DoorDash Has A New Plan To Make Workers Gamble On How Much They Will Get Paid

Photo: Tibrina Hobson, Getty

Courier service and notoriously predatory employer DoorDash is still messing with its pay and tipping systems. This time, the company has informed its delivery drivers that it will soon only show them the minimum earnings for each delivery rather than the total earnings, a change dashers worry is an attempt by the company to bait them into accepting lower-paying orders.

DoorDash recently overhauled its bad tip-skimming scheme that used customer tips to make up the base pay the company promised for individual orders. Under the new system, DoorDash CEO Tony Xu wrote in a blog post in August, dashers would “earn more money on average—both from DoorDash and overall.”

But an investigation by Gizmodo last month found that the company was in many cases offering drivers as little as $US2 ($3) or $US3 ($4) for deliveries and appeared to be using a newly introduced rewards program to manipulate drivers into accepting the bottom-barrel orders.

In emails sent to workers last month and obtained by Gizmodo, DoorDash wrote that it had enlisted “independent, third-party” consulting firm Beacon Economics to complete an assessment of its pay model. The company said it was “pleased to learn that Dashers are earning more money on average under the new model.”

In a blog post about Beacon Economics’s findings, DoorDash expanded on the research—albeit sparingly—writing that the firm “determined that the amount that DoorDash pays U.S. Dashers increased by 12.5% on average, and overall Dasher earnings (including tips) increased from an average of $US17.24 ($25) per active hour in August to $US18.54 ($27) per active hour in October.”

DoorDash gave precious little other information about how Beacon arrived at these averages—such as which markets or regions they represented, a key factor that could greatly sway the results given the apparent disparity between markets. The company did not respond to Gizmodo’s multiple requests for comment. Beacon Economics also did not respond to a request for comment.

Included in that correspondence to dashers, however, was another interesting update about the pay model. DoorDash wrote that it was planning to introduce a change in the coming weeks that would ostensibly allow them to “earn more than the amount you see on the acceptance screen for certain orders.” The company said it would begin showing dashers the minimum they could earn on an order rather than the total amount.

“[T]he offer amount shown on the acceptance screen for high value orders will be the minimum earnings for each delivery—instead of total earnings,” the company wrote in the emails to dashers. “To help you decide whether to accept or decline a delivery, you’ll still see critical details on your acceptance screen that include the pay offered for the delivery, bonus offers, and mileage.”

Variables including the restaurant name, pickup and delivery locations, estimated delivery time, mileage, and guaranteed earnings are shown to drivers before they accept deliveries. Bonuses are sometimes offered to incentivise accepting a delivery.

While DoorDash told dashers nothing about the way their pay is calculated would change, according to an email obtained by Gizmodo, dashers who spoke with Gizmodo expressed concern about the company’s plan to serve them a kind of wage roulette that would seemingly bar the ability to cherry-pick better-paying orders, a system many dashers say is how they’ve managed to make the new pay model work in their favour.

In other words, dashers suspect DoorDash is planning to introduce a system in which an order could pay a decent wage or a crappy one, and they would have no idea which it was when deciding whether to accept it.

“They’re saying that we’re going to tell you it’s going to be X amount of money, and it could actually be more,” one dasher, who requested anonymity to speak freely about the changes, told Gizmodo. “One of the things they claimed when they were finally changing [the new pay model] was transparency. And now they’re going right back what they were doing last time, which is, ‘Hey, take that $US3 ($4) order and maybe it’ll be $US8 ($12).’”

Another dasher who spoke with Gizmodo raised similar concerns, adding, “I just don’t think it’s very ethical.” This person also noted the company failed to specify in its email how it defined “high-value orders,” further confusing the issue. (DoorDash did not return a comment request about this, either.)

“They got caught in what they were doing with the tips—hiding the tips,” this person said, referring to the old pay model that obscured customer tip information. “Now they’re scrambling to figure out ways to modify the system to try and deal with that.”

When Xu announced in August that the company was preparing to roll out a new, evidently fairer pay model, he said that the company would also be introducing an after-order tip feature to allow customers to tip on an order after they placed it.

Gizmodo reported in November that feature had yet to materialise. But in both the email sent to dashers last month and in the company’s November blog post about forthcoming changes, the company announced it has since “enabled this feature for 100 per cent of orders.”

A dasher who spoke to Gizmodo insisted that these two announcements made at once—the post-order tipping and displaying the minimum guaranteed pay rather than the total—are not related. In other words, this dasher said, the minimum does not simply account for a potential tip left by a customer.

Instead, the dasher suspects that taken together with the recently introduced Top Dasher program—which rewards dashers for superior service as well as order completion and acceptance rates—the system is meant to manipulate dashers into taking orders they wouldn’t otherwise accept. If this is the case, DoorDash’s new pay model is beginning to look a lot more like the old one.

“They were doing it with the old pay model, and they’ve reimplemented it now,” the dasher told Gizmodo, referring to showing the minimum earnings rather than the total payout on an order. “I’m assuming it’s because people are sitting there waiting for the $US10 ($15), $US12 ($18) orders rather than taking the tiny, ridiculous orders.”

Beyond this new system, dashers say the company is messing with the tips on their orders as well. In the past, DoorDash has populated suggested tips for drivers on the customer-end checkout screen as either dollar amounts or percentages. But the two dashers who spoke with Gizmodo said they’ve seen changes in their customer tips that suggest DoorDash has completely done away with percentages for suggested tips, which might affect dashers if a customer decides to tip a suggested $US5 ($7) on a $US50 ($73) order rather than, say, 20 per cent, which would amount to $US10 ($15).

Some dashers on Reddit have made similar complaints. The company did not answer Gizmodo’s request for comment about any change to tipping percentages.

In that same November blog post about its courier earnings, DoorDash wrote that the company knew “that our new model is not perfect, and we are continuing to make changes in response to Dasher feedback.” The company further said that it “made changes to reduce the percentage of offers where DoorDash would pay less than $US3 ($4) to under 4 per cent of total offers as of the end of October.” However, even an order paying $US4 ($6) or $US5 ($7) hardly covers gas, much less labour or costs to drivers like car maintenance, and DoorDash positioning this apparent change as some kind of grand investment in its workers is both disingenuous and manipulative.

Then again, misleading and predatory wage models are DoorDash’s specialty. Any expectation that the company would make any significant shift away from the kind of business decisions that allowed it to profit from the manipulation of its independent contractors is likely wishful thinking.

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