Bargaining with the algorithm: pooling worker data to estimate gig economy worker pay

 Dan Calacci

As a pilot project to develop new data pooling and analysis tools, we created a texting service that gig economy workers could use to pool data about their pay, helping workers, researchers, and organizers understand how a new black-box payment algorithm is impacting worker pay. An excerpt from our report is below: 


The exception to the gig-economy algorithmic rule, Shipt launched its platform using a transparent (although perhaps underpaid) system for paying it’s workers: $5 per shop, plus 7.5% commission on order amounts. But, like other companies, Shipt is engaging in a strategic bait-and-switch. Starting in early 2020, Shipt began paying some workers using a new black-box algorithm that workers call “V2”. On September 16th, and again on September 30th, Shipt finalized the rollout of this new algorithm, falling in line with other gig-economy corporations that have been using a black-box system for years.

To understand how this new payout model will impact workers, we’ve partnered with to build a system to aggregate data on worker payouts from the Shipt platform. Over the summer and into the fall, 94 Shipt workers have donated their data to the project, totaling 3475 submissions since August 20. Each of these “shops” contains information on the total cost of an order, it’s date, worker total pay, tip, any promo pay involved, and whether the order was delivered late. The focus of this writeup is to explore this data with a statistical lens, to try and estimate how and where Shipt’s new payment algorithm impacts workers.

Our main findings are:

  • 41% of the shoppers we’ve collected data from are earning less under the new V2 payment scheme.
  • Those shoppers that are making less under the new V2 scheme are making 11% less on average per-shop.
  • The number of shoppers earning less under V2 is growing, with 60% of shoppers having earned less from V2 in the past week as of this report(Oct. 7th)
  • However, across all shops and workers, the V2 pay scheme does pay more: about $0.99 on average, per-shop.

Overall, these findings lead us to believe that any earnings increases under the V2 algorithm are not being distributed evenly. Some shoppers are serially making less than others under this new regime. Without more transparency for workers by Shipt or broader, worker-driven research like this project, why this discrepancy exists will remain a mystery.

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