- Walmart's delivery platform, Spark, has tripled its delivery-driver workforce over the past year.
- But employees and drivers say the platform has an issue with drivers posing under multiple names.
- Walmart is rolling out a facial-recognition and ID-scan system to verify identities and prevent fraud.
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When Mike Del Rio began delivering orders for Walmart's in-house delivery platform, Spark, about a year ago, the money was good.
At the time, Del Rio said he was making about $150 during a five-hour shift delivering groceries for Walmart stores in northern Utah. As with any delivery platform, groceries could be heavy and tips unpredictable, but the pay was much better than what he'd been making as a driver for platforms like Uber and Instacart, he said.
But around the start of this year, things began to change.
Del Rio said that over the past few months, he's found himself sitting in his car for hours without a single delivery. Meanwhile, he's been seeing the same handful of drivers coming in and out of the parking lot, receiving and delivering order after order.
At first, it was unclear what was going on, but soon enough, Del Rio learned that some drivers who were delivering under one name one day were picking up orders under a different name the next, he said. The same drivers would also have two phones open with the Spark app as they picked up orders in front of Walmart employees, he said. (Insider has verified Del Rio's employment as a Spark driver.)
Del Rio isn't the only driver who began to notice this change. Several Spark drivers across the US told Insider that over the past year and a half, they've seen an increasing number of drivers use multiple accounts to receive more orders and make more money on the Spark app.
Walmart has been focused on growing Spark over the past few years. But drivers and employees say the company has faltered in combating a colossal issue plaguing not just other drivers but the safety of customers: drivers who aren't who they say they are.
Insider spoke to six Spark drivers across the US and a Walmart employee who works with Spark drivers. Some asked not to be identified, citing fear of retaliation by Walmart, including deactivation. They described pockets of drivers delivering for Spark under multiple names, using multiple phones.
In a statement to Insider, a Walmart spokesperson said that Spark "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."
Some Spark drivers are delivering under multiple names and phones to grab more orders
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.
And it's only continued to grow: Walmart says that over the past year, it's tripled the number of drivers on its Spark platform.
During an earnings call in late 2022, Walmart's chief financial officer, John David Rainey, said 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.
But amid the growth, Walmart has had to combat a ballooning issue.
Joseph, a Spark driver in New Jersey who asked to be identified by only his first name, told Insider that over the past year, he's seen how other drivers use multiple phones to get more orders on the Spark app. At the same time, he's seen his pay drop drastically, he said.
"To be honest with you, I do this to try and keep in some kind of decent shape. It keeps me moving, it keeps my steps going when I'm shopping, and I enjoy doing it," he said, but added: "It's not fun anymore when you're going uphill, and there's no way of making it."
Gregory Carr, a Spark driver in Mississippi, told Insider that he used to drive for Spark full time, working up to 60 hours a week. "For me, this job was supposed to represent being your own boss, making decent money without problems." But now he's pivoted to driving an armored money truck as pay from the platform has dwindled.
"I have to go to work with a bulletproof vest on every day. I have to put my life at risk just to try to make ends meet for my family because Walmart Spark failed me," he added. "If they fire me because I talked to you, so be it. It can't hurt me because I don't make money anyway."
A Walmart supervisor in Texas who oversees online pickup and delivery orders said that of the 20 or so Spark drivers that pick up regularly at his store, he estimates that about half of them are working under names that aren't their own.
"It just became obvious through the natural process of the business that this was happening," he said. "When somebody shows up under three different names, it's just sort of like, OK, what's going on here?"
Many drivers Insider spoke to said they had reported fraudulent drivers to Spark to no avail. "We need some sort of intervention or help with this," one report reviewed by Insider said.
A Walmart spokesperson told Insider that "complaints related to potential or suspected fraudulent activity are investigated and our team takes the appropriate action." The spokesperson added that while Walmart doesn't share personnel decisions related to drivers, it takes driver feedback seriously and uses it to "inform platform enhancements, including trust- and safety-related updates."
Spark has been accused of another issue related to its drivers. Earlier this year, Spark driversprotested at aWalmartSupercenter in Illinois over what they described as a prevalence of drivers who use bots on Spark. The protestors said that some drivers use third-party code or apps to automatically claim orders, making it harder for other drivers to get them. Other platforms, like DoorDash and Instacart, have faced similar complaints about bot usage over the past few years.
There's no consistent company policy to verify drivers' identities, but a new rollout may change that
Drivers told Insider that inconsistent policies across Walmart stores have only exacerbated the issue of drivers posing under multiple names.
Several drivers said that while some stores check drivers' IDs before dispensing orders, others don't, and have said they are not allowed to do so.
One Spark driver in Illinois told Insider that orders available to her began to decline this spring. Then, on the Fourth of July, one of the stores she frequents for deliveries started asking drivers to show their IDs to pick up an order.
The driver said she noticed fewer people showing up to the store to pick up and deliver orders after that. "We had no problem receiving orders" after the ID requirement took effect, she told Insider.
The online pickup and delivery supervisor in Texas told Insider that earlier this year when he tried to implement ID checks at his store, he was told by a superior that he was not allowed to do so.
"Walmart just wants the orders delivered, and they don't seem to really care how," he said. "They're just not tackling this issue fast enough."
Recently though, Walmart started rolling out a new verification process for Spark drivers. 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.
Walmart began asking more Spark drivers to complete the verification process last week, according to the Walmart supervisor in North Texas. On Monday, a Facebook group for Spark drivers included several posts asking about the new verification requirements.
Last week, drivers at the supervisor's store told him that they were prompted by the app to verify their identity each time they picked up an order. But by Friday, some drivers told the supervisor that the Spark app had already stopped asking them to verify themselves.
Walmart declined to comment on the record on the pause in the area.
"Based on our initial findings, the tool is effective and we are seeing positive results," a spokesperson told Insider in an email. "We'll continue to listen to driver feedback and evolve the platform to give drivers a better experience."
'It's really a safety issue,' a Spark driver said
If a driver delivers orders under an account that doesn't belong to them, they may not have undergone the criminal background and motor-vehicle-report checks that Spark requires of new drivers.
Jessica, a Spark driver in Florida who has been driving for the platform for about two years and asked to be identified by only her first name, told Insider that one of her main concerns is the safety of customers who likely aren't aware that some drivers on the platform have not been properly vetted.
"We have full access. We go through security, we have access to their codes to get into their property," she said. "Walmart is allowing all this. Walmart's allowing all these people access to their customers."
The Spark driver in Illinois called the lack of verification "a real safety issue." Many of the customers they deliver to are older people, she added.
"I hope that Walmart can acknowledge that there's a huge issue with public trust," she said. "People believe that all of us drivers have been verified."
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