used for judgement, for better or worse.

It wasn’t long before that was the case, and various other little changes started making it feel like they were dancing around the line between “independent contractor” and “defacto employee,” while still vehemently trying to sell the line that we really, truly, were independent.

Apparently, issues like that just got worse, up to and including a switch to a more opaque payment structure that many say resulted in a pay reduction, and even dropping people with essentially no notice and no info (the reviews on Indeed are astoundingly scathing).

The Tip Structure Sucked 

In doing some digging for up to date information to see if/how things have changed, I’ve seen fleeting mention that they’ve attempted to encourage 10% tips, but I’m not sure if that’s stuck (what I’m finding more of, actually, are a number of issues that prevented shoppers from getting tips at all, at least on some orders).

When I was doing it, though, the tip options were fixed values that had no bearing on the size of the order. This meant that on more than one occasion, if I got a tip at all, it was $5…on a $100+ order.

I’ve tipped the 5 Guys crew more than that. 😑

Now, to be fair, there were some awesome tippers, too. One customer would reliably tip something like $20 or $25, even though his orders were generally only about $50, he trusted the shopper to make substitutes, and wanted his order left on his porch.

That guy was by far one of my favorites and most memorable, and I’ve never even seen his face.

However, $5 tips, regardless of order value, was the norm, in no small part because that’s how the system was set up. Most designers will tell you that most people will invariably select the lowest tip value if presented with options. Let’s just say that getting $5 for a $150 order for picky upper-middle-class soccer moms got old (seriously, I swear there’s an inverse correlation between affluency and relative tip amount; were it not for the couple of customers I liked who happened to be in the higher-end zones, I’d have dropped the affluent zones altogether in favor of the less affluent ones, because those customers were so much more enjoyable and rewarding to shop for).

Shopper-Customer Ratio Issues 

One thing they never did seem to get right is the balance of shoppers to customers, especially in the smaller markets. The result was a sort of “feast-famine” cycle, where there’d be high competition for a short supply of orders, or a slew of orders that go to “promo,” because they weren’t getting picked up.

Now, to be fair, this is a harder problem to solve than one might expect, because humans. However, you’d think after four years of launching in a bunch of cities, they’d have it figured out at least a little better, but apparently that’s not the case.

Lack of Order Stacking 

I don’t know if it’s grown since I left, but the Columbus market was quite small while I was working there. Between the sheer lack of orders, the distance between stores within even a given range, and the aforementioned Shopper-Customer ratio issues, being able to double up on orders was exceedingly rare. I think in 8 or so months I was doing it, I had maybe 3 or 4 opportunities to double up, and of them, maybe one wasn’t really forced. The rest, I had pushed them kind of to their limit and in fact on at least one, I ended up a couple minutes late, because the two locations were basically on the opposite ends of their respective areas and about as far away from one another as they could possibly get while still being in adjacent zones.

That lack of opportunity to stack orders meant lack of opportunity to get more than the $8-9/hr average that I had calculated initially, making it increasingly not worth it (and really not worth it now, if the criticisms of the new algorithm are accurate and company-wide). That order stacking is what makes the whole system worthwhile at the line level. Without that, it’s pretty much dead in the water.

The Memory Lane Cul-de-Sac 

At this point, I don’t really have much more to say. It was fun while it lasted, and I genuinely did enjoy the experience. It was also valuable to me for helping me get back to my roots for working, more generally. I found what had slowly disappeared over the years in my job – that ability to make someone’s day and get paid doing it – and how much I missed that.

I also am genuinely saddened by the trajectory I’ve seen the company take in more recent years. They could have grown into something that really stood out from the competition in an increasingly crowded market, and instead, they’ve largely chosen the same underhanded techniques the others have, and because of that, I can’t really recommend them anymore. 😞