Covid Test Frenzy Is Windfall for Delivery Services, and Their Drivers

  • Gopuff says orders of Covid-19 rapid tests are up 10,000% during the Omicron surge.
  • Some drivers say tips have gone up more than 500% because order values are up.
  • Tips have often been a point of tension between workers and app companies.

The current Covid-19 surge has been a boon for fast delivery services like Gopuff, DoorDash, and FastAF, as consumers rush to order test kits and many people avoid public places all over again. 

Gopuff says sales of Covid-19 rapid tests have climbed a mind boggling 10,000% since the start of the Omicron surge in mid-December. For FastAF this month, sales of rapid covid tests are up 6,000% compared to December, according to CEO Lee Hnetinka.

Delivery drivers say they’ve also experienced a mini-windfall in tips as they ferry boxes of tests to grateful customers. This is a rare moment in the gig economy where customer demand is benefitting both the companies and their fleets of contract workers.

Krystal Parker, a Gopuff driver who works in California’s Central Valley, says her tips, which usually top out around $5 an order, have often doubled lately. Another Gopuff driver who delivers in the Northern Bay Area calculates that she got more than $500 in tips last week, a 500% increase over her usual level. 

Drivers and company executives at the delivery startups mostly chalk up the increased tips to the fact that these test kits bump up the overall value of each order delivered. For example, the typical Gopuff order is for around $23, according to data from Earnest Research. That’s the same cost for a single On/Go Covid-19 test kit box on the app—meaning adding just one kit to the average order already doubles its value.

Gopuff and other apps like FastAF suggest a tip amount to customers based on a percentage of order values. Bigger orders translated into bigger suggested tips.

FastAF focuses on higher end goods and already has higher order values, averaging around $140. That already translates into better tips for drivers. Still, Hnetinka, the CEO, says the average tip value for orders with Covid-19 tests has been around $9. One driver had a $101 in tip on single order that had Covid tests, he said.

Of course it doesn’t always play out that way. Parker says she’s delivered test kit orders for Gopuff where customers have tipped $10, but other customers have only tipped 10 cents. David Rozian, a driver in Michigan says he hasn’t always seen a noticeable uptick in tips, despite the fact that he’s delivering test kits in about a third of his orders. He attributes that partly to the fact that he’s usually delivering to college students—notoriously bad tippers.

“If it’s a student, they knock the tip down to one or two bucks. It’s kind of insulting,” Rozian said. 

Tips have been a point of tension between drivers and gig platforms for years. Uber’s former CEO Travis Kalanick long resisted having tips on the app, deeming them unnecessary and awkward for users. Instacart and DoorDash have come under fire from workers who say some of their customer tips have lined the companies’ pockets.

Tipping itself hasn’t been as big of an issue for Gopuff, which says 100% of customer tips go to the delivery drivers. But drivers at several facilities went on strike last year to demand higher minimum pay and more protections.

It’s unclear how long this current earnings tailwind will last. Drivers acknowledge that this current Covid-assisted boost in earnings is likely a blip. If cases fall, and the need for test kits declines along with it, tips and fares will likely return to pre-surge levels.

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