Amazon increasingly promises faster, quicker, more local delivery. UPS, FedEx, and the Post Office can’t handle all that, of course, so the e-retail giant turns to local couriers, its own Amazon-branded fleet… and, increasingly, folks who volunteer to drive your stuff around for a few bucks an hour.
Word about Amazon’s plan to expand their “Amazon Flex” program leaked out a few months back, and the pilot continues.
Inasmuch as delivery drivers use their own cars and remain individual contractors (not employees), the service is fairly comparable to the big car-hailing dinosaur in the room, Uber. But there are two big, key differences in how Amazon Flex operates. One: drivers report to the company, not to individual users. And two: it’s not entirely on-demand, but rather based on choosing time
Anyone who signs up via Amazon’s (Android-only) “Delivery” app can retrieve and deliver residential customers’ packages for $18 an hour (plus tips). After completing video orientations, drivers can sign up for time slots in which they will be delivery drivers (like “Wednesday, 1-3 p.m.”). After that, they’re expected to show up at their local sorting facility when their “shift” begins, and haul packages until it ends.
So to find out what it’s really like, tech writer Sam Machkovech over at Ars Technica signed up to be a driver, and the site made a video of his adventures in independent contracting.
When Machkovech showed up at the Amazon fulfillment center near Seattle, he got a firm dictate from a man who was emphatically not his manager.
“I am not your manager, I am not your boss. You guys are independently contracted with Amazon. I can’t tell you in what order to deliver them in, I can’t even tell you to deliver them on time,” the man said.
“I thought the app would sequence the deliveries for you,” another driver suggested. The not-a-boss replied with, “It’s supposed to, but they turned that feature off a few weeks ago.”
He continued, “I don’t have access to scheduling, why you can’t sign up,” before showing the drivers how the app and map work, describing the 210,000 Amazon Now customers in greater Seattle — and how spread out they are, and how terrible the Seattle traffic is.
Logiscitally, it’s all pretty complicated, and far from perfect. Packages use a detailed coding system, and the app proves less than 100% user-friendly for Machkovech — who, as a professional tech writer, is pretty familiar with using and optimizing technology.
The app is a big bottleneck, Machkovech found. “There is so little information in this program right now in terms of what I can and can’t do,” he vented after his first delivery. “I would absolutely be winging it if I had to deal with signing… all I know is that I’m required.”
“I was told, ‘use your best judgement,'” Machkovech said with a shrug (indeed, a ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ ). “It’s very Wild West of them right now, and I think there’s going to be big concerns with them as they go along, if anybody gets weird about it.”
Machkovech is right that Amazon may continue to encounter big challenges if it scales up the program nationwide. Lawyers, lawmakers, and regulators are becoming increasingly interested in the all-contracting, all-gigging, no-employment land of modern work in the on-demand economy, and Amazon has already found Prime Now drivers accusing it of wage theft and paying less than minimum wage (after expenses).
Amazon dips toes into sharing economy, pays Ars to deliver your dog food [Ars Technica]

Editor's Note: This article originally appeared on Consumerist.