Brenda Brown is a 57-year-old delivery driver for Walmart based in Las Cruces, New Mexico.
Brown is currently a graduate student at Weber State University studying healthcare administration.
She's been delivering for Walmart since September 2019, and said the coronavirus pandemic has been a "rollercoaster of emotion" for her and her community.
In the last year she's made over $100,000 doing deliveries for Walmart.
This is her story, as told to freelance writer Meira Gebel.
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I was hired to be a delivery driver for Walmart in September 2019. My first driving shift was the first of October, so it's been over a year since I've been delivering for Walmart. Currently I am living in Las Cruces, New Mexico and in my final weeks of graduate school at Weber State University studying healthcare administration. Before I was hired to deliver for Walmart, I was working in the healthcare field at a private practice for over 28 years.
Like most big retailers, Walmart contracts with a third-party company to do its deliveries and hire its delivery people. Those of us who deliver for Walmart are hired by Delivery Drivers Inc., which powers Walmart-owned delivery platform called Spark. So we aren't actually Walmart employees, and are paid by delivery.
Spark doesn't offer any hands-on delivery driving training. Instead, you're required to watch a series of videos on how to use the app and receive orders from Walmart stores. On your first day of deliveries you are essentially going in blind.
I had never had a delivery job before, but for Walmart we use our own personal cars. From October to May, I put over 25,000 miles on my 2015 Nissan Versa. In May, I bought a new 2020 Kia Optima and have already put 23,000 miles on it just from driving around town doing deliveries.
Every day I wake up at 4 a.m. I spend two hours studying before signing on to receive deliveries. I am out of the door and in my car by 7:30 a.m.
On the Spark app, orders come in the form of "offers" — a certain number of deliveries per hour. Some offers are "batches," meaning two different deliveries within the same hour, where an employee called a "dispenser" will come out to our vehicle and load it into our car. Others are "express," where we have to park our cars and go into the store and stock the order ourselves, to be delivered within two hours.
Offers start coming in at 7:45 a.m., so I like to be out of the door and on my way when deliveries become available. The Spark app works on a round-robin algorithm, meaning the more orders you take, the higher up on the list you are to get pinged when more deliveries come in.
There are three Walmarts in my city, two of which are 14 miles apart. Deliveries can come in from different locations, so I am driving back and forth to each Walmart multiple times a day.
Sometimes I schedule an hour or two to eat my lunch in the middle of the day. In my car I always have a cooler with water and a lunchbox. I get home from doing deliveries at around 8 p.m., just after the last delivery window at 6:45 p.m. It's not strange for me to work over 10 hours in a single day.
Over the last year, since I started doing deliveries for Walmart, I've averaged 80 hours of work each week and have only taken one day off.
The way the round-robin algorithm works with Spark is that if you take even one day off, you fall down in the ranking. I don't take that chance, because this is how I am paying for graduate school. We don't get paid per hour, we get paid per delivery or trip. Right now I am averaging about $15 a delivery, not including customer tips.
This recent Monday I made $334.52 on a 10-hour shift, which is unreal for a Monday. On slow days, I make a little over $100 because people are not tipping. On average, I make $1,500 to $2,000 a week, and we get paid every week. I keep a detailed spreadsheet of how much I make. From October of last year to September of this year I've made $113,000.
Sometimes Spark will have incentives, where they will offer a money reward for completing a certain number of deliveries within a timeframe. During the holiday season last year they offered a $1,000 incentive where you had to complete 50 deliveries by a certain day. I was determined to get the $1,000 and because I did, I've been at the top of the ranking system ever since.
When the coronavirus pandemic hit, I knew right away it had the potential to get very bad. But never once did I feel unsafe making deliveries to customers' homes. I never stopped working.
Even before masks were mandated in New Mexico, I was wearing them, disinfecting my car after each delivery, and using hand sanitizer regularly. A few months into the pandemic, we got an email from Spark telling us we had to wear masks. I was already wearing mine.
With my background in healthcare, I knew right away that there was going to be a lot of unknowns. It still is an ongoing rollercoaster of emotion for our community, with cases spiking again. I made sure to write a note for each of my customers, telling them the precautions I was taking while making sure to deliver to their homes safely and without contact.
Since I was hired before the pandemic, I got to know a lot of customers in the community really well. I estimate that I've delivered to over 20,000 homes in Las Cruces. So when COVID came, I took the time out to make sure my customers were able to get what they needed. One older woman had been out of toilet paper for over two weeks and every store was sold out, so I went to my backstock and gave her some. A disabled woman I deliver to couldn't go get her medication, so I got it for her. Our community really needs us now — because our communities are still scared.
There is a lot of negativity out there that comes from delivery drivers, but I have loved my experience delivering for Walmart.
The job is physically demanding, so I understand why some drivers are negative. As a 57-year-old woman, during my first month working full time as a delivery driver, there were times my body hurt so bad I had to get in a hot bath. I've never hurt myself, though.
I've gone down four pant sizes and lost 16 pounds in the last year. I've also gained a lot of muscle. There's a lot of lifting. Those big cases of water are 46 pounds each, and one time I had a customer order 12 of them and lived in a second-floor apartment. I really had to put a smile on for that delivery.
One of my favorite things about delivering for Walmart is the customers. I've really enjoyed being part of the community. I've seen babies be born, people pass away. There are some customers who greet me outside of their homes to say that they were happy to see me delivering their order. I make sure to take the time to check and see if the items are all correct in their order and call them if there is an item that is unavailable.
Once, last Thanksgiving, a couple told me they really wanted a sweet potato pie, but the app said the store was all sold out. So I went to the store and bought one myself and brought it over to them. It feels like I get to celebrate with those families during the holidays.
I have a customer who tips me $75 every time I do a delivery for him, and another who tips me $51. I love being able to take care of the customers and make sure they have everything they need, and my tips reflect that. Right now for every $100 I make on orders, I make about $95 in tips.
I still get emotional on the job, because our community really needed this service even before the pandemic. Now especially, with more and more people becoming unemployed and cases rising.
So whenever people ask me if I recommend being a delivery driver, I am not afraid to tell them my position; because I believe if you are compassionate, you will be able to do this job and do it well.
Walmart did not respond to Business Insider's request for comment
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