Amazon, we gotta talk.

No, not about your recent policy change regarding third-party book resellers. That is a problem, and we’ll have to hash it out over drinks one of these days.

But you’ve got a bigger problem on your hands right now, and it affects your entire site, not just your stranglehold on the publishing industry.

I’m talking about your delivery service, Amazon Logistics.

For the benefit of the people listening in to our little chat here, Amazon Logistics is Amazon’s effort to save money on shipping by cutting UPS, DHL, and the US Postal Service out of the loop. And let’s be clear here: Amazon doesn’t own fleets of airplanes and trucks, nor do they hire thousands of delivery personnel. The delivery magic is performed by commercial carriers under contract to Amazon, with much of the “last mile” delivery–actually bringing the packages to your door–done by contractors.

Yeah, Amazon’s delivery service is part of the same “gig economy” that’s working so well for Uber drivers and other non-employee workers.

As Amazon puts it, they’re looking for people who want to “deliver packages for Amazon using your car and smartphone.

And that’s where Amazon’s problem lies.

See, the way it works is that they cram those cars full of packages. The smartphone app provides routing instructions, and at each stop, the driver has to find the package, scan it with Amazon’s app, and then bring it to the door.

This isn’t hearsay, by the way. It’s personal observation. My office overlooks my front door, so I see all the delivery people who come by, not just to our house, but to a half-dozen of our neighbors’ houses as well.

UPS, FedEx, and the other delivery services who use actual employees as drivers have the bugs worked out of their systems. When we get a package carried by these folks, it goes like this:

  1. A truck displaying the company logo comes up the street on the side where parking is legal.
  2. The truck parks at the curb,
  3. the driver gets into the back, finds the package,
  4. brings it to the door–often ringing the bell–
  5. then returns to his truck and drives off down the street.

Here’s how it goes for one of Amazon’s gig economy workers:

  1. A car comes up the street on the side posted with “No Parking” signs.
  2. The driver stops in the middle of the street (halfway around a blind curve, by the way), turns on his emergency blinkers, and opens the driver’s door.
  3. He then opens the back door and leans into the car, to search through the pile of boxes that reaches from the floor to window level.
  4. Assuming he finds the package–and he doesn’t always–he stands in the middle of the street while he scans the barcode, then crosses to the sidewalk, leaving both car doors open,
  5. throws the package over the gate (yes, I’m speaking literally: a heave, a toss, a hurl–pick your favorite word meaning a semi-guided flight through the air),
  6. before returning to his car, closing the doors, and sitting (still in the middle of the blind curve) while checking the smartphone for directions to the next location.

See the difference?

I won’t even get into the issue of anonymous cars cruising slowly through residential neighborhoods, though I wonder how many Amazon drivers get reported to the police as suspicious individuals.

I’m not even really complaining about the cavalier treatment of the packages, though I’ll admit to being irked. I’m concerned about the safety of the delivery guys* and anyone else driving through the neighborhood.

* Lest anyone accuse me of sexism, let me note at this point that I have never seen a female Amazon delivery person. I’m sure they exist, and I’d bet they engage in the same unsafe behaviors as the male delivery people.

So, yeah, Amazon? You really ought to look into how your scheduling and routing practices encourage unsafe behavior by drivers trying to squeeze as many deliveries into a day as possible. Do it before someone gets killed. If nothing else, do it because lawsuits are expensive. But do it.

8 thoughts on “Logistics

  1. The only thing I’d say about binary gender-specific pronouns is that the women who work this gig are also probably exposed to the risks of harassment and worse, on top of everything else. But that’s not the purview of this post exactly.

    I’ve really been enjoying your blog, you touch on some of the same things that concern and/or interest me. And I’m looking forward to taking some time to read the Authors Guild post as well.


    • Diane, my first draft of this post included some comments about what you summed up as “harassment and worse”. I wound up deleting them because they felt like a distraction from the main thread. So it’s reassuring to hear that someone else had the same feeling.

      I’ll probably have some thoughts about the subject of that Authors Guild press release next week. As is often the case, there’s some validity to both sides’ arguments, but there’s an awful lot of finger pointing and excusifyin’ going on.


  2. Enjoyed your post. Especially the part about FedEx using actual employees. The drivers who deliver Amazon packages for FedEx are not employees of FedEx. They’re either contractors or employees of contractors, the same business model Amazon is currently using. And funny thing, when an Amazon driver wants a new job, they become drivers for some FedEx Ground contractor.
    I do agree with your premise, Amazon should stick to order fulfillment and let the professionals handle the deliveries.


    • Very interesting information. Thanks! If FedEx is requiring them to wear FedEx uniforms (or at least logoed hats and/or shirts) as many of them do, I’d be inclined to suspect they’re somebody’s employees–a third-party contractor, as you suggested.

      But even so, a contractor is a very different creature than a gig worker, legally and in most cases, I suspect in terms of accrued experience.


      • The drivers you see for Amazon work for contractors who have signed on with Amazon, the same exact business model as FedEx Ground. The biggest difference is experience/years of service. Amazon drivers just don’t have the experience and I’m sure there is probably a large turn-over rate there. I’ve been a contractor, and now an employee of a contractor with FedEx Ground for almost 17 years. I’ve seen many drivers, both good and bad, come through the system. Due to the low wages drivers are paid, there will always be a high turn-over rate at both FedEx and Amazon that will lead to inexperienced drivers and many of the mistakes you wrote of in your post.


        • In many cases I’m sure you’re correct. But Amazon does also use “gig economy” types to do deliveries in some areas. Look up “Amazon Flex”.

          I strongly doubt that FedEx (and other name-brand carriers) get drivers the same way Uber and Lyft do…

          And, while some of the problems I pointed out can be traced to driver inexperience, many of them point straight back to Amazon. Their corporate inexperience with delivery and their focus on the bottom line to the exclusion of all else is directly responsible for many of the problems as well.


          • You give FedEx to much credit my friend. While that may be true of a FedEx Express driver, there are many drivers on the FedEx Ground side who came with little or no commercial driving experience. FedEx has now pushed driver training onto the contractor. What do you think will happen at peak season when a contractor is desperate for help? There is no time, or money in a contractor budget for proper training. The original FedEx Home Delivery model was built on the same gig economy you see at Amazon. Although I never saw any cars or minivan moms making deliveries back then.
            Amazon’s attempt at logistics has cost me allot of money personally by taking away volume. The only packages we get now are the heavy oversized packages that don’t work in their business model. And if you think gig drivers are scary, wait until Amazon rolls out Prime Air, delivery by drones with orders filled by warehouses in the sky. Yikes!!!


  3. Pingback: Not Just No | Koi Scribblings

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