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.
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?
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.
Just an example of precedence (you'll need to copy and paste HN drops the trailing period on the URL):
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.
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?
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.
(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.
Yes, I hope I haven't done that here... I intentionally eliminated as many details as I could.
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).
According to Instacart's FAQ:
"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?
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.
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.
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...
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
> the representative was defensive and used "we're a startup" as an excuse for the shift.
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.
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
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.
It was a fascinating story and a real cautionary tale for people replicating their mistakes.
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!
Compare to SF where I live now, and I'm pretty happy I can walk to a lot more places within a few blocks :)
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 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.
Sorry to hear that.
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...
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.
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.
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.
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.
It was not a 'policy' that was changed - it was a contract.
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.
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.
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.
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.
That's a pretty big assumption on Hacker News.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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).
They would be highly unlikely to order specific performance here, since money damages would compensate.
Plus, you know, years of fighting plus legal costs :)
Actually if the TOS says that then it voids the TOS, as it's no longer a valid contract.
They should fix this before it blows up...
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.
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 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 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.
If it's a legit notification of something then fair enough, but I don't see why/how dsl would complain about that.
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 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.
I really think you'll be disappointed though. The company can hardly be trusted or taken seriously.
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.
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
- 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.
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
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.
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.
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