In 2017, Minnesota-based retail giant Target bought Shipt, a grocery delivery company based in Alabama, for $550 million. Now, at 1,500 Targets in 47 states, a personal Shipt shopper will make your grocery run for you and deliver the goods to your home.
Said personal shopper—like every Uber, Postmates, or DoorDash driver you’ve ever paid—is not an employee, but an independent contractor, a cog in the ever-expanding “gig economy.” But according to eight shoppers who spoke to Motherboard (some of them anonymously for fear of retaliation), working for Shipt has become more trouble than it’s worth.
They described having their pay slashed, having to compete with countless other shoppers in a saturated market, and, eerily, being blocked—or “deactivated” altogether—seemingly just for being critical of the company on Facebook forums. (The Shipt Shoppers of Minneapolis Facebook group reserves the right to remove members “at any time” and “without prior warning.”)
Most egregiously, workers say the app “encourages” them to “tack on gifts like thank you cards, hot cocoa, flowers, and balloons onto orders” with their own pocket money—maybe even walk the dog or take out the trash. Just a little something extra to “bring the magic,” boost their customer ratings, and goose the Shipt algorithm to send them more lucrative assignments.
“It creates a false sense of what to expect,” a shopper from Dallas told Motherboard. “It sets up other shoppers to look bad if they don’t do those things, and we’re not even employees.”
A spokesperson with Shipt outright denies this, saying the gifts and special treatment were all things shoppers did of their own volition.
But the article has since broken some kind of a social media dam, as other current and former shoppers started weighing in on Twitter. Though Shipt workers were never required to send gifts, some said the pressure to do so was what eventually made them get out of the game.
I used to be a part time shipt shopper. I got out soon after this started to become a thing. I wasn't getting as many opportunities for orders because I wasn't scoring well in the "over the top service" category. They suggested I bring balloons to customers.— Jake Pietryga (@jakepietryga) February 15, 2020
One commenter posted a screenshot of an email from the company to its shoppers, inviting them to get "Shipt thank you cards” and send a “handwritten thank you to your favorite Shipt members.”
Others started tweeting screenshots of employee newsletters, which routinely praised people for going “above and beyond” by buying flowers, balloons, and donuts. Meanwhile, a customer, possibly unaware of the current tweetstorm on the service, recently posted a picture of some “get well soon” mylar balloons and said her Shipt shopper had generously “bought [them] herself” for her grandmother’s “get well package.”
I used Shipt to send my grandma a get well package at the hospital she’s recovering at in NH and my shopper bought these balloons herself and added them to the order �������� really grateful for all the good folks out there in the world. pic.twitter.com/zgaA7OfR2m— katie�� (@jazzybellejar) February 18, 2020
“My Shipt delivery woman got me a Galentine’s gift to apologize for running a little late with my order,” another client tweeted.
My Shipt delivery woman got me a Galentine’s gift to apologize for running a little late with my order. My order included bully sticks, so when she saw this she “had to grab it” because she knew I was a dog person”. �� pic.twitter.com/ze9517aA60— Cher (@thecherness) February 13, 2020
A handful of tweeters are already vowing to boycott Target until it severs ties with the company. Use of vomit emojis was… liberal. “Shipt… more like fuckt,” one person said.
An official statement from the delivery company denied any kind of imperative, implied or otherwise, to going to these lengths.
“Shipt does not recommend shoppers purchase gifts for members out of their own pockets or complete favors for members,” it said. “If shoppers do this, it is 100 percent on their own and not at Shipt’s request or recommendation…. Many Shipt shoppers share stories via social media about these gestures, but Shipt does not expect other shoppers to follow their lead.” Target declined to contribute a comment of its own.
Kendra Danielson of Minneapolis, who has been a Shipt shopper for two years, says she’s never bought anything for a client or felt forced to, and that “going above and beyond” for her means asking the client followup questions, like how exactly they want their deli meat.
“I think it’s a great company to work for,” she says.
But on Twitter, current and former shoppers are still insisting they got a raw deal.
“I just can’t believe that even after we’ve posted screen caps everywhere this Shipt article is posted people say, ‘well that’s not true/I don’t buy gifts/they don’t MAKE you,” Ashley Johnson, who was one of the shoppers quoted in the article, tweeted on Tuesday afternoon. “Just because you’ve ignored it doesn’t mean they haven’t manipulated other workers to do it.”