Instacart is answering fewer questions than ever about the puzzling drop in buyer wages

Instacart supplier Josh Rigo is among many who say the company is not transparent about how workers' wages are calculated.  (Robert Guertin/CBC - photo credit)

Instacart supplier Josh Rigo is among many who say the company is not transparent about how workers’ wages are calculated. (Robert Guertin/CBC – photo credit)

Halifax’s Josh Rigo first thought something was wrong with his Instacart salary after a long delivery drive. After deducting the promised mileage payment – 40 cents per kilometer – from his total, there wasn’t much left to pay for the purchases he made.

“The amount I got for the kilometers seems to make up the largest part of the total,” he said. “That doesn’t seem right.”

Once he started tracking his orders, he estimated that depending on how much he drove and how many hours he worked each day, he was missing anywhere from a few dollars to $15 or a little more each day.

“And that can add up pretty quickly,” he told Go Public.

As previously reported by Go Public, as of July 2021, Instacart delivery drivers reported large drops in income. The company said the income structure hasn’t changed since February 2019, but shoppers don’t understand their wage slump.

Instacart suppliers, which the California-based company calls “buyers,” are guaranteed a minimum of $7 for each “batch,” or order payment.

“It’s a pretty low salary anyway,” Rigo said. “And so every dollar counts.”

He suspected there must be a bug in the app and reported it to Instacart’s online support staff, who provided a more detailed breakdown of his salary.

That’s when he noticed that his mileage payment was significantly and consistently short by about 38 percent. He contacted support staff for weeks and asked them to adjust his salary, which they did.



His chat with a above follows the pattern. He had driven 7.4 kilometers for which he was paid $1.84. But at 40 cents per kilometer, Rigo was owed $2.96.

Rigo is not alone. Go Public has heard again from several buyers across Canada who suspect they have been truncated on their payment, and has offered screenshots from their chats with support reps as examples.

The same pattern persisted: mileage allowances were scarce. When they deducted the expected 40 cents per kilometer from their wages, they sometimes got less than the minimum of $7 per charge.

Robert Guertin/CBC

Robert Guertin/CBC

But Instacart — a $10 billion private company — still says there are no payment failures over a year after buyers’ payment complaints began; the app works exactly as it should. It adds that buyers will be told what their total compensation will be before accepting a job.

When asked why so many support reps made adjustments when the payment was correct when buyers complained, an Instacart spokesperson seemed to assume the changes were made in error.

Mileage payment changes will only be made in “some cases,” the spokesman said in a statement, adding, “We are making further updates to ensure our caregivers are fully aware of the correct protocols.”

Instacart declined an interview request.

Instacart told Go Public that its “payment structure” hasn’t changed since February 2019, but when asked whether the actual dollar amounts in shoppers’ pockets had increased or decreased after each order, the company didn’t respond.

Instead, it said that total buyers’ receipts in Canada “increased at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and have been above pre-pandemic levels since March 2020.”

CLOCK | Workers deserve a breakdown of their pay, attorney says:

According to Instacart, the problem is that shoppers are confused about how their checkout works. The company says some of their mileage money counts toward the $7 minimum.

Go Public asked where that information is shared with buyers, and the company pointed to the buyers’ contract, which doesn’t clearly spell out how mileage and batch payment relate, but says they “receive one payment for each shipment that takes place.” consider factors such as item weight, number and type of items, estimated distance and time, and any applicable incentives.

Labor and Employment Advocate Sheilagh Turkington isn’t surprised so many shoppers are confused.

“You shouldn’t have to be a lawyer to find out what the terms of the agreement are,” she said after reviewing the contract and the buyers’ payment information.

“Would it be reasonable for someone to think they would get both mileage and accrual payments… each with a minimum entitlement? Yes. Yes. I think it would.”

Oliver Walters/CBC

Oliver Walters/CBC

Turkington says Instacart buyers are disadvantaged because they don’t have the same information that most Canadians see on their payslips: not just the amount earned, but the breakdown of how it was calculated.

“If it’s unclear, how does a worker know they’re getting paid in full? Or does a worker accept the job under false pretenses?”

Instacart won’t say what portion of the buyer’s mileage payment counts towards the aggregate payment. only that it varies depending on several factors specific to each order.



Lucian Mihailescu of Abbotsford, BC does not accept this explanation. He has been an Instacart shopper for two years, loves his work and has a collection of Instacart branded clothing that he bought with his own money.

He says Instacart’s explanations just don’t match his data. He has made several videos explaining why and begging the company to look at the numbers and reconsider its position.

“The total amount [pay] is lower than it was two years ago or even a year ago,” he said.

When Instacart continued to insist there was no error, Mihailescu concluded that they must have shrunk the batch payment per item. In the end, he and other concerned buyers can only speculate.

Payment details withheld

In December, Instacart acknowledged to shoppers on an online community forum that “the information some of you have received about your earnings has been confusing.”

But instead of giving more information, the company started giving less. Now the support agents are not allowed to show the mileage payment as a separate item to the buyers.

The company spokesman said the information was blocked because “the breakdown of the batch payment previously shared by Care agents created confusion.”

But Mihailescu says this makes things even more confusing. “We used to be able to ask the account managers about the breakdown and they could tell us, but now they can’t,” he said.

When buyers complained, a company employee told them on an online forum on Dec. 16, “I can assure you that we do a lot of checks to make sure our backend income calculations are always correct.”



For some buyers, given Instacart’s history, that assurance rings hollow. In 2019, amid allegations of tip theft, Instacart admitted it had cut workers’ wages based on the size of their tips.

Then-CEO Apoorva Mehta apologized and promised changes and compensation.

In October 2021, a buyer filed a complaint in Ontario Superior Court alleging that the company failed to make minimum payments to its workers under labor standards laws.

That lawsuit also alleges that Instacart misclassifies full-service buyers as independent contractors.

Contractor classification is a big part of the problem, says Enda Brophy, associate professor of communications at Simon Fraser University and expert on digital gig work.

“Imagine you start a job and the employer says, ‘Welcome to your new job, your salary will be variable, and I’m not going to tell you exactly how we set it,'” he said.

Julia Lapointe

Julia Lapointe

“That’s basically what companies like Instacart do, except for the fact that they hide behind classifying workers as independent contractors to pretend they don’t actually employ those people.”

Brophy says this has social implications well beyond Instacart.

“What this case gives us,” he said, “is a glimpse of a future job market where machines make incredibly important decisions in the workplace without transparency or recourse.”

In April, Ontario passed legislation, the first of its kind in Canada, to set out worker rights specific to gig work on digital platforms.

The new law is not yet in effect, but a spokesman said the Department of Labour, Immigration, Training and Skills Development is currently developing the regulations.

Ontario’s Digital Platform Workers’ Rights Act requires, among other things, a minimum wage for each work assignment and a clear description of how pay is calculated.

But Rigo is disappointed that Instacart didn’t change his answer.

“Show us the algorithm and show that it’s consistent and then we’ll believe you,” he said.

“But just making blanket statements that don’t include details makes it seem like you’re still hiding something.”

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