Tech

Amazon rolls out rewards program that makes it easier for drivers to get work

Key Points
  • Amazon is in the early stages of launching a rewards program for its legions of contracted Flex delivery drivers.
  • Among the long list of perks, the program will allow drivers to reserve shifts based on their preferred delivery station, day of the week and time of day.
  • Drivers typically have seconds to claim shifts in the Flex app and certain shifts are in high demand.
Amazon Flex Driver
CNBC | Katie Schoolov

Amazon is launching a rewards program for its legions of Flex delivery drivers that gives them a leg up when it comes to the app's competitive shift selection process.

The company quietly added a section to the Flex website and an app on Apple's App Store that advertise the program, called Amazon Flex Rewards. The rewards program offers drivers a number of perks, including access to a debit card and the ability to reserve customized delivery shifts. 

"Amazon Flex Rewards is a program exclusively for Amazon Flex delivery partners to thank you for all the work you do," the website states. "With Amazon Flex Rewards, you can earn cash back with the Amazon Flex Debit Card, enjoy Preferred Scheduling and access thousands of discounts as well as tools to navigate things like insurance and taxes."

An Amazon spokesperson confirmed to CNBC that it's in the early stages of rolling out the Flex Rewards program to all drivers in the U.S. 

Amazon Flex operates similarly to Uber, in that contracted delivery drivers pick up shifts on demand to deliver Amazon packages or Whole Foods orders to customers' doorsteps. Since its launch in 2015, the service has grown to operate in more than 50 cities across the U.S. 

After drivers sign up for the rewards program, they earn points for each delivery they complete. Drivers earn more points depending on their overall standing in the app, which takes into account metrics like on-time delivery rates and delivery completions. 

As drivers earn more points, they're able to "level up" and access new perks, like cash-back rewards on purchases made with the Flex Debit Card, a new debit card exclusively for contracted delivery drivers that's linked to a no-fee banking account provided by online bank Green Dot. 

Amazon is launching a rewards program for Flex drivers, which includes access to the Flex Debit Card.

For example, they can earn up to 6% cash back on fuel purchases and 2% on amazon.com and Whole Foods Market purchases. The fuel discounts should be a helpful perk for Flexers, who use their own cars to make deliveries and are responsible for costs like gas and tolls.

A tool to increase loyalty

The "preferred scheduling" feature is likely to ease some of the stress that comes with nabbing a shift. It could also encourage Flex drivers to spend more of their time working for Amazon, rather than other competing platforms like Uber, Instacart or Lyft.

Like other app-based work, drivers use the Flex app to schedule and sign up for shifts, known as "blocks," which typically range from three to six hours. After they log in, drivers have to repeatedly tap a refresh button until blocks appear on the screen.

The "preferred scheduling" feature will give drivers in the rewards program a greater advantage in the shift selection process. Once drivers accrue 650 points, they're able to reserve shifts that are tailored to their preferred delivery station, day of the week and time of day. 

When a shift pops up in the Flex app, drivers typically have a few seconds to swipe on the block and tap "Accept," but with the rewards program, they can secure up to 30 minutes of extra time to accept a reserved shift.

The Flex shift selection process is notoriously competitive. Workers only have a few seconds to claim a shift before it's taken, and some drivers have come to rely on bots to secure blocks faster. 

The "preferred scheduling" feature lets drivers reserve shifts customized on their preference.

Drivers may use the "preferred scheduling" feature to grab Whole Foods, Prime Now and AmazonFresh orders before their competitors can. These blocks are considered more valuable than other jobs because customers can add a tip to their order, unlike package deliveries.

By launching rewards like these, Amazon could be looking to incentivize more drivers to work for Flex. It's common for gig workers to use more than one app each day as a strategy to maximize their earnings.

For example, if drivers must complete more Flex deliveries to earn points, they might spend less time completing trips for Uber or picking up Instacart shifts.

"It does seem like a system to get workers to be skilled and dedicate more time to the job, without treating them as employees," said Erin Hatton, an associate professor of sociology and labor expert at the University of Buffalo.

Uber and Lyft already offer their drivers access to debit cards with cash back rewards and other features, like "instant pay" services that let them access their earnings in real time. Pay advance services have become increasingly popular in the gig economy as many workers in the industry struggle to make ends meet. Amazon's Flex Debit Card doesn't offer drivers advanced pay services, however.

Scott Dueringer, a driver for Flex, Lyft and other gig services in Florida, said he uses the Lyft Direct debit card to take advantage of cash back rewards and the instant pay service.

Dueringer said he'd likely "take a look" at the Flex Debit Card once it becomes available, since the Lyft card has helped him categorize some of the expenses involved with being an independent contractor.

"I look at the rewards as just a little extra income," he added.

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