Meet the people making money on Charlotte’s grocery delivery services

Shopping for Shipt

Jenna Greenwood, a Shipt Shopper, shows how she shops for Shipt at the Ballantyne Harris Teeter
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Jenna Greenwood, a Shipt Shopper, shows how she shops for Shipt at the Ballantyne Harris Teeter

After zipping through the aisles of the Harris Teeter in Ballantyne as a shopper for Shipt, the online grocery delivery service, Jenna Greenwood opens the back of a midsize SUV to load the bags – sliding them next to the “open house” signs she uses as a Realtor.

She started working for the shopping service six months ago to make extra income while she launches her new real estate career with Keller Williams Realty South Park. Her jobs work well together: while making Shipt deliveries, she learns neighborhoods, or may spot a potential property she could sell.

“I choose what hours I work,” says Greenwood, 31, who says she typically makes about $300 weekly. “I can change my schedule all the way up to an hour before. So it’s very flexible.”

As grocery delivery spreads in Charlotte, it presents opportunities for Greenwood and others seeking extra income to pay bills or add a small cushion to their lifestyle.

Food-based delivery services is a popular subset of the larger, app-based on-demand service sector, where users go online to order goods or services. They include everything from driving services Uber and Lyft, to home-sharing services AirBnB, delivery services Instacart, Postmates and Google Express, to the household chores app Takl.

Working a side gig

More U.S. adults are earning money through these services, according to a Pew Research Center survey published last November. It found one in 10 have earned money using digital platforms to take on a job or task. One in five earned money by selling something online, while one percent rented out properties on a home-sharing site, according to the Pew survey.

Government data sources haven’t tracked the number of workers in what’s sometimes called the “gig economy” – which includes people in short-term jobs, as well as those working for companies that connect them to jobs via mobile apps. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics plans to capture specific data on the number of gig workers this May.

These privately-owned startups draw investor interest. In July, Shipt announced it raised $20 million from investors to expand to more cities.

But there are signs the market is getting crowded. Globally, investments reached nearly $5.5 billion across 259 deals in 2015, according to CB Insights, a data firm that tracks technology trends. That pace slowed in the first quarter of 2016, according to CB Insights, with 23 deals generating $609 million.

Here in Charlotte, food-delivery startups are hiring. San Francisco-based Instacart has 270 who work as shoppers. Shipt, based in Birmingham, Alabama, says it doesn’t share figures. A closed Facebook group for workers in the region, called Charlotte Shipt Shoppers, has 118 members.

Increased competition can make for better customer service – and more opportunities for workers, notes Ajay Patel, finance professor with Wake Forest University School of Business.

“As long as people can rate them, you get a little comfort knowing the service provider is going to do a good job,” says Patel. Companies and “individuals rated highly will end up getting the better jobs.”

Some companies, including Instacart, Uber and others, have faced legal challenges from workers hired as independent contractors, who said they should instead be classified as employees eligible for benefits. Homejoy, a cleaning-services startup based in San Francisco, shut down in 2015, citing four lawsuits over the independent contractor issue.

Greenwood says she likes the Shipt business model, where workers with high rankings, based on customer service, get first dibs on the most lucrative orders. She receives $5 base pay per order, plus 7.5 percent of the total grocery bill. So the more expensive the grocery order, more pay she’ll receive. She can also get tips.

“Understand that you’re an independent contractor, and that it’s up to you to make your business the best that you can,” she says. “So if you want a job like this, make sure that you are people oriented, and you do give good customer service, and you are happy and positive. It goes a long way.”

Paying for a car - or perhaps the movies

Athena Smith, 29, a registrar at the Mint Museum, has been a shopper for Instacart since September 2015, when she lived in Atlanta and also worked for a museum.

Working for a nonprofit wasn’t lucrative - and she also had student loan debt for her graduate degree from George Washington University. She learned about Instacart’s shopper jobs while researching grocery delivery services for herself, since she didn’t have a car. “I really enjoy cooking and grocery shopping, so I thought it would be a fun way to earn extra money on the side.”

Her earnings were enough to help save for a car and a summer trip to Japan. “I would take my Instacart paycheck and automatically deposit half of that in savings for my trip,” and use the other half for loans.

Pay starts with a base commission, which varies on busier weekend days, plus 40 cents per item in each order. Here, too, shoppers can earn tips. When she relocated to Charlotte in August, she continued with Instacart here, working weekends for four-hour shifts – “about the time that my phone stays charged” – and making about $70-$80 each day. For some store trips, she’ll shop for two customers at once, separating the orders in her cart with a handbasket.

“It definitely lets me enjoy life a little bit more. I can go out and eat here and there,” Smith says. “I definitely use it to help me get in a better situation financially, or work toward very specific financial goals.”

6 a.m. job alerts

Greenwood finds the work appealing. “Most of the time, the people that I’m shopping for are mothers of young children, or the elderly that can’t necessarily get out and go grocery shopping, and that makes me feel really good. I feel like I’m helping out in the community. And sometimes it’s just that college guy that needs some beer and doesn’t want to leave his house.”

A former general manager at Fox and Hound, Greenwood says she quit her job in June to pursue a career in real estate. Wanting to generate some income while taking classes, she found a Shipt ad on Facebook and applied via a video interview.

She started with the service six months ago. She says the highest she’s made in a week is $550.

Greenwood sets her daily alarm for 5:58 a.m., so she’s up in time to catch the 6 a.m. mobile phone notifications of potential “shops” for the day.

On a recent morning at Harris Teeter in Ballantyne, Greenwood demonstrated how an order comes together.

Wearing a green T-shirt with the Shipt logo and clutching a Samsung Galaxy S5, she pushed a cart through the aisles and selected several items – including bananas, avocados, an 8.9-ounce box of Cheerios and a bottled six-pack of Stella Artois beer. Her phone displayed photos of the groceries, along with a shopping list that she checked off as she went along. At checkout, she slides a Shipt Visa card into the reader.

In the parking lot, she uploads a photo of the grocery receipt so there’s no discrepancy with charges. Once in her car, Greenwood uses the Shipt app to pull up a map of the customer’s home. Deliveries with alcohol require the recipient to show ID.

With a one-hour window to deliver to doorsteps, time is money, so her goal is to get in and out of stores as quickly as possible.

Greenwood says her Shipt income allows her to take pressure off her husband, who works for Discount Tire – and also some breathing room to grow her business.

“In the mornings, I do my lead generating for real estate. Do my calls, my emails...and then I’ll do some deliveries in the afternoon,” Greenwood says.

“...That’s why I like the flexibility. If somebody calls me up and says ‘I want to go see this house right now’ I can just take myself off the schedule...I’m not missing out on clients because of my side job... If I don’t have a closing, it’s a great way to keep a little bit of extra money in my household.”

Shopping tips from the pros

Here are tips on working efficiently for a grocery-delivery service:

From Athena Smith:

▪ Be familiar with grocery stores. If you know stores, you can fulfill orders quicker. Smith, who also does training for Instacart, says some people will show up for training having never done their household’s grocery shopping before.

▪ Be comfortable driving. Some stores may be distant from the customer’s homes. If you don’t like driving, Smith says, this job is not a good fit for you.

▪ Pay attention to details. It’s very easy to confuse organic with non-organic in the produce section, for example, or soy milk versus unsweetened soy milk, which both come in blue boxes.

From Jenna Greenwood:

▪ Upgrade your technology if needed. On her phone, “I have an extra- large battery...because I am on my phone constantly.”

▪ Know the peak traffic times in your area. “I tend not to schedule myself for the 5-6 p.m. hour because the traffic is atrocious. I like to do my last delivery from 4-5, and that way I’m getting home at 5 o’clock instead of sitting in that traffic.”

▪ Reach out to customers: After she loads her car with groceries, Greenwood texts customers that she’s on her way. About 15 minutes after she makes a drop off, she’ll send a thank-you text, and encourages customers to rate her in the app. Greenwood thinks her high rating is due in large part to this outreach.

Job links:

Here are some other app-based home services with a Charlotte presence:

San Francisco-based Postmates: Delivers lunch, dinner, groceries, office supplies

San Francisco-based Uber and Lyft: Ride services

California-based DoorDash: Restaurant delivery service

California-based Google Express: Item deliveries from various stores, including Costco and Walgreens.

Seattle-based Amazon: Same-day delivery service for its Prime users in the Charlotte area.