Instacart’s new 30-minute deliveries are sure to be a headache for workers

In the crowded food- and grocery-delivery space, Instacart is hoping that shaving off a few minutes makes all the difference. To that end, it’s creating a new “priority delivery” option that debuts today in select markets and promises to have orders fulfilled in “as fast as 30 minutes.”

While 45- and 60-minute deliveries are already available to many Instacart customers, “priority delivery” is, according to the company, debuting in more than 15 cities (though it only names six: Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami, San Diego, San Francisco, and Seattle). It’s intended use case is for quick errands, rather than the bulk, groceries-for-the-week function Instacart tends to thrive on. With that in mind, even in participating stores, the 30-minute option will become unavailable for orders that are overly large or complicated, the company told The Verge.

As is true for many delivery jobs, small orders, like the ones “priority” is designed for, are typically the least lucrative and often remain in the queue of unclaimed work for longer. For many drivers, picking up these small potatoes orders aren’t worth the gas they’d spend getting to the store. Naturally, faster service will also cost more — though the pricing for “priority” is as yet unknown. Instacart declined to provide details on how much the upcharge is expected to be, or how much of it will make its way into delivery workers’ paychecks. Instacart also did not say whether it was increasing staffing or making workflow changes to accommodate any needs specific to “priority delivery.”

It’s reasonable to be wary of how this new feature, with its even more strenuous time demands, might impact an already strained and vulnerable workforce. This is, after all, the same company that was found to be subsidizing workers’ wages with their own tip money; it’s also the company that, to some degree, still allows customers to engage in the abhorrent practice of tip baiting, whereby delivery workers are enticed to grab an order with a generous tip, only to have it rescinded after the order is completed. This is to say nothing of Instacart’s feelings about workers getting employee status or collective bargaining rights.

Completing a delivery within half an hour may not seem like a huge strain, especially for Instacart shoppers already working in metros with 45-minute turnarounds. But in the precarity of gig work, customer ratings can mean the difference between having a job or being deactivated.

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