Drivers in on the plot then sync their own phones with the ones in the tree and wait nearby for an order pickup. [...] Much the way milliseconds can mean millions to hedge funds using robotraders, a smartphone perched in a tree can be the key to getting a $15 delivery route before someone else. [...]
An Uber-like app called Amazon Flex lets drivers make deliveries in their own cars. For many with other jobs, it's a way to earn extra money in their spare time. But with joblessness rising and unemployment payments shrinking, competition for such work has stiffened, and more people rely on it as their primary income source. Adding to the pressure, fewer people are using ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft, so more drivers have to deliver online shopping orders to make money. As a result, some Whole Foods locations have come to resemble parking lots at Home Depot Inc., where day laborers have long congregated to pick up home repair gigs. [...]
What's happening at Whole Foods in the Chicago area is different. Drivers are competing for fast-delivery Instant Offers, which require an immediate response and typically take between 15 and 45 minutes to complete. Instant Offers are dispatched by an automated system that detects which drivers are nearby through their smartphones. When drivers see an Instant Offer, they have only a few minutes to accept the delivery or lose it to someone else.
The system can detect a smartphone's location to within about 20 feet. That means a phone in a tree outside Whole Foods' door would get the delivery offer even before drivers sitting in their cars just a block away. [...]
The phones in trees seem to serve as master devices that dispatch routes to multiple nearby drivers in on the plot, according to drivers who have observed the process. They believe an unidentified person or entity is acting as an intermediary between Amazon and the drivers and charging drivers to secure more routes. [...]
One reason Flex contractors do this is to get around the requirements for being a driver, such as having a valid license or being authorized to work in the U.S.
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