Published on: February 16, 2022
Yesterday I wrote about how there is a story making the rounds about how an Instacart shopper for a retailer, put out by what she viewed as "ridiculous" instructions from a customer, decided to go on TikTok to ridicule the customer….and that rant went viral, gaining well over 100,000 views. The reaction from the Instacart shopper, as well as people responding to the rant, can be described (generously) as dismissive of the customer, suggesting that she needed to do her own shopping and stop making unreasonable requests of Instacart employees.
I was appalled, and explained:
Were the customer's requests over the line? Sure. One might even say they were outrageous. However, let's not forget that this is the customer. Retailers are not supposed to be in the business of mocking their customers in public, and certainly not on social media.
When was the last time you read about a retailer "getting even" with a customer and thought to yourself, "Gee, that's a good thing."
By the way, one interesting thing about the stories I read was that the retailer involved never was named. Now, if I'm the retailer, I think to myself, "How great is it that our name never came up." And then I think to myself, "Wait a minute. This shopper, unreasonable as he/she may be, is supposed to be my shopper … and now the business with which I have contracted to provide certain services is out there mocking him/her? And how did I get so disintermediated from the store-shopper relationship that I seemed to be irrelevant to the experience?"
Even if the customer was unreasonable, it may be that he/she had a previous bad experience, which led to those demands. (The text of his/her messages suggests that this is precisely the case.) By going onto social media to mock the customer, at no point was any effort apparently made to address whatever those concerns happened to be.
If I am that customer, I'm pissed off. At Instacart. At the shopper. And almost certainly at the retailer with which I thought I was doing business.
If I am that customer, it seems entirely possible that I am going to tell people about it. I may even go on social media to complain about my treatment. And I'm likely never going to do business with that retailer again, nor will I want to do business with any retailer that offers Instacart.
Which may be fine with the retailer and Instacart, but everybody loses, because what could have been a teachable moment when it comes to food safety ends up just being a rant-filled cluster…well, you know.
There are ways to get rid of troublesome customers. This is not one of them.
One MNB reader responded:
Having spent almost 25 years of my life as a bagger, cashier, and store manager, I have my own opinions on this one.
First and foremost, this customer’s instructions were NOT over the line or outrageous. Everything that she was asking of the Instacart employee falls in line with the basics of bagging groceries, based on how I was taught as a young’un and how I taught hundreds of people over the years that I was in management. It is a very reasonable expectation for a customer to ask for the soap to be separated from the edible items, to ask that the cold things be kept together and insulated if necessary, and to wrap and protect packages that are juicy or bloody. I did it every day and expected my employees to do the same. Our management staff and cashiers would make a point to observe our baggers and point out both good and poor execution on their part in an attempt to reinforce the training. It’s difficult to maintain a high standard, and many employers aren’t willing to put in the effort or just don’t care.
Fast forward 23 years since I left the grocery business……..many employees are taught how to bag groceries by watching a video, if they receive any training at all. (Our son followed me into the business within the past five years while a student, and he could attest to this.) Customers are being expected to check themselves out more and more, as well as they are expected to bag their own orders. The few employees who attempt to bag groceries for customers don’t understand the simplest fundamentals of how to fill a plastic or a paper bag properly to reduce the number of wasted bags. I can’t count the number of times when I allowed someone else to bag my order that I would re-bag the items before leaving the checkstand and cut the number of bags used by half or more. Now I find myself actively discouraging anyone else from touching my stuff as it is being checked out and I do it all myself. I appreciate their offers, but……..
In your writing you have not attempted to hide your opinions from your readers that you believe grocers who use delivery services such as Instacart are making a deal with the devil as they co-opt the retailers’ customers and make them their own. This story is further evidence that this relationship is not beneficial for the retailer because the lines have become blurred as to what employee is working for which company and who is ultimately responsible for this public relations fiasco. I have tremendous empathy for the customer here as she is very possibly someone who would like to be able to visit the store in person and bag their own order, but isn’t able to do so for whatever reason. She likely knows the difficulty of trying to request a refund for items that are melted, damaged, contaminated, etc. without being able to go into the store and she is simply attempting to prevent the need to have to make one of those calls, in addition to avoiding the disappointment of receiving merchandise that doesn’t arrive in acceptable condition. Who knows? If you follow her instructions properly, maybe she’s a great tipper.
Most of all, (and I realize that this is likely a generational difference on my part) the idea of using social media to call out a customer such as this one is unconscionable. Especially when it is highly unlikely that the Instacart shopper has walked a mile in the customer’s shoes. God forbid that employee should ever have to depend on the kindness of others to fulfill their essential needs. I’ve often said that someone like that Instacart employee or the industry expert should be forced to take their punishment by being a skilled care patient in a nursing home where they would truly understand how it feels to have to rely on someone else to conduct the basic activities of daily living.
Shame on them.
Another MNB reader chimed in:
A new restaurant opened near me in an almost defunct shopping mall. It has a very cool vibe and the menu is enticing and I was very keen to try it. I’ve been following the restaurant on social media since before they were even open and I’ve been rooting for their success, up until now.
It seems that they are tacking a 17-20% “fee” onto the diners’ tabs in order to help defray the costs of their employees healthcare. What?? Diners are getting angry at these fees and the fact that they are not well explained. One diner sent in a private e-mail to the restaurant stating their displeasure at these fees (I’m paraphrasing here). That diner did not take to social media to put the restaurant on blast; they sent them a private e-mail. The restaurant then decided to post this man’s e-mail, including his email address, on Instagram and tear him apart. At the end of their rant about how he’s an idiot and they don’t need his business, they included things like #joshsucks #getalife etc. For a new restaurant starting out, those types of business practices really rub me the wrong way. I have since unfollowed them on social media, have told all my friends about what they did, and have zero intention of patronizing their business. I don’t see a bright future for this place if this is the kind of people they have running it.
And, from MNB reader Cyndi Metallo:
Hi Kevin - What an informed customer and unfortunate response from the shopper.
Most will agree that the retailer is responsible for the quality of the product until it reaches the customer, but in cases like Instacart that becomes murky. Food quality, delivery time and the customer relationship are out of the retailer’s control. The FDA is currently reviewing ways of ensuring regulations are met in the direct to consumer channel, it is a challenge.
This customer has obviously had bad experiences with online shopping and is clearly communicating what will satisfy them. If only all customers would be so clear! The truth is, most customers are not this informed about the food safety and quality issues that are introduced with the grocery delivery. Recent research by North Carolina State University identifies some statistics that may surprise retailers, direct to consumer delivery companies and most of all, consumers!
Carefully monitoring and managing the temperature and duration of deliveries will provide a positive experience for the customers resulting in greater retention rates – in this case for both Instacart and the retailer. This is the type of problem we help solve at Varcode. A simple, low cost Smart Tag that tracks time over temperature can provide data and facilitate an instant two-way conversation between the customer and retailer. Ultimately, providing safe product and a satisfied customer.
Note: I let this semi-commercial slip through because it made sense within the context of the broader comment.
From another reader, a different perspective:
Some quick thoughts on this….First, these order pick-delivery services are designed for efficiency and for the masses. The expectation that anyone can think that they can customize this service to meet their specific needs is off-track, and this should have been communicated to the customer. We all want to feel special, and maybe will pay for it, so Instacart and any others may need to offer a VIP service at a premium. Look at the” MDVIP” model with doctors to get an idea of how this operates. If you want special attention, it comes with a price.
I’ll leave the TikTok piece of the story for others to discuss. I wouldn’t have shared it that way, but that seems to be the norm now.
Fair points about the opportunity for a VIP service. But none of that was communicated to the customer by the retailer or by Instacart … and I still maintain that the public laceration of a customer just doesn't make sense. In fact, I'd call it retailing malpractice.
On the subject of unionization efforts at Starbucks, MNB reader Thomas Murphy wrote:
Okay, I know this is probably naive, and likely impossible, but given that Starbucks appears to be losing the unionization battle one store at a time (like being nibbled to death by ducks), maybe Starbucks needs to become less transactional and more strategic.
What if Starbucks allowed any store that wanted to join a union...to join one, agreeing to work with one or two select national unions (maybe international) like the airline have for pilots. Then work with the union(s) to set up a single standard contract and negotiate with a small number of entities on a regular basis. Now, you have common rules across all stores, although likely variable pay scales based on geography and markets, and a single overall response to union/employee needs.
The overhead most unionized retailers have at HQ, local offices, and individual stores has got to cost more than actual losses from working with a union…
Yeah, sounds great…but impossible…maybe I’ll just go back to my edibles! 🙂
Regarding the ongoing discussion of supermarket workplace wages, one MNB reader wrote:
Regarding the front-line workers at retail. Yes, their jobs are important. Yes, they are the face of the company at the ground level. But they are non-skilled jobs, and that is the disconnect that is missed here. These are entry level jobs and should not be viewed as a job that you take to solely support your family. They never have been and shouldn’t be now. They are training positions that teach younger people entering the job force how to deal with people, handle money, be responsible to show up for work, etc. Or as a second job, for someone that needs additional income. They should not be your destination job goal. Now, with the entitled worker and the “minimum wage” being set at twice the levels of 2 years ago, the only thing that has changed is the perception that people have been convinced through media influences, that they are hero’s entitled to be paid more for performing the same entry level work. There is a reason these positions are called “entry level”.
"Never have been?" I'm not sure that is entirely true. I think there was a time when working in a supermarket - using, by the way, skills I certainly don't have - was an honorable job in which people could spend their lives. I think your characterization of "entitled workers" is unfair and, to be honest, naïve.
The wage discussion has emerged because of a report from the Economic Roundtable says that "about 75 percent of Kroger workers said they were food insecure, meaning they lacked consistent access to enough food for an active, healthy life. About 14 percent said they were homeless or had been homeless in the previous year, and 63 percent said they did not earn enough money to pay for basic expenses every month."
Another MNB reader had a very different perspective:
Great piece, Kevin! Sad too. Imagine the irony - that thousands of food workers could go without enough to eat. That's even more sad given the world we operate in. The pandemic has created a booming business for many of our nation's largest big-box food retailers, who have capitalized on conditions in spite of supply chain bottlenecks, mask mandates, and social-distancing protocols. Just two years ago, frontline workers were rightly lauded as heroes nationwide. "Hero" is a great label, but you can't eat it.
Two newspapers of record - the L.A. Times and New York Times - have now covered this story in as many months. Hopefully this will draw much-needed attention to the reality of many food workers, who often work part-time with no benefits. By contrast, food cooperatives are mainly staffed by full-time employees with full benefits, the foundation of any career. I've been working at a food co-op for more than 20 years.
When it comes to food access and any degree of financial security, a full-time job with good benefits is a good place to start. If even tiny food co-ops can do this, there is no reason the monolithic chains can't.