Amazon Drivers Are Hanging Smartphones in Trees to Get More Work

Beg For Scraps Or You Will Starve:

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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20 Responses:

  1. jwz says:

    CaseyNewton: "Very relatable to me as someone who would hang smartphones in trees near gay bars to get more Tinder matches"

  2. Leonardo Herrera says:

    Hustlers be hustlin'.

  3. krisjohn says:

    "To turn $100 into $110 is work. To turn 100 million into $110 million is inevitable."

  4. Koleslaw says:

    I love how the Bloomberg article refers to the drivers hanging the phones as "unscrupulous."

    Also, this gem: A Flex driver who has been monitoring the activity said the company needs to take steps to make sure all drivers are treated fairly.

    “Amazon knows about it,” the driver said, “but does nothing.”

    • jwz says:

      Right? You'd think they'd see this as The Market working perfectly.

      • Mark Kraft says:

        I'm thinking there's a VC-funded startup in this somewhere, that goes around hanging phones everywhere, and then routes all the delivery orders to drivers, for a percentage.

        • Mark Kraft says:

          I would even bet such a startup would soon get acquired by Amazon, who would use it to effectively lower driver compensation.

    • Echo says:

      There's a double layer of douchery here: the usual Amazon behavior we all love and cherish plus a second layer of people subcontracting work to people without a driving license and undocumented workers.

      So, yeah, i would call them unscrupulous.

  5. Dude says:

    In more "Amazon is Fucking Evil and Hates its 'Employees'" news: Wired (beware subscription pop-up) just posted the following article about how Amazon had recently posted jobs - on their official website, mind you - for Analyst and Senior Analyst.

    The job description(s)? To collect info about "labor organizing threats against the company". (The official site has since taken the posts down, but the article links to their captures on the Internet Archive.)

    So... yeah. This screencap shows how much Bezos thinks about his workers over the course of a given day:

  6. Lloyd says:

    Can't they just mark out their territories by hanging sneakers?

  7. Big says:

    > They believe an unidentified person or entity is acting as an intermediary between Amazon and the drivers and charging drivers to secure more routes.

    Business model: Uber, but for Uber.

  8. apm74 says:

    Nothing a detect a phone hanging from a tree algorithm can't solve.

    • k3ninho says:

      Naturally, the Simpsons did this 30 years ago: "Lisa worries the town will become infested by algorithms but Skinner assures her they will send in Chinese algorithms to eat them, followed by algorithm-eating algorithms, which will "simply freeze to death" when wintertime rolls around."

      K3n.

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