Kara Carmichael has been an Instacart buyer for years in Orlando, Florida. This is how she was able to support her family, she told TechCrunch. But she says she has noticed an increase in third-party robot activity that has made shopping “almost impossible.”
Despite strong demand for Instacart amid the COVID-19 pandemic, shoppers like Carmichael are struggling to claim orders in the Shopper app. It’s the result of what appears to be fancy work by third-party apps like Ninja Hours, Sushopper, and others.
“They grab the lots in the blink of an eye,” Carmichael said. “I can barely see the amounts offered. Sometimes I may even just get a notification because the batch was taken before it was even saved in my app. “
Ninja Hours first appeared on the scene about a year ago in Miami’s Little Havana community, according to Logan B., an Instacart buyer experienced in using ninja hours. Buyers could pay Ninja Hours around $ 25 to $ 35 per week to gain access to the next week’s hours and in return, Ninja Hours would take over the buyer’s app to claim hours on their behalf. This was at a time when Instacart forced buyers to claim hours rather than on-demand orders.
Ninja Hours also provided account activations for immigrant workers without proper documentation. For $ 200, according to Logan, Undocumented immigrants could pay Ninja Hours to create an account for them so they could shop.
Logan says Instacart eventually caught up with Ninja Hours, which forced the serve to stop. Ninja Hours then became Hours For You, which began in the fall, Logan says. Hours For You was then integrated into Sushopper earlier this year.
“The site would be offline for a week and then they would text you,” he said. “It’s always been written in Spanish – really targeting the Latin American community.”
Other buyers didn’t seem to notice this was happening, Logan says, as Sushopper would claim the orders before they even appeared on the apps. But now that Sushopper has closed, there is a new service – service that is not as fast.
“There’s definitely still service here because I’m not getting anything at all,” said Logan, who has since stopped paying for early access to orders. “No one could catch it that fast.”
What happens is that buyers can see the orders coming in, but they disappear almost immediately. Below you can see a gif of how lots become available, an order disappears immediately.
With this new service, the name of which he does not know, messages arrive in Portuguese. This leads him to believe that he is run by a different group of people.
“It’s so common now and it seems like everywhere has a problem,” Logan said.
Instacart has acknowledged that this is an ongoing practice, but claims that it is not a violation of its platform.
Despite Instacart’s best efforts, the situation is so dire that Carmichael ends up sitting in her car for hours waiting for a batch that she can try to hook before the robots.
“My thumbs hurt and my eyes are tired,” she says. “I only managed to enter four orders. My livelihood is literally torn from my feet. “
She and others reached out to Instacart to report the issue, Carmichael said. But in her experience and that of those she knows, Instacart has not responded. However, some buyers may contact Instacart support regarding this issue. As you can see below, Instacart recognizes an issue and tells a buyer that it “will be resolved as soon as possible”.
Before robot activity intensified in Orlando, Carmichael was receiving about 20 orders per week. During the week of March 16-22, for example, Carmichael completed 26 batches, according to documents reviewed by TechCrunch. Last week she was only able to claim 11. This week she was only able to get four prizes.
This increase in robot activity comes at a time when Instacart is accelerating the recruitment of full-service buyers. Just yesterday Instacart announced the addition of 250,000 additional buyers to meet demand. It came after Instacart last month announced plans to hire 300,000 more customers.
With the increased number of full-service buyers coupled with third-party bots claiming orders quickly, it’s no wonder some buyers are feeling frustrated. Behind the scenes, Instacart strives to prevent unauthorized third parties from accepting lots. In the meantime, the company advises buyers not to engage with these services.