Target’s same-day delivery service Shipt is launching a new feature that will pair customers with their favorite shoppers on future orders. This “Preferred Shoppers” feature will be available as a membership-only perk at no extra charge, offering customers a more reliable shopping experience, where more of their orders are directed towards people they already known and trust to do a good job.

The feature arrives at a time when the online grocery delivery market is booming due to the pandemic. But this market shift has also led to a number of newer shoppers joining the gig economy who don’t have the same level of experience as others. Today, you’ll come across some shoppers who excel at picking quality items, making great substitutions, and staying in close communication with their customers. Others, meanwhile, are checking out before you even have time to respond to their text about the product replacements they’ve made or the refunds they’ve put through. That can leave consumers feeling like online grocery shopping is an unreliable experience.

The Preferred Shoppers feature aims to change that.

As Shipt explains, customers who rate their shopper with five stars after their order is complete will be presented with the option to add the shopper to their Preferred Shoppers list. If the shopper accepts this request, they’ll be prioritized to shop for those customers in the future. (If the shopper declines, however, that won’t be shown the customer.) This list can be edited at any time, and if a customer downrates a shopper on a future order, they’ll be removed.

Image Credits: Shipt

The feature was developed in response to feedback from both shoppers and Shipt regulars, the company says. Consumers, in particular, had been asking for a way to be paired with their favorite shoppers who they already trusted to handle their orders correctly. But until now, whether or not that shopper would be available to grab the customer’s order was left mostly up to chance. The shopper would have had to see the order come in as it arrived, then grab it before someone else did.

During early tests, which included the Detroit metro, Shipt found the feature impacted its own bottom line and increased shoppers’ tips. Without providing specific metrics, the company said that customers using the feature would order more often and would rate their experience highly. Shoppers also benefitted because they were now serving customers who valued their work and who were expressing their appreciation with a larger tip.

“The more often a shopper shops for a customer, the more they learn about that customer’s wants and needs and are able to deliver a tailored shopping experience,” said Karl Varsanyi, Chief Experience & Product Officer at Shipt, in a statement. “Preferred Shoppers helps customers get the exceptional service they enjoy again and again,” he added.

The feature could also motivate shoppers to focus on building up a quality clientele, so they had a better shot at being assigned orders from customers they enjoyed working with and where they could expect to see higher tips. Over time, as customers add more shoppers to their Preferred Shopper list, the likelihood of being paired with a highly-rated shopper would improve, too. This could perhaps help to address some gig workers complaints over their work being undervalued, where bonuses are placed out of reach and customers are stingy with tips.

The idea for personal shoppers is not new. A startup called Dumpling has been developing a platform that allows gig economy workers to transition their clients off apps like Shipt and Instacart to a service where shoppers set their own rates and get to keep all their tips. But many consumers aren’t aware of Dumpling unless a shopper they know markets the service to them directly and usage of Dumpling isn’t free. In addition, while Shipt offers delivery from a number of top retailers, being owned by Target has other advantages. The service is now integrated into Target’s own website and mobile app, and Target products aren’t marked up on an individual basis, like you’d see on other services.

Currently, Shipt’s membership is $99 per year, offering free delivery on all orders over $35. The Preferred Shoppers feature will be made available to all U.S. members, starting today.

Originally published at techcrunch.com

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