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I'm disappointed by Instacart (dentafrice.com)
210 points by calebio on Apr 2, 2013 | hide | past | web | favorite | 125 comments

Hey Caleb,

CEO at Instacart here. I want to apologize for the way you, and a small number of other early adopters of Instacart Express, were treated.

It's true that we changed the policy for Instacart Express so that orders under $35 were charged a delivery fee. We also did a poor job of notifying our customers of this. We did send an email, but due to a bug a handful of customers, yourself included, never got the email. That sucks, and we're really sorry.

Please rest assured we will refund you any delivery fees AND any subscription fees that you have had to pay as a result of this.

We are in the process of reaching out to everyone who could have been affected with the next steps.

Again, I'm really sorry we screwed this up and we're going to make it right.

Thanks, Apoorva

You generally can't just change the policy - you entered into a contract with the people who paid $99 for a year of free delivery. You can change the policy for new buyers, but the agreement with the older ones still exists.

Instacart Express was a free trial until very recently - no one was charged for the service. When Instacart starting charging the $99 fee, they also sent out the email (which apparently didn't reach anyone?) and changed the policy such that it made sense for the company while also providing that people could opt-out on the new conditions. I agree 100% they shouldn't be changing the policy if people had paid for it (e.g., breaking the contract), but in this case everyone was getting a free service.

Then they shouldn't have auto-charged the $99 under the new terms - they should have had the users opt-in to the new service since it was different to what they initially signed up for.

Actually, no one paid for Instacart Express until March, 2013. And when we made changes to the plan, we intended to notify everyone first and give them time to decide whether to continue or cancel.

I never got the email. What I did notice is when I went to my account page I saw that it indicated that my free trial was going to end and gave me a chance to pay. I had previously heard from customer service that I had never been charged (but was not told that nobody had been charged).

When I saw this, I went ahead and paid (not knowing, of course, that the terms had changed). And my Instacart Express membership now says Aug 19, 2012 - Aug 19, 2013. But in this article, the OP shows a screenshot indicating his service is March 20, 2013 - March 20, 2014. Why is there a discrepancy here? By explicitly opting to pay from my account page, did I screw myself out of 7 months worth of Express service that the OP is getting?

I'm pretty sure that, like most sites, they have something in their TOS that says they reserve the right to change the terms of offering their service at their sole discretion. When you sign up for the service you are agreeing to the TOS even if you pay a fee, and this is quite standard.

It sounds like they tried to do the right thing and notify customers of the change, and people could have chosen to unsubscribe if they didn't like the new terms, but there was some kind of bug and they are fixing it.

This is only partly related but just a heads up some courts have found TOS agreements illusionary in the past for including clauses that mention they can be altered at any time without the user's consent. Some courts may throw out the clause, a section of the TOS, or even the entire TOS as a result.

Just an example of precedence (you'll need to copy and paste HN drops the trailing period on the URL): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harris_v._Blockbuster_Inc.

I'm not a lawyer just good to keep in mind that the validity of such clauses is in question in courtrooms in the country.

I looked into this before and from what I understand, you cannot simply include "we change whenever we want" into your TOS. It is fine for small adjustments to the agreement, but when you release something that significantly impacts you users, you actually must re-send a notification of change and get your users to agree to the new terms. At least, these actions are most likely to stand in court. Just my research though, perhaps a lawyer could comment?

That sounds like hiding behind fine print, which is certainly legal, but I'm not sure how that makes it the "right thing". Why isn't the "right thing" honoring the original arrangement with existing customers, at least until it expires?

When you bring up contracts, the small print matters. It's still not clear what the original terms were, and since I wasn't an Instacart Express users I didn't see the company's messaging, but I'd assume they're not out to screw people to the tune of $8. Unlike most people on this thread, I assume the best of startups until they do something truly evil.

I never said they were trying to screw people, I just find it strange that it's apparently okay to offer a product for several months, take people's money for it, and then change the terms underneath them.

Sure I understand that Instacart isn't a charity, and they must have realized that this was clearly not a profitable business model. I guess what I don't understand is why they can't own the mistake and eat the loss. They didn't advertise "free deliveries for $99 as long as our math and assumptions hold", they advertised "free deliveries for $99 for a year".

And people paid them money for it.

Why is it unreasonable for Instacart Express customers to expect what they paid for? Why is it acceptable for Instacart to effectively bait and switch their early adopters, regardless of their motivations?

This would be equivalent to signing a contract and, on the reverse side of the contract, it stating that the drafter of the contract is not bound by the terms. Can't do it. Both parties are bound or neither is.

This is quite common for Dish Network. They keep on increasing the price of some additional channel (in my case B4U music) that I have subscribed even if you have 2 year commitment.

You did not just changed “some policy”. You had the contract and tried to quietly change rules in the middle. If you really, really had to change rules for existing customers, you should offer them either accepting new rules or canceling their contracts and receiving their money back.

An explanation, an apology, and a fix. If only all companies that made mistakes could react like this!

Instacart continues to disappoint me: I had a detailed conversation with one of their drivers: the driver relayed to me a number of disappointing and distressing aspects of their employment, including an opaque policy regarding tip dispersal, differences in compensation between new and old employees, e.g. commission for new employees, and other shady discrepancies.

Now compound this with a general degradation in quality of service: Recently I've had a driver attempt to deliver the wrong groceries to me, in fact the driver almost left before I could tell them that these were not the groceries I had ordered...prior to that I've had several incorrect or missing items that I was billed for. I wonder if this push towards changes in their driver employment terms has led to a overall lowered quality in the service? This is just speculation of course, a number of factors probably contribute to this. But the bottom line is my experience as a customer has continued to deteriorate.

I had reached out to Intacart directly over email to try to understand how the drivers were compensated so I could determine how much to tip the drivers. I also inquired about the exact mark up over the base cost of an item: I feel like I'm being charged at minimum three times over the base cost: 1) mark up 2) delivery fee 3) driver tip. Contrast this with Uber, who roll everything into a single fee that I never have to think twice about. At any rate, I never received any response from Instacart and I'm still not sure how to appropriately compensate the drivers. It's really disappointing that Instacart has both declined in quality and made it more difficult for me as a customer to understand them as a regular expense.

I would probably be better off just walking to the grocery store or taking a cab: at least then I know exactly what I'm paying for and can anticipate the rough cost.

This is an interesting comment, but just a quick note that if you talk to Uber drivers, you'll sometimes get specific complaints about the comp and service model they use too; the big difference is that Uber hides the issue from you; that might be a good thing, but there's a way to look at it where it's a bad thing too.

(I started talking to most of my drivers after Jason Fried posted to Twitter that he'd been getting uniformly positive feedback from his drivers; that has not been my experience, although I've never gotten overtly negative feedback.)

I'm always hesitant to relate anything I hear from talking to Uber drivers because I'm worried that Uber might be smart enough to track online comments back to drivers.

I've heard bankers making 7 figures complain about their compensation model. I think there's no way to turn the knobs so that nobody complains. But indeed, service-oriented companies should absorb the flak and not leave the customer feeling vaguely guilty.

I think that's a reasonable principle to have if you're not allowing your service team to accept tips.

> I'm always hesitant to relate anything I hear from talking to Uber drivers because I'm worried that Uber might be smart enough to track online comments back to drivers.

Yes, I hope I haven't done that here... I intentionally eliminated as many details as I could.

I've never heard a negative complaint from an Uber driver either (sample size ~10 drivers). I have never used Instacart because I'm not in the Bay area.

I would also add that it is much easier for Uber to roll up their charges and markups into one fee (only one service provided and consumer generally has a wider range of acceptable cost) than it is for Instacart to do so (multiple products, easy to estimate cost of a loaf of bread).

I believe you, like I believe Jason Fried (who I presume is using Uber in the same city as I am).

> including an opaque policy regarding tip dispersal

According to Instacart's FAQ[1]:

"Can I tip my Personal Shopper?

Yes! Tips are not required or expected, but Shoppers appreciate them and receive the full amount. After delivery, you'll receieve a link via email and text message that you can use to leave a credit card tip."

I am not affiliated with, nor do I use, Instacart or any similar/competing delivery services. Just pointing out what's listed on their FAQ.

I could be making a mistake and perhaps not understanding the difference between "Personal Shopper" and "Driver" (as used in your context). Are there two individuals that perform the shopping/delivery: one shops for the item, and another delivers it to your door, and the tip only goes towards the shopper?

[1] https://www.instacart.com/faq#q11

Instacart's challenge is that unlike an on-demand private car, which has no "set" price, groceries from a specific store have a price the store sets. So the markup is more obvious to the user.

Since it seems like you (and probably many other users) would prefer a "single fee with everything rolled in", would you prefer to have no markup, no tip and a single, but higher delivery fee? Or would you prefer a higher (but opaque/variable) markup with no delivery fee and no tip?

Personally, I wouldn't put too much stock into what one driver says. The claim that some service employees are getting a commission seems unusual and surprising. Commissions are usually reserved for jobs with a sales component.

I would prefer "no markup, no tip and a single, and a higher delivery fee" - but offering "no markup" on grocery items (without direct access to inventory systems) is probably hard, since prices change so frequently.

In theory, you could market it as a fixed price delivery like Postmates does for some stores, and not show actual prices on the items, just say they will be delivered "at cost" along with a receipt. A challenge with doing this is charging someone who orders 75 items more than someone who orders 10 items.

It would indeed be very hard to do this without charging a markup if you want to show customers the price in the app before they buy. This seems like a pretty important feature.

On the other hand, the challenge with a higher delivery fee (say $10/delivery) with no markup is that a competitor could simply charge a higher but opaque markup, and a lower delivery fee (say $3.99/delivery) and appear to be "cheaper". The only way you'd find out for sure is by comparing item by item between the two competitors - which most people are loathe to do.

AFAIK, with the Safeway delivery they use a flat 5% markup on the cost of the item (which IIRC is what Postmates uses too for non-custom orders). I don't know about Trader Joes.

I have mixed feelings about posts like this. I understand the point -- public shaming to resolve a service/pricing issue, but I don't like the way its handled. It's the same sort of things reviewers do on Yelp (and why I find most Yelp reviews to be essentially worthless) -- "I have a specific, personal customer service issue with this business, so I'm going to make it as public as possible in an effort to drum up support"

On the one hand, this will (or at least should) generate a response from Instacart, and perhaps will have its intended effect - a policy change / refund / etc.

But on the other hand, I don't like the feel of how these things play out. Customer has issue. Customer makes contact with company and receives response. Customer not satisfied with response so instead of escalating within company, customer decides to "go public" and shame company.

And now this thread has turned into a piling-on of everyone's personal Instacart issues. Is this productive? Is this helping Instacart improve or is it just a cathartic airing of grievances?

I just feel like these sorts of things hurt the company more than help them, and it feels vindictive.

I could be totally off-base here, but such is the way of gut responses...

I just think of these posts as "watch out for this company, it's shady." I think that's pretty valuable to know.

And let's be honest, Instacart could have preempted this blog post easily by just saying "sorry about that, we've refunded the fees and if you wish to cancel the service now that the terms have changed, we'll prorate it." I think the blog poster would have been happy with that.

Instead they gave the classic "if" half-apology: "I apologize if for some reason you did not receive it." Not even trusting their customer that he really didn't receive the notice!

I think often "escalating within the company" either (a) doesn't accomplish anything or (b) simply takes too much active time and effort for what is likely to only ultimately be an individual solution. If you really believe that you are a member of an entire class of people that are being wronged, the right thing to do is to increase general awareness that the company is behaving in a way that you believe is unethical.

Also, a company like Instacart should regard such an expression of customer frustration as something to learn from, regardless of its short-term impact to the bottom line. In the long run they have the potential to be a much stronger company by incorporating customer feedback; especially where it seems that a number of customers identify with that frustration.

Yelp is different though - I agree that many individual reviews are worthless, people just looking to bitch about the server they didn't like, etc.

But this is a reasoned, detailed explanation with due diligence done to ensure accuracy. Usually these things are required for your public shaming to be successful (with a [mostly] reasonable audience like HN). When it does succeed, that should mean there actually is an issue that the company would do well to correct, and this tends to be an effective method for getting that done.

>And now this thread has turned into a piling-on of everyone's personal Instacart issues. Is this productive? Is this helping Instacart improve or is it just a cathartic airing of grievances?

It may be a hard pill to swallow, but I believe it certainly is productive, as long as the responses maintain some level of objectivity. Catharsis of frustrated users is a goldmine of feedback that might not have gotten enough visibility otherwise.

"I have a specific, personal customer service issue with this business..." - how is this a specific, personal issue? It seems to affect all customers, and as indicated on the post, it seems like none of them were notified about this change of policy... That's my basic understanding reading the post anyway.

Who gives a damn whether it helps or hurts Instacart? Instacart changed a service people already paid for. Obviously it's not a "whoops, our bad" situation because they admit that they did it, whether or not they thought they contacted people. If anyone gets anything back, then yes -- it is productive.

I'd argue this is why the idea of customer support/community management is an entire department on itself. Customers in general, are not forgiving. Knowing how to deal with them properly takes social savvy, and you have to be aware how emails can turn into a PR blunder.

The customer in this case was put in a position that made him feel that he needed to publically shame. A good PR/Customer Support rep would have seen this coming and would have defused the situation earlier.

The author didn't even ask for what he wants: his year of free delivery under $35.

I'm sure Instacart would have no problem at the very least waiving two $8 fees.

My advice to people calling into customer service departments? Just ask. The person on the other line can't read your mind. If you ask for what you want, you'd be surprised at how often you'll get it.

I know of one person that publicly complained after contacting Instacart privately about the change in service:

> the representative was defensive and used "we're a startup" as an excuse for the shift.


I didn't know about this. Still, I was expecting a little longer of a communication with support-- 'escalation' or at least 'the ask' should have been done before the public shaming, in my mind. All I see now is a cordial and polite explanation from Instacart.

Lets get real: outside of two $8 charges that he's not even asked to be reversed, this is exactly the same service that he describes as "great" in the same post.

That's actually really good advice. At Instacart we try to go out of our way to make sure our customer experience is top notch. Giving people what they ask for is always the best way to do that.

Well, unfortunately in today's day and age, things just don't get "escalated" in a company. Without feeling pain the company doesn't escalate things. Pain is a natural escalator, just ask your body it works the same way. When you feel pain depending on the severity of pain it will escalate over other tasks to stop/prevent it. I think although your view has merit and is also a good counter argument, its my belief that this is the natural course of things. cheers

Sounds like they are re-living the lessons learned by Kozmo (anybody remember them?). Free, local delivery is a tough business, and people will absue it without minimums.

Kozmo learned that customers would order a pack of gum... expecting free delivery (which they did honor... until they went out of business).

Always really good to know what went before you: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kozmo.com

I take issue with the term "abuse." The implication is that people are unfairly taking advantage of the service, and that the companies are justified in altering obfuscating their pricing structures in a way that is at best disingenuous and at worst illegal. If companies agree to provide a free service to their customers, said customers can only be expected to maximize their value from the service. The companies have an obligation to offer their services at the marketed or contractually-guaranteed price, and aren't justified in misleading customers. No "abuse" happened. These companies made poor choices and consumers acted in their best interest (as they are inclined to do). That doesn't justify that choices that Instacart made.

Oh Kozmo. My friend told me tales of ordering a Snickers bar at 3am while some dude on a bike would come and deliver it by 3:45am.

It would be nice if startups could learn lessons that don't directly affect their company, but the lesson probably wouldn't hold as much weight/carry as much significance if they didn't experience it firsthand.

I would love to believe that every startup within a vertical learns lessons from the pioneers that have failed, but sometimes the lessons are in the details that aren't readily available.

The former CTO of Kozmo gave a great speech at a Startup Funeral in NYC last year:


It was a fascinating story and a real cautionary tale for people replicating their mistakes.

Free local delivery without minimums sounds like suicide to me. Of course that doesn't release them from honoring any pledge they've made though.

Even if you have Instacart Express, they enforce a $10 minimum per store you want to order from on top of the delivery fee. Plus this wasn't a service offered to any except the earliest adopters. If they can't profit or deal with the volume from the early adopters buying at least the minimum for a store and picking the (formerly free, now only free for $35+) slower delivery option, they need to phase out the service altogether.

Honestly, the pricing structure of this company is so convoluted and their fees seem so usuriously high, I just can't see how this is preferable to simply walking to the nearest store in 99% of circumstances.

I'm Australian and when visiting LA about 10 years ago I decided I wanted to see some things. Every time I asked for directions, local people would say "Well you get on this motorway and then turn here" etc. I'd say "No, I want to walk" and people would look at me like I was a leper.

Maybe it's LA specific, but I was amazed at just what a "You don't WALK anywhere" culture there was, at least with all the people I spoke to.

Or maybe I'm the crazy one for wanting to walk everywhere!

Having grown up in LA, I think it is LA specific (and a few other cities too). Given how big and spread out the city is, it is pretty difficult to walk around unless you only want local attractions in a certain area (say, Hollywood). Taking public transit or a bike might work for some attractions too, but it's also incredibly time consuming. I do a good 50+ miles of driving when friends/family are visiting even for a couple of days. Just to get out of my former neighborhood and to a shopping center or whatever, in the city of LA so not like out in the boonies, takes a couple miles alone.

Compare to SF where I live now, and I'm pretty happy I can walk to a lot more places within a few blocks :)

Well then call the funny farm and have me committed, because I dont drive. My main mode of transportation is walking.

I'm actually known around town as the "guy who walks everywhere". It's like I'm the town freak.

More seriously though, in this culture, cars and driving are like a religion. I also think that driving instead of walking disconnects people from nature and from knowing their own neighborhood, both socially and ecologically.

Traveling at high speeds in an insulated metal cage can have that effect.

I think this idea that 'driving disconnects people from nature and from knowing their own neighborhood' is silly, and possibly harmful if it leads people down suboptimal urban planning designs. It sounds lovely and humanistic and all that, but I would love to see some evidence that it's actually, y'know, true.

I walk my neighborhood (2-3 times a week), and I can't say I am any more connected when walking than when driving. I see no more people when I walk than when I drive, and the ones I do see don't recognize me nor I them. It's not as if walking makes me suddenly introduce myself to people, or that doing so will induce me to somehow pick up (nonexistent) litter or the like, or somehow notice things I wouldn't otherwise.

It's not as if walking makes me suddenly introduce myself to people, or that doing so will induce me to somehow pick up... litter or the like, or somehow notice things I wouldn't otherwise.

Sorry to hear that.

This is what I don't get, that people think that walking somehow magically makes people somehow more social than they are. Maybe I'm wrong! But I'd like to see data that proves people are more social when walking than driving. I think the lack of social interaction is the controlling factor, not a particular mode of transportation people choose.

Fear wears many masks.

I don't think Instacart's fees are anywhere near "usuriously high", only unnecessarily complicated. I would be happier paying something like an upfront $25/delivery for 20 items within 3 hours or similar, no markups and no other cost structure involved. All I see is markups everywhere and delivery fees that go all over the place so it's impossible to estimate how much more I'm spending... if I even get the right things delivered. So I just take the little bit of extra time to stop by the market on my way home or make a small weekend day trip out of multiple stores instead.

Plus if anything I'd rather shop in person than go with any delivery service because I know I'll be getting what I want from any market I want and I know what kind of substitutions I want, instead of dealing with terrible shoppers and even worse UIs (like Instacart's). Adding shady change of terms without telling customers on top of that? Ugh. Want to love the convenience but...

Wow, that's pretty blinkered of you. Off the top of my head, it would probably be preferable to people with a physical disability, people with a sprained ankle/wrist, people with the flu, people with a hangover, people with two small kids taking a nap, people working from home with a deadline, busy people in general, people who live outside of a reasonable walking distance from a store (can include those who live close but in a difficult to walk neighbourhood), people who need to buy more things than they can easily carry...I'm pretty sure I'm well over 1% of cases already.

This is a really important point to make. Companies like these start out thinking that there is no way there will be a lot of users ordering small amounts, they'll all just order in bulk. They soon find out this isn't the case, but at that point changing looks bad to their customer base. If you don't start out with a model that charges for the smaller deliveries you're going to find yourself screwed.

That being said, the $99 fee should cover smaller deliveries. They asked for the money up front, without limitations, it is an awful idea to attempt to go back on that.

The documentary E-Dreams is a very interesting behind the scenes look at Kozmo's rise and (mostly) fall. Not a great documentary as a film, but definitely worth a watch if you're interested in the history of the dot com boom.

We are working on implementing it for setonia.com for all products man.. its not easy.

I'm disappointed in this post. A person has every right to be upset about a situation like the one the author describes but to frame it like the company is doing something wrong and quitting in protest is a bit childish to me.

Okay, they changed the policy. Companies do that all the time and as much as we don't like it, most often they need to so they can either continue to be profitable or just to continue providing their service. This seems like such a case. (Imagine Instacart's yearly customers ordering a banana from the grocery store and not paying any shipping fee - this was probably done to prevent abuse).It's disappointing but not out of line.

They sent out a notice. One person and their two friends didn't get the memo. That's truly unfortunate but then to wonder out loud if an email ever got sent out at all is another point against the author. The insinuation is that the company is lying.

This genre of blog post has gotten out of hand. It was once reserved for truly egregious acts. Now every time someone falls into an obvious edge-case they blow the whole thing out of proportion.

The bottom line here is that the company had to change their policy, they sent out notice of that and the author is framing them as the bad guys because he didn't get the memo. It's okay and understandable to be disappointed by being charged for something you thought you wouldn't be charged for but nothing underhanded happened here so it's not alright to frame Instacart as the villain.

Changing the terms of a contract after it's been signed is shady, and it's totally fair-game to publicly call out a company that does it, especially since the OP contacted Instacart first to make sure it wasn't a mistake.

I'm friends with one of the founders of Instacast and I'd love to see them win, but the way they handled this is really not OK.

I can't believe your attitude.

As a consumer, do you ever worry about whether Amazon is making a profit on EC2 or Prime? I don't. But I sign up for something, and I expect to either have my agreement honored, cancelled, or mutually replaced with my consent. If that didn't happen, there is _absolutely no way_ that I would continue doing business with the company, especially for something as discretionary as what Instacart offers.

I'm surprised the author was able to maintain such a civil tone, not that he posted about it.

Even Instacarts CEO's post on this thread is more apologetic than yours.

> Okay, they changed the policy.

It was not a 'policy' that was changed - it was a contract.

A significant chunk of customer service and sales people tell what I'm sure they think are "white lies", all the time.

Imagine a hypothetical irate, unreasonable customer who will go away happy if you say the right thing.

As for this particular case, perhaps they sent this notification mail through a different process than the one that allows all the other mails to get through spam filters etc, but it's entirely reasonable to suspect this kind of "oops! don't be angry at us" lie.

This is why I'm weary of relinquishing my credit card information to companies. I have no oversight and the companies can alter the terms arbitrarily. Despite the fact that this may be illegal, the amount of effort and money spent litigating wouldn't be lucrative at all. So, effectively, people are stuck tolerating these sorts of dubious, consumer-hostile alterations to terms.

People are infatuated with decrying the evils of advertising-centric business-models, and are weary of giving their email address, search history, etc. to companies, but willingly relinquish their bank accounts and credit cards...

Long story short, never trust companies, especially when they have the capacity to surreptitiously take your money.

It's not nearly as bad as you make it sound. As the consumer you have a very powerful tool at your disposal when using a credit card: the chargeback.

If you ever feel like someone has charged you incorrectly, you can call your CC company and file a claim (or, if you use AMEX, you can file a claim completely online).

Your credit card company trusts you 100%, and it's a huge PITA for the merchant to prove otherwise.

Chargebacks are possible within a limited time horizon. Generally 30 - 90 days depending on card company; also depends on whether you paid the bill or not.

In this case I think there was an alleged breach of contract several months down the road after the original poster had paid for an annual service.

Probably not too relevant in this context of being cheated with a small amount for a large number of times, but if you ever feel that a company may swindle you for a larger amount unexpectedly -- you should use a disposable credit card (gift card?) that can be bought at the local store.

I wouldn't think that they can change a contract mid way through without express consent. Maybe they're hoping it's small enough that no one will lawyer up?

assuming it's like the UK you just fill in a form on government website, wait a few weeks, and your cheque arrives in the post


assuming it's like the UK

That's a pretty big assumption on Hacker News.

Especially given that this company only operates in San Francisco and Palo Alto.

Site says the person who wrote the post is from CA. In the US it's a bit more of a pain to deal with stuff like that. I would assume small claims court would be the way to go if they don't offer a refund, but I can't really say for sure.

A simple call to the card-issuing bank is likely all it takes to get your money back. Not receiving the service described is a valid chargeback reason.

Many companies' TOS say the company (but not the customer) is allowed to change the terms at any time.

IMHO this ought to be illegal, but in USA it's called "the free market" and worshipped as an idol. Whoever is richer is more powerful and sets the terms of the contract (this is called "bargaining power"). The prevailing ideology deems all this perfectly just and fair, because everyone has the option to refuse to deal. The fact that trying to negotiate better terms means living as a hermit in the wilderness is unmentionable.

Good news!

It is illegal in the US for a company (or the customer) to unilaterally change the terms at any time. If either party to a contract attempts to change the terms, the other side can simply refuse to accept the new terms. In such case, the original contract will continue on until its original termination date/event.

In sum, changes to a contract are only valid if both parties agree to it.

That is, and has been, the law of the US and English-speaking countries for hundreds of years.

I think you missed the point of my comment.

If the original contract didn't have the "we can change the terms anytime" term, then what you say would be true, and if one party then attempted to change the terms unilaterally later it would, theoretically, be unable to enforce the new terms on the customer. But my point was that in the original contract with the provider, there is a provision that, in order for you, the customer, to obtain the service, you have to agree to the contract term* which says that the company is allowed to unilaterally change the terms anytime, but the customer cannot do similarly. Then the company can impose any subsequent changes and the new version becomes legally binding.

You may imagine this can't be true, but if you have a credit card, read the "fine print" and it's in there.

That original provision, i.e. having to allow the vendor's unilateral power as a condition of dealing with the company, is what I was saying ought to be illegal, but in fact the whole economy today runs on this sort of "soft coercion" based on differences in bargaining power.

* But my point was that in the original contract with the provider, there is a provision that, in order for you, the customer, to obtain the service, you have to agree to the contract term* which says that the company is allowed to unilaterally change the terms anytime, but the customer cannot do similarly. Then the company can impose any subsequent changes and the new version becomes legally binding.*

The point of my comment was thata unilateral change in a contract is not possible. A contract term that allows one party to unilaterally change the contract terms is not enforceable unless the changes occur within a pre-specified range of possibilities or fixed rubric (i.e., for example, allowing a farmer to changes prices in reference to publicly traded corn futures).

You may imagine this can't be true, but if you have a credit card, read the "fine print" and it's in there.

Not only am I aware that those terms are there, but I've helped people get out of some very large bills because* those terms were there (in these instances, rendering most of the bills uncollectable as a matter of equity).

Just because something is written in the fine print doesn't make it enforceable.

While mostly true (there are some exceptions not worth getting into, and inapplicable here), it's unlikely you'd get much, he'd get the 7.99 charges gone, and maybe the 99 bucks back (prorated until the point where this changed).

They would be highly unlikely to order specific performance here, since money damages would compensate.

Plus, you know, years of fighting plus legal costs :)

The result is that companies will find any mechanism available to obtain some sort of implied consent (your purchase indicates..) even if you have no awareness of the change

> Many companies' TOS say the company (but not the customer) is allowed to change the terms at any time.

Actually if the TOS says that then it voids the TOS, as it's no longer a valid contract.

I wonder if filing a credit card dispute would get anywhere.

Bad press; simple fix is to grandfather the existing subs for 1 year and implement new policy on new subs.

They should fix this before it blows up...

They don't offer new subs anymore, and have not for a while. My boyfriend has Instacart Express while I don't and I was looking to sign up several months ago but was out of luck. Curiously enough, he has never actually been charged for the service but it's in his account. OP may want to check that too.. and for what it's worth, I know 3 people with Express that are all annoyed by this change. I think it's incredibly dumb to do this to your earliest adopters, since these three people are the ones that got me to try Instacart in the first place. At least give some kind of notice.

If anything I'm kind of disgruntled by the all-over-the-place pricing, availability, and quality Instacart seems to be offering nowadays - $7.99 for under $35 deliveries (was VERY hard to find mention of this number anywhere other than on the delivery selection page until recently - even when reported in the press was mentioned as "deliveries from $3.99" which was the usual line that also included the faster delivery service for, iirc, $15), $3.99 for over, free delivery ranging from, I don't know, $50 to $70 spent depending on the weekend, no mention of when deliveries are unavailable for the rest of the night, mistakes made when picking items... I want to love the service but after a point it's kind of just like... for $7.99 and the markup on most items to be delivered tomorrow morning because they're all out of slots a few hours early, I can just grab a Zipcar or walk and get exactly what I want from the markets I want (e.g. bi-rite). I hope Instacart improve quickly.

I was eventually charged for the express, around the same time as they implemented the pricing changes. I also never got an email.

Curiously, my instacart express membership lasts from when I first signed up, not when I got charged, but the picture attached to the article shows March 20, 2013 as the start date there. At the same time the author says he signed up "last year". So I'm a bit confused.

I signed up last year for Express and it renewed (automatically) on the date that the screenshot shows. It's just showing the current active subscription. Sorry for the confusion.

I fully agree and would be happy with this solution.

I am however more concerned that I am not the only person affected by this changed nor was the only person that didn't receive "notification" of this change.

I don't think the thats even the issue. There are two issues. First the issue is the company authorizing charges without first notifying the user that they made changes and will be charging their card without notification. Second not following through on the original agreement. Why would anyone want to continue to work with this company knowing they will just do this in the future and hope to get away with it ?

Just had to go back and check my receipts. I have express and all my orders were over $35 since January so no bad surprises for me.

I wonder what's going to happen with Instacart. Some days I love it. Sometimes it just seems so expensive and frustrating. We were driving home from Sacramento on Sunday and wanted to make a pasta dish for some out of town guests. It seemed perfect--get our shopping done while we were stuck in the car. But what ended up happening was every item was "commonly out of stock" and so we're supposed to pick a replacement. But the suggested replacement for, e.g., asparagus was broccoli. Other items were similar. And at least on iphone, we didn't know how to pick a better replacement. So we ended up scrapping the order and stopping by Safeway on the way home.

Writing this, I wonder if a first-class concept of recipes in Instacart would improve the situation.

And since I'm babbling, I'll just add that although I haven't tried it yet, I'm excited by the idea of ordering Instacart to someone else's house (say, I'm at a dinner party and we need some ingredients.) Of course the minimum for free delivery does make this potentially less useful.

Instacart does a lot of shady stuff. Anyone who has made the mistake of allowing push notifications for the iOS app knows what I mean.

Can you elaborate?

I allowed push notifications and was receiving them daily (maybe more, can't remember). While a bit annoying, I definitely wouldn't call overuse of push notifications "shady."

What were the "notifications" of though? If it's just like the AirPush bullshit people were peddling on Android a while back, how is it any different that the adware like BonziBuddy that found its way onto unsuspecting desktop system trays?

If it's a legit notification of something then fair enough, but I don't see why/how dsl would complain about that.

I've mostly stopped using Instacart, but my account is still active and I didn't receive an email either.

I would love to use Instacart again, but my new apartment ( 1/5 of a mile to the east of my old digs) in Sunnyvale isn't supported. If it were for a month or two while they roll out I'd cut them slack, but it's been this way for a year now. There appear to be some seriously compounding problems going on over there, I would expect they aren't too happy about Google entering the market as well.

I still want my refund on items I never received from Instacrap. There are about $15 worth of groceries that mysteriously never made it to me, but I still paid for.

Then why didn't you request one? When you get your receipt and they ask you to rate your delivery, there's a link for if you had problems. And if you rate <5 stars, they also give you a few options for any problems you had, including "missing or incorrect items". They've always been prompt about refunding me if I tell them that they forgot an item.

Because after a bit of back and forth with no end in sight, I gave up. There shouldn't have been back and forth at all. My delivery was all sorts of messed up with incorrect items chosen as replacements. For instance I ordered deli meat from the deli counter, instead I got Oscar Meyer somethingthatlookslikemeat.

I am not the only person I know who gave up on Instacart after having so many incorrect items delivered. Safeway delivery is just as painful to deal with, but at least they pick better replacements.

Downvoted for "Instacrap". Grow up.

I'll do that.

Instacart has another subscriber (me), bad press it's often good for startups...

yeah. they have the difficult decision now of either keeping the policy and losing customers, or removing the policy and losing money on every order.

I really think you'll be disappointed though. The company can hardly be trusted or taken seriously.

I think the OP and my own experience with Instacart (see below) highlights the importance of high-quality customer-facing employees for startups. If the CEO has to step in to solve simple problems, you're probably doing it wrong.

We had a weird issue with Instacart. We purchased $83.27 worth of groceries. Two items were out of stock so they refunded $10.99. Except... the two items cost more than $10.99. We've been trying to get the right refund but their customer service reps keep saying we already got the refund. Yeah, the wrong amount.

We're lean! We're innovating! We're disrupting!

The fact that a company chose a pricing model that doesn't fit anymore doesn't mean they get to dismiss their customers like this. How are we to know that they weren't pulling a bait and switch:

1) Offer pricing model too good to be true (Express was announced in August) 2) Get hockey stick growth, get VC (they closed $2.6M round in October) 3) Change terms 4) Profit!

Tough decision to make, Instacart:

- keep the policy unchanged, and lose your customers, or

- remove the $35 minimum, and lose money on every order

Welcome to the real world !


- we are cancelling the Instacart Express program and refunding the price you paid.

Customers who had it won't love this, but they got something for free so they won't complain too much. And you take the whole loss at once.

I don't think they actually get that option unless it was written in the contract that they agreed to on payment of the 99 bucks

Well, no. There's the middle ground they missed: Make damn sure you tell your customers that you're changing the rules.

I think they'd still have to offer a pro rata refund for the annual fee. You can't just send out an email telling people the product they paid for x months ago just changed and they'l l have to just deal with it.

They did. Emails get lost. Snail mail gets lost. It happens, it sucks but if companies have to refund people every time they don't get the memo about something we're all in for some trouble.

Sounds like a message during checkout (click checkout and instead of confirmation of order get a message explaining the change, and have to click checkout/confirm or something) would be helpful to alleviate this problem.

That would be totally reasonable, and it's something I see all the time. It's usually titled "We recently change how blahed blah works..."

best thing i ever did, was to setup automatic emails with AMEX every time my card is used w/out being physically present during transaction.

now i catch these types of things instantly.

like that time i signed up for year of free amazon ec2 instance, finding out that amazon charged my card $240 after 2 weeks.. apparently i chose incorrectly during setup and went down a totally different pricing path. unfortunately none of this came up during setup. thanks to that email i was able to reverse it that same day

Shit happens. They've realized there is a problem and they came clean about it. Move on.

I'm disappointed by rampant consumerism and a culture of entitlement.

their website looks shitty. that's what disappoints me

Unless I got it wrong: He paid $100 for free deliveries a year instead of paying $7.99 each order. Instacart changed it and started charging him $7.99 on orders under $35. Solution is to give his money back (maybe pro-rated) or honor the original deal. But Instacart doesn't have a choice, sending someone to deliver you a $5 ice cream isn't sustainable

But you cannot order only a $5 ice cream from Instacart. The minimum you must buy is $10 even with this yearly fee. If that doesn't work for Instacart's profit margins, they should raise prices and minimums across the board.

Of course, it's also incredibly shady to invisibly change terms of a service while someone is still signed up for the service. That more than anything is pretty odious.

It shouldn't be his problem if Instacart offered a deal they would lose money on. And they are making it his problem.

That's why I said to either refund him or honor their original agreement. Obviously not renew it for the next year.

Put the TL;DR at the top!

TL;DR Instacart offered a premium subscription called Instacart Express that waives delivery fees on all orders for $99 a year. They seem to have silently changed their policy and now charge $7.99 p/delivery on orders that are under $35. They also claim to have sent an email regarding this policy that at least 3 people have not received nor have they publicly posted any announcement of this policy change on their website.

It's TL;DR not TL;DWTR

It's the same intent. Put it at the start, call it an "abstract" and everyone's fine with using it to see whether they want to read the whole thing or not.

I think this a perfect opportunity for us to learn about Man-pologizing.


When men pretend to apologize while blaming someone else for their mistake.

Example: "I'm terribly sorry that you didn't get my email with important changes to the terms that affects your bank account, I'm sorry it's your fault you didn't get it."

Most men man-pologize and blame someone else, anyone else, for their mistake in an attempt to not hurt their egos. My father and brother and many other males do this. I used to do it too until I broke out of the habit after catching myself man-pologizing several times.

The opposite of this is fem-pologizing, the female act of blaming oneself for everything

I find your opinion and association with gender to be odd.

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