Amazon just had its best Prime day ever.
The company sold more than 100 million products over a 36-hour period, bragging in a press release that it was the “biggest shopping event in Amazon history.” But a massive shopping event like Prime Day is only in possible in part because of Amazon’s Flex program, which recruits everyday people to deliver Amazon packages for a modest wage.
That's because the most expensive part of delivering a package is getting it from a local warehouse to a customer's doorstep. Amazon’s Flex program helps reduce that cost by hiring delivery drivers as independent contractors.
VICE News followed a married couple in Phoenix, AZ, who use Flex as their primary source of income. “[Flex] saved our lives,” Beverly Karpinski, 64, told VICE News. “For three months we had no income except for my husband’s social security check, and one day I was on Craigslist and I saw Amazon was hiring independent delivery drivers.”
Karpinski and her husband, Ed, both signed up for Flex and have been delivering packages for more than a year. In Arizona, the Karpinski’s make about $18 an hour before expenses.
You don’t need any qualifications to drive for Flex: just pass a background check and have a valid driver's license. Due to the driver’s independent contractor status, Amazon doesn’t provide any benefits like healthcare or paid time off. Amazon says Flex drivers across the country make $18-$25 an hour, but that doesn’t include gas or car maintenance.
Amazon declined to provide any details about how many Flex drivers Amazon hires, or how many fulfillment centers across the country support Flex, but an Amazon spokesperson confirmed that the company leverages its malleable Flex workforce in order to compensate for Prime Day. The spokesperson also confirmed that the delivery route given to Flex drivers is generated by an Amazon algorithm.
This segment originally aired July 18, 2018 on VICE News Tonight on HBO.