How to enter the maze and enjoy the moment?

After about five frustrating calls and emails, Zomato finally yielded some answers about why they decided to introduce an option to tip their riders (delivery personnel).

For the uninitiated, this is how it works: Once you order your food, a neat little screen pops up. It tells you the name of the delivery person, a two-line background about where they are from and what they aspire to (study more, feed their family, buy a bike), and gives you tip amounts as options to choose from. This usually lies between Rs 5 ($0.07) and Rs 50 ($0.70).

When can the tip be paid?

The tip can be paid either before you get your food, or right after when you rate your experience. You can even pay the tip retroactively, but only for some of the places, you ordered from. Though tip amounts adjust themselves according to the size of the order, a quick summary of my own behavior on the app seems like I’ve settled on a reasonable average of Rs 20 ($0.30). Again, for no real, rational reason.

This is cognitive overload, which is my first reaction. The single biggest enemy of quick decision-making.

Zomato seems to disagree. “We devised an algorithm to predict a range of tipping amounts basis the average size of the order, user classification and their tipping history. We conducted a few user sessions and asked them what is the usual amount they would tip someone delivering food to their homes. The conclusions helped us decide the three default tip options,” says a company spokesperson.

Okay. But why not let people choose the tip themselves? “We kept the tip amounts predetermined to reduce the cognitive load, enable quick decision-making and keep the whole tipping experience frictionless,” adds the spokesperson.

With all of our experiences going online—from food to payments to travel—it isn’t wholly surprising that tipping to has gone online too. But is it totally frictionless?

Once again, I need help to understand this. Researchers Hansika Kapoor and Nikhil George from Monk Prayogshala, a Mumbai-based non-profit research firm, come to my rescue. “The manner in which Zomato has constructed the platform does nudge an individual to tip. The provision of tip amounts makes it easier to choose,” they say.

But they stop short of saying it’s frictionless. “It may make the ‘choice’ to tip easier. The pre-picked options permit a quicker decision because you’re not asking the consumer to choose the amount. But tipping behavior is based on service and performance-based cues in the immediate environment, which are difficult to simulate online,” says Kapoor.

Physical Experience

What Kapoor and George are saying is that tipping is an intensely physical experience. The studies mentioned above even break it down to granular cues like the server’s behavior, looks, skill at making conversation, attentiveness. Sometimes even the language they speak in.

So why would the online user adopt the tip, especially when the tip is often given before the service has actually been delivered?

Resembling online

Kapoor and George indicate that the answer might lie in how closely tipping resembles online, anonymized charitable giving. The idea of recognizing and rewarding an effort made for our sake. Or the need to redeem our lazy, soulless online lives by sharing the wealth. Even if it’s just through tips.

“Tipping makes it more equitable. I connect with their stories. I feel empathy towards riders because I know they work under hard circumstances,” says Vinamra Pandiya. Pandiya founded Tasty Khana, a food service app, which was bought by FoodPanda in 2014. His reaction to online tipping is a gregarious yes because he connects with the struggles of the delivery personnel. But the approval comes with riders.

“I give Zomato credit for thinking about this. But in the online world, there is going to be a shift in whom we trust. The platform can’t afford to be opaque about how these tips are being transferred to the delivery guy. Will they tell us about this process? I believe more transparency might help online tips catch on,” he adds.


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