A Hamilton man with vision and mobility challenges says he faced “arbitrary punishment” from delivery app Instacart because he had to move around several times in one year, and he’s worried the app is doing the same to other vulnerable people.
Harper Wolf, 60, has limited vision and arthritis in two shoulders and a knee, so choosing and carrying groceries is nearly impossible. He started using Instacart during the COVID-19 lockdowns and found it made his life so much easier that he stuck with it.
“The Instacart thing gives you more independence,” he told CBC Hamilton. “You can do your own shopping and eat better.”
Wolf had been living in London, Ont., but said his rent was raised to an amount he couldn’t afford, so he moved to a motel for a month. He said a friend in Hamilton then offered to host him, so he stayed there for three months before moving into his own place in Hamilton at the end of August.
Wolf said he used Instacart throughout that time, until the service locked him out of his account without warning in December.
‘No longer able to offer our services to you’
“We are unable to reactivate your Instacart account and are no longer able to offer our services to you,” wrote someone identified as “Alex” from the company’s financial risk team, in response to an inquiry from Wolf asking what had transpired. CBC Hamilton has viewed a copy of the email to Wolf.
Wolf said he tried calling phone support as well and was told “because I moved several times, they were suspicious and they cancelled my account.”
Wolf said he provided documentation of his address, identification and payment method when asked, but the account remained locked. He said he asked on the phone about whether there was any recourse or a way to appeal the decision, and was told someone would eventually listen to the previous call recording and could possibly reactivate his account afterwards.
He went without the service for several weeks.
“How the hell do I solve this? I cannot keep shopping at the local convenience store,” he said in an interview in early January.
CBC Hamilton contacted Instacart on Jan. 3 to ask about why Wolf’s account was cancelled and what he could do to reactivate his account. CBC also asked if the company has seen an increase in people moving frequently that has caused problems for the business.
Instacart didn’t answer any of CBC’s questions, but Wolf said his account was reactivated an hour after CBC emailed the company.
“We’ve looked into it and I’m happy to report that this has been sorted and the customer’s account has been restored,” Kristin Chasen, who’s with the company’s corporate communications department, said by email on Jan. 5. Chasen did not respond to CBC’s followup questions.
Need for a warning before cutoff
Wolf said he was told only that the company was “just looking after [his ] security” and he had to change his password.
“Food security was not had for a solid month. You would think some small token of apology like free delivery on next order, but no. Soon as I have [my] next bank deposit I am ordering groceries immediately,” he told CBC in an email.
While he’s happy to be back to his usual routine, he hopes sharing his story will draw attention to how much power some companies have over vulnerable people.
“My hope is the story will shine a light on this sort of arbitrary punishment (for simply changing addresses due to temporary homelessness and other hard-time circumstances),” he wrote. “If I as a 60-year-old blind man can be cut off with no warning from my main food source like Instacart, others can.
“It was over a month, over holidays, without groceries. No real apology, no contact from Instacart at all until you reached out on my behalf,” he said, referring to CBC Hamilton contacting the company for comment.
“Delivery services like Instacart need to warn people and provide a chance to address the issues before their ‘off-with-their heads’ approach.”