Instacart delivers more than just groceries - hiring over 100 virtual shoppers in the area

Consumer habits are changing fast. As life gets busier and busier, people often look to technology to make things easier.

This has making the days of driving store to store, walking aisle to aisle, a thing of the past. Today, all one needs to knock out weekend errands are a computer, or smartphone, a wi-fi connection – oh, and a shopping list.

Kroger E-Commerce Manager Jeff Evans believes “everybody is looking for a way to get a little of their time back.”

The Instacart App, which made its Memphis debut on Aug. 8, is hard-coded to refund time. The service will allow customers to purchase groceries, toiletries, over-the-counter medication, pet supplies - even prepared meals – and have them delivered to their front door.

Instacart isn’t the first virtual shopper in Memphis. However, they fill orders at a range of retailers like Whole Foods Market, Costco, CVS, Petco and Kroger. Other services are linked to a single retailer – like Kroger or Walmart, for example.

The online service also guarantees prompt deliveries. Often, in as little as an hour.  

“Over the past year we’ve seen incredible demand in the Memphis area,” said Nick Friedrich, Instacart general manager.

Instacart’s local service area will cover most of Shelby County. With 313,000 households in 31 ZIP codes, there is a potential market for the service.

The San Francisco-based startup will also have an impact on the local workforce. It plans to hire more than 100 shoppers in the Memphis-area.

Shoppers will be paid by the order. Tips increase their income – provided the customer is satisfied.

"The wage includes a per item commission and a per order commission on each delivery completed, so wages vary by shopper. The more efficient shoppers tend to make a little bit more," Friedrich said.

Like rideshare giant Uber, Instacart is an adherent to the “gig” economy.

This model relies on contractors to fill most of its workforce. For the workers, it’s a mixed bag. For some, it’s a positive – flexible hours, less stress.

For others, there’s a downside. Contract workers are generally paid by the gig, which can work out to less than minimum wage. The work can be inconsistent. They don’t receive benefits.

Instacart has tried blunt some of the negative effects the business model has on contract workers.

"We do have guaranteed minimums in each new market so new shoppers can feel confident in their wages as they get up to speed. These minimums ensure that shopper wages in Memphis are above minimum wage," according to Friedrich.

Lately, companies have sought to downsize the model to a degree. A percentage of contract workers are being hired on full-time or part-time by “gig” employers.

The shopping service is following suit. They began hiring regular employees in 2015. Now, 20 percent of their shoppers fit that category.

While the “gig” economy stresses flexibility over the traditional employment package, the looming specter of automation is loyal to neither.

While unions like SEIU and minimum-wage workers have been focusing on a baseline of $15 per hour, online retailer Amazon has been investing in new technology. A drone that will deliver an order with a soft landing on your front lawn is in the works. So is its push into retail grocery with the recent purchase of Whole Foods Market.

But what should send shivers down the spines of labor organizers and gig jobbers is “Amazon Go. Billed as the first grocer without cashiers, its further concern for increasing worker obsolescence as technology advances.

While the end game is uncertain, but Jeff Evans of Kroger is right. Through technology, people are potentially about to have a lot more time on their hands.

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Read more articles by Kim and Jim Coleman.

Kim Coleman is a journalist with over 20 years of experience in newsrooms as a reporter, editor and graphic designer, including ten years with The Commercial Appeal as Design Director/Senior Editor and Print Planning Editor. 


Jim Coleman is a freelance writer, covering a variety of topics from high school sports, community news and small business. He has written for different news organizations over the past 20 years, including The Commercial Appeal, Community Weeklies, Lexington Herald-Leader and The Albuquerque Journal.