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Amazon Wades Further Into the Complex World of the Gig Economy

30 September 2015

From Wired:

The instant gratification economy is still very much in vogue, and that means the demand for on-demand workers is high. Now, an entrenched tech giant and an early pioneer of the entire concept of “on-demand,” Amazon, is wading further into the gig economy.

The online retailer has for weeks been quietly operating a new program called Amazon Flex, according to a report from The Wall Street Journal, and has been testing it in its hometown of Seattle. Flex works in much the same way as other popular on-demand companies, including Uber and Postmates, do under the so-called 1099 model: Using an app platform, a network of independent contractors can sign up for flexible delivery shifts. On Amazon Flex, the company has these independent contractors collect packages from warehouses and bring them to customers’ homes in an hour or so.

According to the Journal, the program works hand in hand with Amazon’s Prime Now service, where customers who sign up for the company’s $99-a-year unlimited shipping program can get items delivered to their doorstep for a fee in an as little as an hour. Prime Now is available in 13 cities, and the company will eventually expand Amazon Flex to cover those areas in addition to Seattle, the WSJ reports.

. . . .

With Flex, Amazon has adopted the on-demand worker strategy, and it has the added advantage of a sprawling logistics infrastructure to boot. It’s worth noting that Amazon has operated its Mechanical Turk platform for a while—where workers completed micro-tasks like transcription, data entry, image identification—but now apparently, Amazon thinks on-demand work can transfer well to maximizing the company’s operations in package logistics, too.

Link to the rest at Wired and thanks to Tim for the tip.

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9 Comments to “Amazon Wades Further Into the Complex World of the Gig Economy”

  1. Introducing Amazon Gig Select… you agree to only do work for clients solicited through AGS, and we will pay you based on a sliding and mysterious scale of Client Happiness v1.0 which will seem impressively high at first, and then slowly degrade over time.

  2. As I pointed out on TeleRead, any hourly-wage transportation job you do with your own car is a mug’s game—you’re wearing out your own wheels to earn your salary.

    • Depends on the wheels. 🙂
      If you’re wearing out an old beater you might be trading off low value miles for higher value calories.

      And that will depend on personal circumstances; there’s still plenty of folks supplementing their income doing newspaper deliveries. And not kids on bikes.
      Conversely, I have a friend whose winter beater is a brand new Volt. (His summer car? The original Tesla roadster.)
      It takes all kinds to make an economy run.

    • There’s another thing to keep in mind: many, many employers are biased against hiring the long term unemployed. Putting Amazon Flex on the resume means not having long gaps in employment. Some employers claim they want to see “gumption,” or a willingness to work at any job, and this would probably qualify.

      I’d be willing to bet the participants would consider the wear and tear on their car vs. having a line on the their resume to be a worthy trade off.

    • Clever people will figure out how to make it work. Some will be able to. Others won’t. And if it’s a 1099 model, there won’t be an hourly wage.

      In terms of a car, these systems allow private property to be converted into capital assets at will. Turn on the app, and the car is a capital asset. Turn it off, and it is a private vehicle.

      It’s really no different than any company buying a vehicle for business use. Acquisition cost is amortized over the miles driven while the car is a capital asset. Maintenance and operating costs are split between private and capital use.

      Like any business, the operator will choose the best vehicle for his purpose. One of my cars just moved under the 4 cents per mile point, based on acquisition costs. It was a glorious day. Like I told my wife, I don’t care how many miles it has as long as it keeps cranking out more. She doesn’t have to be seen in it.

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