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Walmart’s Spark has tripled its workforce, but the growth comes with challenges

The delivery driver platform rolls out new tech following issues with drivers not being who they say they are

Grocery delivery has been booming since the COVID-19 pandemic forced more consumers to adopt the technology. It also offered a way for shoppers to earn a little extra money during an unstable economy. For example, by delivering for Walmart Spark, one such driver was able to make about $150 during a five-hour shift delivering groceries for Walmart stores in northern Utah. 

Walmart’s Spark Driver platform, a network of independent contractors who make deliveries to Walmart customers, has tripled its delivery-driver workforce over the past year. But some employees and drivers say the platform has had issues with drivers posing under multiple names, reports Business Insider.

As a result, Walmart said that it is now rolling out a facial recognition and ID-scan system to verify identities to help prevent this type of fraud. Insider recently interviewed six Spark drivers across the U.S. and a Walmart employee who works with Spark drivers. Some asked not to be identified, citing fear of retaliation by Walmart (including deactivation), however, all described pockets of drivers delivering for Spark under multiple names, using multiple phones.

As with any grocery delivery platform, groceries can be heavy and tips can be unpredictable, but many drivers said the pay at first was better than other options including Uber and Instacart.

A Walmart spokesperson told Supermarket News that the company is “proud to offer drivers competitive earnings and is always looking for ways to improve the driver experience. As we continue to scale, we’re focused on bringing drivers more opportunities to earn and making it easier for drivers to earn, while preventing fraudulent activity on the platform.” 

But, as time went on that started to change. Many drivers would find themselves sitting in a car for hours without any deliveries, meanwhile, they said they were seeing the same handful of drivers coming in and out of the parking lot, taking and delivering multiple orders. 

Eventually, many said they would start to realize that drivers who were delivering under one name were not who they said they were — they’d pick up orders under a different name the next time, some even having multiple phones open with the Spark app as they picked up those orders from Walmart employees. 

Several drivers across the U.S. have told similar stories to Insider, saying over the last year or so, they’ve seen these numbers of drivers using multiple accounts increase.

Walmart said that “the Spark Driver platform takes any reports of fraudulent activity seriously and has deployed many of the same enhancements other platforms have introduced to identify and prevent fraudulent activity, including process improvements, product, and technical solutions and confirming the identity of drivers picking up and delivering orders.” 

“We actively monitor and deactivate accounts whenever we become aware of fraud and are continuously rolling out new features and solutions to further prevent this activity,” the spokesperson added. “We encourage drivers to report any concerns to Spark Driver platform driver support so we can investigate and take the appropriate action.”

Launched in 2018, Walmart originally described Spark as a “crowdsourced delivery platform” that offered grocery deliveries directly to customers’ doorsteps. As home deliveries of groceries grew with the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, Walmart ended partnerships with platforms like DoorDash, Uber, and Lyft to focus on delivering its products to customers’ doorsteps directly. (However, Walmart continues to work with select third-party DSPs, including Uber, in addition to its Spark Driver platform.)

Walmart’s chief financial officer, John David Rainey, said during a late 2022 earnings call that Spark served customers in all 50 states at over 10,000 pickup points. While it still works with some third-party apps, Spark has grown to become Walmart’s largest local-delivery-service provider.

Insider also reports that Spark has had protests from drivers at a Walmart Supercenter in Illinois over what they described as too many drivers using bots on Spark. They use third-party codes or apps to automatically claim orders, making it harder for others to get them. Other platforms including DoorDash and Instacart have also faced similar complaints around bots. 

While for now there is no consistent company policy to verify driver identities, the new rollout of a new verification process for Spark drivers could help. The process requires drivers to take pictures of themselves periodically using the Spark app on their phones to ensure it matches their photo ID.

“As we continue to scale, we're focused on bringing drivers more opportunities to earn and making it easier for drivers to earn, while preventing fraudulent activity on the platform,” a spokesperson for the company told Insider.

DoorDash and Instacart already require this sort of periodic identification and take action against workers who cannot confirm their identity. Walmart began asking more Spark drivers to complete the verification process last week. This is a third-party app integration that compares driver selfies to their ID photos periodically, as is commonly used in the industry (expected to be rolled out nationwide in the next month).

Walmart maintains that customer safety is a top priority, adding that Spark has many security measures in place to help combat fraudulent activities including: 

  • Services provided by drivers on the Spark Driver platform do not involve entering a customer’s home, as part of the terms of use
  • Drivers must show a four-digit pin to a Walmart store associate before the order is dispensed
  • There are processes in place to review applicants before they are approved as drivers on the Spark Driver platform and ensure they are who they say they are
  • Walmart continuously monitors drivers’ criminal background checks and motor vehicle reports, and drivers must keep an active earnings method to remain active on the platform
  • Product and technology enhancements to maximize the effectiveness of the solutions in place, and ensure the best experience for drivers and Walmart store associates 
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