Amazon expands delivery capability with gig workers

Amazon is turning to the gig economy to speed up the delivery of online orders in Australia.

The company on Wednesday announced the launch of Amazon Flex, its ‘Uber for e-commerce’ delivery service that allows anyone with a car to deliver packages to customers.

Amazon said in a statement that the service would allow it to “expand its delivery network, ramp up at peak times and ultimately speed up deliveries for customers, while providing a unique opportunity for individuals to further their earning potential whilst fitting in with their lifestyle”.

Amazon Flex is launching in Sydney and Melbourne to start, and the e-commerce giant is encouraging people interested in becoming delivery partners to sign up by downloading the app and completing the background verification process.

Once approved, they can start collecting packages from pick-up points around Sydney and Melbourne and delivering them to customers in four-hour blocks. They will receive payments on a weekly basis by direct deposit.

The launch is expected to give Amazon an edge in the race for convenience, with the likes of Supercheap Auto, General Pants and Priceline expanding their click-and-collect offers and shortening their delivery times for online orders.

These retailers, however, must rely on third-party companies like Australia Post to update their delivery windows and other services to keep up with customer demand. They generally also have to pay a premium to use them.

“Most delivery companies struggle to make deliveries in the late afternoon and early evening,” Jonathan Reeve, GM of Eagle Eye ANZ and the author of Retail’s Last Mile, told Inside Retail.

“Something like [Amazon Flex] is a brilliant way to cost effectively get deliveries to people at the time they want them.”

The other advantage of Amazon Flex, and other services that rely on gig economy workers, is the ability to scale the network up and down in response to changes in order volumes.

“There are seasonal peaks in retail,” Reeve noted. “You need to have enough assets to cover your normal weeks, but a lot of delivery companies really struggle when they get big peaks.”

Concerns about safety

But while the service may be good for customers – and certainly for Amazon – concerns have been raised about its impact on traffic-congested cities and the people who live in them.

A recent investigation between The New York Times and ProPublica linked Amazon Flex to the deaths of 10 people since it launched in the US in 2015, including an infant, who died when a distracted delivery partner rear-ended her mother’s car.

Because Flex drivers, like most gig economy workers, are hired as contractors, Amazon has said it bears no legal responsibility when a crisis occurs.

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