Amazon taps its gig-driver network to deliver from malls

The initiative could help e-commerce company expand variety of goods it has available for fast shipment

(FILES) In this file photo taken on February 02, 2021, an Amazon delivery driver carries boxes into a van outside of a distribution facility in Hawthorne, California. A week of blockbuster earnings reports from Big Tech culminates Thursday with Amazon revealing profits from pandemic-revved online shopping and growing reliance on internet-hosted services. The e-commerce colossus is among the internet giants whose businesses thrived as precautions against Covid-19 led people around the world to go online for work, school, shopping and socializing. / AFP / Patrick T. FALLON
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Amazon is testing a service that uses the company’s sprawling network of gig drivers to fetch packages from mall-based retailers and deliver them to customers.

The programme, should it become a permanent part of the e-commerce company's delivery options, could help Amazon expand the variety of goods it has available for fast shipment.

Shoppers who want same-day or quicker shipping could be shown products stocked by a local mall store. They order the item from the retailer on and one of the Seattle-based company’s contract drivers delivers it.

The service was up and running by last year and relies on Amazon Flex drivers, who use their own vehicles to deliver packages.

The geographic range of the pilot is unclear, but communications with drivers reviewed by Bloomberg reference malls with participating retailers in Chandler, Arizona, Las Vegas, Nevada, and Tysons Corner, Virginia.

A “handful” of the company’s existing partner retailers are participating in the programme, Amazon spokeswoman Lauren Samaha said, but declined to name them or reveal how much the service would cost customers or stores.

She noted that retailers have offered their products for delivery on Amazon for years.

“This is just another way we are able to connect Amazon sellers with customers via convenient delivery options,” Ms Samaha said in an emailed statement.

The initiative could escalate the already fierce competition between established retailers and start-ups working to rapidly deliver goods ordered online, often using the services of contract drivers.

Instacart is broadening its offerings beyond groceries and DoorDash handles some deliveries for retailers such as Macy’s.

Other Amazon rivals such as Walmart and Target use gig-economy drivers to deliver some items from their shelves.

Under the new initiative, drivers stop at shopping centres instead of Amazon delivery stations. It’s the latest twist in the Amazon’s complicated relationship with American malls, which are struggling to remain relevant as shoppers stampede online.

Amazon already stocks its own urban warehouses with goods from select third-party retailers designated for speedy delivery. The company has also experimented with delivering items stored in partners’ warehouses.

Last year, Amazon began recruiting mom-and-pop shops, including florists and IT shops, in rural parts of the US to deliver packages, Vox reported this month.

The company also recently began offering to fulfil orders offered for sale on select retailers’ own websites, an initiative Amazon calls “Buy with Prime”.

Amazon had historically relied on third parties such as the US Postal Service and UPS for “last mile” trips from its warehouses to shoppers’ homes. The company started building its own delivery capacity with Flex, which launched in 2015.

Four years later, Amazon started the Delivery Service Partner programme, which relies on contractors to deliver packages in blue Prime-branded vans. Today, Amazon handles most of its own deliveries in the US.

Updated: May 21, 2022, 5:00 AM