DETROIT—The demand for ordering groceries online and having them delivered skyrocketed when the coronavirus pandemic hit in early 2020.
The service, offered by companies such as Shipt, Instacart and some grocery stores, was invaluable to many who used it, allowing people to stay out of stores as COVID-19 spread throughout the country.
But it was also lucrative to some of the personal shoppers who shopped, including one Michigan man.
Meet Robert "RJ" Woldhuis , who worked as a Shipt shopper and made it pay off, earning him six figures.
Woldhuis said he earned $100,280 in 2020 working as a Shipt shopper. His earnings, mainly shopping for groceries, were a combination of tips and what Shipt pays per order which can vary.
The 2020 earnings even garnered Woldhuis a spot on Parade magazine’s "What People Earn" annual report featured in early September.
Woldhuis became a Shipt shopper when he was looking to pick up some extra money in 2017, around the time the company, now a wholly owned subsidiary of Target Corp., entered the Michigan market.
He credits his Shipt success on providing the best service and being a good communicator.
"It's my life motto. It came naturally and was easy for me. I leveraged all those strengths and went to work with Shipt," Woldhuis said.
Shopping for others, especially during the pandemic, was also meaningful to him because people couldn't get out.
But perhaps it's also that Woldhuis looks like he has tons of fun, especially when he wears outfits often described as whacky.
"I get into costuming a bit and love fun clothes," Woldhuis said. "I took my love of costuming and started doing some of it with Shipt."
It's those outfits, Woldhuis believes, that bring smiles to the faces of his customers and people that see him in stores.
While out as a Shipt shopper, you might spot Woldhuis wearing a tutu or in a sparkly sequined jacket, colorful wig or funky hat. He might be dressed up for St. Patrick's Day or as an elf. He dedicates one room in his house, he said, to all these clothes.
It just became his thing, he said.
"Customers would say they love it, and they'd laugh," he said. "It's an easy icebreaker. Generally, the clothes elicit some kind of response. People say 'Hey, that's a great shirt.' It's a conversation starter."
Dressing up in costume, he said, was a way to think outside the box and bring something different to his customers.
Woldhuis developed ways to hustle as a Shipt shopper that have paid off nicely. And he's helped others.
Fellow Shipt shopper Dawn Williams calls Woldhuis her mentor.
Williams, 52, became a Shipt shopper several years ago. She met Woldhuis while shopping at the same Grand Rapids Meijer store. Woldhuis, she said, encouraged her at times when she wanted to quit.
"He said good things and kept me going," Williams said. "Sometimes it’s a hit or miss job if you're not getting orders. You're not getting paid and not working. That can be discouraging."
Woldhuis gave Williams a few pointers like scheduling beyond the schedule, picking up orders whenever you can, and shopping and building a rapport at one store.
"Communication was also of the utmost importance," she said. "When things are out of stock, just keep at it and it slowly came together."
Williams also had a good 2020 — though not as good as Woldhuis — but said it was fantastic because orders were plentiful.
"He brightens my day when I see him. He dresses up pretty much every day. It's his personality. It's fun. He makes me smile. "
How he did it
Woldhuis now works part-time as a Shipt shopper, but his core methods are what he believes makes him successful.
"The best and easy way to maximize your income is shopping multi orders at one time," he said.
He also credits his delivery zone, which is mostly dense, making delivering efficient. And shopping at one store and knowing the store is key.
"I've built a solid enough business where I just shop out of that store," he said.
"At the store, I also map out my shopping on the Shipt app so it would flow with how the store is set up."
Woldhuis takes time before each shop to make sure it's organized.
"I made sure things were organized so I didn't have to backtrack," Woldhuis said. "I am Virgo and like things in their place. At the end of the shop, it matters."
He bought his own baskets more than a year ago to set inside a shopping cart. The baskets keep orders organized and separate.
When checking out, self-checkout is best because it's quicker. And some customers only wanted Woldhuis to handle and bag items, he said.
During the pandemic, Shipt orders were plentiful.
"There were days and weeks, especially when the pandemic started, that there were hundreds of orders and not enough shoppers," Woldhuis said.
So, all that methodical shopping paid off.
"The pandemic definitely boosted pay," Woldhuis said. "People were more appreciative when tipping just because of what we were doing and where we were going. “
Dealing with pandemic, shortages
Early on in the pandemic, when stores were routinely out of things like toilet paper, disinfecting spray and wipes, Woldhuis had a plan.
"What I learned early on was, taking a few minutes to find a good substitute and then communicating that to the customer," he said.
Taking the time to nurture a rapport and relationship with store employees also worked to his advantage, Woldhuis said. That meant doing a little something extra, like bringing the store employees doughnuts or coffee.
"When I needed something, I could trust them to go in the back to look for something," he said. "Something else that was stuck in the back and not on the shelf yet. "
Shipt has more than 300,000 shoppers nationwide. The operation offers personal shopping services at major grocery stores, pet supply stores, home good stores, drug stores and other retailers. You can sign up for annual ($99) or six-month ($49) membership, or pay-per-delivery with a one-time $10 fee membership level. In September, Shipt announced they were expanding to offering same-day delivery services to more locations nationwide.
Woldhuis reached a milestone of 10,000 shops in February. He's now done more than 11,000 shops. Shipt says Woldhuis is one of its "most active" shoppers.
Follow Detroit Free Press food writer Sue Selasky on Twitter @SusanMariecooks.
This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: How a Michigan man earned $100K as a Shipt shopper