On-Demand Personal Grocery Shoppers

Goals

To provide insights around employees who work for on-demand grocery services (i.e., personal shoppers and those who support the fulfillment of e-commerce grocery orders), including any available demographics or affinity groups, time in role, full-time versus part-time, training, and job satisfaction. While insights focused on services such as Instacart are useful, additional information about employees who work for store-brand on-demand grocery services (e.g., Walmart, Kroger, Sobey's, Longo's) are of particular interest. This information will be used to help inform a brief focused on reaching food shoppers for 3rd party grocery delivery services.

Early Findings

Instacart

  • Instacart personal shoppers are either independent contractors ("full-service shoppers") or part-time employees who may work up to 29 hours per week.
  • The company focuses on the recruitment of full-service shoppers from "an array of industries and backgrounds." They specifically highlight the role as being appropriate for individuals looking for "flexible, seasonal, home-based, entry-level, weekend, weekday, after-school, or temporary opportunities." The New York Times reports that Instacart independent contractors shop, on average, less than 10 hours per week.
  • CNN noted in June 2020 that Instacart was seeking to hire an additional 200,000 independent contractors, while at the same time reducing the size of its part-time, in-store shopping workforce (which numbers approximately 10,000).
  • A 2019 NPR survey found that the Instacart workforce was more likely to be female (according to the company, over 50% of independent contractors at the time were female). A more qualitative assessment by NPR across a number of delivery apps, including Instacart, suggested that many of these female personal shoppers were middle-aged (40s and 50s).
  • Good Morning America indicated that mothers were a key independent contractor group for Instacart, referencing the personal shopping role as "a new side hustle for moms who want to make some extra cash without compromising their time."
  • While general information about tenure is difficult to uncover, NPR tracked one shopper who had been with the company as a personal shopper for 1.5 years, Hilary Gordon. Some factors she cited as positives of the job included "meeting new people — chatting up store workers for help and playing with friendly pets she meets at customers' homes." Her primary motivation for becoming a personal shopper was financial, allowing her the opportunity to earn income while staying home with her children.
  • Another Instacart personal shopper, Stacy Gordon, highlights the flexibility of the role: "If you're a mom or a caregiver or something, it's really flexible."
  • There does not appear to be any training required for Instacart independent contractors, with the company noting only an age requirement (18+), access to a reliable car, and the ability to lift 40 pounds.
  • A scan of reviews on Glassdoor among Instacart shoppers indicates many have been with the company a short time (less than one year), but are generally satisfied with the role, highlighting flexibility and pay. Sample comments include, "Great pay, extra tips, and good exercise!" and "meet new people, help them out to save time."
  • Frustrations among shoppers include corporate support and issues with the app, such as expressed by one personal shopper: "There is terrible support for the shoppers--no support number to call and all support agents do not know what they are talking about. There are a lot of glitches with the app and the rating system is completely unfair for the shoppers."

Walmart

  • In November 2020, Walmart noted it had doubled the number of personal shoppers from the same period in 2019, highlighting the increased importance to customers of "time-saving services like pickup and delivery."
  • Tom Ward, Senior Vice President, Customer Product, Walmart, says, "It makes me proud to think six years ago we started with only a few hundred personal shoppers, and today, they’re crucial to providing services like pickup and delivery that our customers have come to see as essential."
  • Walmart seeks personal shoppers ("online order fulfillers and delivery associates") who "love shopping." They describe the position as intense and fast-paced, with shoppers having "the opportunity to shop for our customers and choose just the right apple, or select their favorite cereal."
  • Walmart emphasizes personal relationships developed through strong customer service by personal shoppers, which encourages repeat customer trips. The company includes video highlights of one personal shopping associate who develops one-on-one relationships with his customers and "treats them like family." The company emphasizes the development of the "workforce for the future" via "advanced training", "tech empowerment", and "people-driven" values.
  • It does appear Walmart offers personal shopper-specific training. A 2018 USA Today article describes a Walmart personal shopper as an associate who has " been trained on how to choose quality grocery items for consumers." A 2016 article (currently referenced on the Walmart website) says that "The key to how we build a trusting bond with customers rests with our managers and, most importantly, our personal shoppers. We select only the best of the best for this critical role, and each associate undergoes rigorous training."
  • The company further notes that "Personal shoppers not only learn the art of selecting these items by look, but also by touch and smell."
  • Several Walmart personal shopper job openings based on this sample of Ziprecruiter personal shopper roles indicate that the company hires both full and part-time personal shoppers. A specific personal shopper job description indicates that the role is a stepping stone toward a career with Walmart.
  • Walmart personal shopper job reviews on Glassdoor indicate generally positive sentiment about the role, including growth and learning opportunities ("good place to learn"), good pay, and a generally fun environment. While many of the reviews were from those with less than a year tenure, there were also more experienced employees in the role, as well as a mix of full and part-time employees.
  • While not directly referencing personal shoppers, given the focus on personal shopping as an associate role, it may be worth noting that Walmart's associate workforce is 55% female.

Sobey's

  • In September 2020, Sobey's launched a curbside pickup service in Nova Scotia in which personal shoppers will pick and pack orders and load them directly into a customer car upon arrival. Sobey's intends to offer customers "best-in-class service."
  • There was very limited information around Sobey's personal shopping profiles, roles, or reviews, which may due to its apparent very recent rollout.

Shipt

  • Shipt, a competitor to Instacart and Target Corp. subsidiary, is planning to hire 100,000 personal shoppers for the holiday season (for a total of ~300,000). The company noted it had increased its shopper count by 50% over the past 6 months.
  • The company comments that "one of Shipt’s true differentiators is that we have shoppers who not only know how to shop really well, but also care about their work and their customers."
  • Shipt messaging for personal shopper recruitment on their website highlights the value provided by the personal shopping job: "Deliver things people love, from the stores they trust."
  • Personal shopper benefits emphasized include pay ("Experienced shoppers make an average of $22/hr.*"), the ability to "be your own boss", and extra perks, such as a free Shipt membership and the opportunity to attend launch parties. The job can be done on a part-time or full-time basis.
  • The shopper feedback on Shipt's website indicates a personal shopper profile that is more focused on attitudinal drivers and commonalities than a specific demographic profile. Benefits cited by personal shoppers include pay, fun, freedom, flexibility, making a difference, and helping and meeting people.
  • Additional personal shopper reviews are highlighted on the website, which also notes a personal shopper mantra of "bring the magic."
  • The company notes that successful Shipt shoppers "communicate well, manage time efficiently, solve problems quickly, and make strategic decisions on the fly."
  • While the company does not appear to offer formal personal shopper training, the Shipt Shopper Lounge offers the opportunity for personal shoppers to "help each other share tips, tricks, and best practices about shopping for Shipt."
  • A sample Shipt shopper review comes from a father working for Shipt as a side-gig: "What was so attractive about Shipt was the flexibility - I can still be a husband, still be a full-time teacher, still have family time.

Summary of Early Findings

  • Our initial findings indicate that the personal shopper role is more developed when looking at third-party apps, such as Instacart and Shipt. While Walmart also appears to have evolved the personal shopper role as their e-commerce business grows, it was difficult to find substantial information about other in-store personal shopping roles, profiles, or employee feedback. This may be due to retailers limiting their in-house personal shoppers while relying on third-party apps to do personal shopping directly from their store, as well as the recency of some of the online shopping services (e.g., Sobey's).
  • In terms of a personal shopper profile, it appears that shoppers are less segmented by specific demographics such as age and gender (though it did appear as if, at least pre-COVID, that middle-aged females and moms with kids may have been somewhat more likely to engage as personal shopping independent contractors). Third-party apps offer the opportunity for personal shoppers to work part-time or full-time and many of the reviews appear to be from those who recently joined. In-store opportunities also appear to be full-time or part-time and potentially offer more opportunities for a career within the retailer (based on Walmart insights).
  • We reviewed grocery retailer and delivery app corporate websites, news articles, findings from one survey (NPR), job postings, and job position reviews to develop some insights around the personal shopper profile. However, information was very fragmented and therefore, most of the insights are built around a compilation of individual findings for specific services and roles.
  • Recommendations for further research are based on the information uncovered in early research.

Research proposal:

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