Peak is here!
It’s the busiest time of year for retailers and Amazon is taking it to the mattresses against its biggest competitors.
Doorbusters from brick & mortar stores will be matched or beaten. Amazon will also have its own sale prices. Holiday shopping accounts for a big percentage of profits so you can bet that Amazon is going to go over the top like it always has.
The difference in Amazon this year is they are putting more faith in their last mile delivery partners than the previous year. Many DCs have shifted from their dependence on commercial delivery services to Amazon Flex.
This is the Amazon Flex Peak Survival Guide. It’s time to put your game face on and get the job done.
Standard logistics routes will likely be the workhorse of the peak season. In reality, these blocks may not seem too different. You might see more packages at pick up but a similar number of stops and closer together. This means less mileage for your vehicle.
Be prepared to see more multiple addresses at the same delivery. This happens when neighbors order items and they’re delivered on the same route. The navigation will lead you to the first address in the delivery but make sure each package belongs to that address.
This is how packages go missing. Neighbors usually are kind enough to give packages to the correct recipient but do not count on their honesty.
You might also notice packages are a little larger. Amazon does their best to put several items in the same package so if items all come out of the same fulfillment center, they’ll be packaged together. If an item is fulfilled out of different centers, you’ll have multiple packages. Amazon has fulfillment centers everywhere so it’s not uncommon to have three boxes containing items from a customer’s single order.
Keep in mind when doing standard logistics routes, you’ll still see everyday items you’re used to delivering. People still need toilet paper, diapers, and whatever else. Truth is, people order all sorts of day-to-day items from Amazon. Diapers are probably the most common package. So, in addition to ordering regular necessities, you’ll see a higher volume likely containing gifts and other holiday hoopla.
Same Day Deliveries
This is the sort of route where you’ll be likely to see the greatest changes. Amazon offers to Prime members free same-day delivery on orders over $35. For orders under $35, same day delivery is only $5.99 in most cases. Same day routes usually have greater distances between delivery addresses but less packages. That will change for peak.
Same day routes will increase in volume. You may have already seen this in the routes a few days prior to Thanksgiving. A four-hour route that is generally 22 packages spread over 110 miles will be 32 packages spread over 80 miles.
Prime Now and Fresh are not likely to see the differences drivers for logistics will see. The majority of changes for Prime Now will occur over the weekends. People that need certain items but do not want to brave the hustle and bustle of holiday shopping will order from Prime Now or Fresh.
Also, people hosting holiday parties will use Prime Now to order last minute gifts or party necessities. Prime now delivery partners may find themselves approaching homes full of people but you’re the most anticipated arrival.
This is another part of Flex where you probably won’t see much difference. There may be an increase of deliveries on the weekends to housewives tired after a full day of holiday shopping. They just don’t feel like cooking. You also may see more orders delivered to babysitters watching children because the parents are attending holiday parties for their workplaces.
As the holidays approach, you may notice a slight increase as people become busier.
For Prime Now and logistics, you will see an increase in block availability. This is especially true for logistics drivers. If you live in an area where you see several DCs in your available blocks, you’ll find blocks available at all hours of the workday. There will be blocks available during times you’ve never seen them available. Currently, at the Nashville DC we are already seeing 4-hour midday blocks available.
In recent months, some DCs have implemented monthly caps on the number of hours a contractor can work. It is expected that these caps will be removed and you’ll be able to work as may blocks as you want. There is currently no confirmation of this via experience from other Flex drivers but DC management has indicated this is the case. Of course, every DC has their own procedures but there should be plenty of work to go around and dropping the caps for the peak season makes sense.
The stark contrast you might see here is when you finish a block, you may be able to see available blocks that have start times overlapping with your previous block time. Returns also may prove to be of a benefit to you. If you have a package that has been cancelled, refused, or there is not a safe location for the delivery – returning packages to the DC will make it easy to pick up additional hours.
Black Friday/Cyber Monday
Starting early on Black Friday, you will see a large number of blocks available. Blocks will drop constantly throughout the day. The entire time between Friday and the following Wednesday will be loaded with blocks. From this point forward, the trend will be set and what you see in the week following will be similar to the entire peak season.
Amazon will be offering great deals on thousands of items and you’ll find yourself delivering several of the same items to different addresses. Be prepared to see lots of televisions, Instant Pots, and other hot items.
Last year Amazon tried several things to hype up peak season and it’s possible they’ll do the same this year. Since Flex has become more popular and people more eager to participate, you may not see this in such a degree as last year, but it’s likely you’ll see something.
The most likely difference you’ll see will come with increased rates. As the demand increases, so will the pay. It’s simple economics. We provide a service and Amazon is willing to increase pay to motivate independent contractors to act.
Incentives were also offered last year and some DCs can expect to see this as well. The incentives offered were via Amazon gift codes. Each DC had their different methods of distributing these incentives but it will likely be in the form of earning the incentives after a certain number of completed blocks.
Make the Most of Peak
Prepare your Vehicle
If you haven’t done this already, you need to. If you plan taking on peak full force, your vehicle’s maintenance is paramount. Check your tires, if they need attention get them replaced now. Don’t wait until you have a blowout while on a block. Tire issues take time to deal with while on the road and time is money. If you’re stuck on the side of the road, you’re losing money.
You’ll also want to address your battery and alternator health. Not only will you need it to operate your vehicle but you’ll also need it to charge your phone while delivering. This may be a good time to purchase a spare battery or portable charger for your phone so there’s less demand on your vehicle’s battery. If you’re going from delivery to delivery and not running your car for extended periods, it can drain the battery. Your alternator will not be able to keep the charge and again, you’ll be stuck somewhere.
It’s also a good time to get your oil changed, check your fluid levels, and maybe get a tune up. The last thing you need is your car to become inoperable. You’ll lose a lot of money and repairs will be expensive. Having your car out of commission for any length of time during peak is bad for your money-making potential.
On a daily basis, you’ll want to fill your gas tank in the mornings before you travel to your DC. You’ll also want to keep your windows clean and wipers in good condition. This is especially true in climates where it is known to snow.
Comfort in your Vehicle
First of all, you have to realize you’ll be spending a lot of time in your vehicle over the next few weeks. It’s important to make it the most comfortable you can. If there’s something you haven’t been attending to, you’ll need to take care of it ASAP.
Last year, some drivers picked up four or five blocks in a single day. Their first blocks began at 8am and they did not arrive home until after 10pm. Fourteen hours is a long time to spend in your vehicle. If you’re up for that sort of challenge, there are several things you’ll want to do to make it more bearable.
If you’re not the sort to pick up fast food, you’ll want to take snacks and drinks with you. A small cooler with some ice and your favorite beverages won’t take up much room and it’s recommended. Remember, stopping to pick up food takes time and that may mean the difference between picking up another block. Time is your most valuable commodity so every chance you get to save time, use it to the fullest.
Also, if you have any health issues that you might need to tend to while on a route, make sure you’re ready to address it. Your health and safety is your primary responsibility as a self-employed professional. A diabetic may want to carry some candy or their insulin in the event the condition needs to be addressed. If you’re prone to indigestion, carry some antacids. If you know you get headaches, keep pain relief with you on blocks. Never deliver packages if you are in need of pain relief that requires more than what OTC medications can relieve.
Also, if you’re the type that enjoys listening to music or podcasts, determine prior to leaving your home what you’ll listen to for the day. This may seem like a no-brainer but again, 14 hours in your car is a long time and you’ll probably hear the same songs over and over if you listen to the radio. You might want to bring CDs or other electronic devices loaded with music you know you’ll enjoy. You could pick up some podcasts or audiobooks from Audible.com.
Increased rates are likely to become common over peak, especially as the season persists. People will start off ready to run but after a couple weeks they’ll become burnt out and the demand will still be there. Rates will only increase over the course of the peak season. Take advantage of increased rates.
You’ll still get your reserve offers but there is an element of risk with reserves this time of year. Reserves are often offered at regular rates. If you accept the reserve offer, you might find yourself upset that you did when you pick up at the DC and everyone is receiving increased rates and you’re stuck at the regular rate. When you accept reserve offers, you are agreeing to perform that block at that rate and no adjustments will be made.
I don’t want to recommend that you decline regular rate offers, but it may be to your advantage to do so. Just make sure you understand that every driver is in competition with you over accepting blocks, if you miss the increased rate blocks dropped on an “as-needed” basis – you’re out of luck. You’re taking a chance when declining guaranteed work.
Increased rates are always DC dependent. Some DC’s standard rates are more than others and each DC has control of the rates they offer.
If increased rates aren’t enough to motivate you then Amazon may attempt to motivate you through incentives. This has happened in the past but it’s uncertain if it will happen this year. Last year gift cards were offered to Flex drivers under different circumstances. Some were peak demand related and other incentives were offered in response to poor weather conditions.
So far, the only incentive introduced so far is daily drawings for Amazon Echo devices. To be entered into the drawings for that day, just complete a block without any late deliveries.
Differences in Deliveries
It wouldn’t be peak without holiday shopping. Amazon is a fierce competitor in the holiday shopping market. There will be a large majority of packages you deliver containing gifts. In many cases, these gifts will be more valuable than regular packages you deliver. You’ll see a lot of electronics and toys come through. In some cases, the delivery label will be slapped directly on the box so anyone will be able to see what it is you are delivering.
With the increase of valuable items being delivered, so will there be an increase of theft. Porch pirates will be out doing their thing starting Black Friday and will keep going until peak ends. Your good judgment is the best weapon you have against these scoundrels. The advice is the same, be aware of your surroundings and leave packages out of view of would-be thieves. Not even bad weather can deter these people. For them, it’s a business.
There are a few extra things you can do to combat this issue and still successfully deliver packages. You will need to be creative in hiding packages. First of all, you’ll want to deliver to the back door on a more frequent basis as long as it’s easily accessible. If you see a truck parked in the driveway, leave the package in the back of the truck. If you do that, make sure to leave a note in the on the windshield and in the app.
One trick I have used in the past is using trash bags. I purchase regular trash bags and put packages in them. I tie the bag like any trash bag and then I set the bag next to the front door. Unless a thief sees me deliver the trash bag, as far as they know the bag is full of trash. When I take the picture, I take the picture of the trash bag and leave a note in the app that the package is in the trash bag. I’ve delivered packages many times like this in shady areas and never had a package reported missing from those blocks.
One thing I always make sure of is to deliver to an adult or gain their permission to give a package to a child. This time of year, you could be delivering a package containing a much desired gift for a child. If the label is slapped directly on the box containing the item, a child could easily see their gift from Santa. This will leave a parent scrambling to make up a story or the delivery could upset a child. Your behavior in these circumstances could end up with an angry call to Amazon with a complaint against you.
If you’re delivering a package and the contents are easily identified, you may want to assess things before you make the delivery. If you know the child is likely to be present when the delivery is made, you might want to approach the door without the package and knock. When the parent comes to the door, make sure it is safe to deliver. If it is not, the parent will be happy to come to your vehicle to receive the package so they can hide it away from their children. They may even tip you, it’s not unheard of but not expected.
There’s something about this time of year. People are friendlier and generous. They may also be a little stressed out. This is your chance to shine. When people are happy, they are more likely to tip.
It’s unusual for logistics drivers to receive tips but recent reports have indicated customers are able to track the delivery driver via GPS while on their way to the location. If customers know you are on your way, they are likely to meet you at the door. This is your chance to provide top-notch customer service. If you manage to make life easier for a stressed-out housewife or a busy professional, it’s not a surprise that they tip you and tip you well. If there is any best chance for a tip, this time of year is it.
Some people go over the top with holiday decorations. You may enter a neighborhood where somebody has their home’s decorations computerized to music. Traffic near these homes can be a pain. If you know they exist, try to find a way around them. Occasionally, you’ll be unable to avoid them. You may have a package for a neighbor or even a package for the home itself.
Decorations are pretty to look at. I keep a list of beautiful displays and share them with anyone who asks. I’ll take pictures and post them on social media. Delivering to these homes, however, have certain logistical challenges. Often, there are electrical cords all over the place. If you’re not mindful, you could trip and be injured. This would warrant a claim against the customer’s homeowners insurance.
In addition, you may accidently cause damage to holiday displays and customer could call Amazon and complain. Amazon’s insurance would have to pay for the damages caused. You could argue that it was the customer’s negligence that caused the damage in the first place and you’d likely be right but the damage would already be done. You’d win your claim against the homeowner’s insurance but end up deactivated. So, when walking through decorations, it’s best to be mindful of wires so you don’t end up in a wrestling match with a giant inflatable snowman. It won’t end well for either of you.
This year, peak is 35 days long. It’s easy to get burnt out. Make sure you take time for yourself over the next few weeks. At some point, you’ll be ready to throw in the towel, but there’s money to be made and packages to deliver.
Before you know it, peak will be over and you’ll find yourself with nothing to do. January is notoriously slow for any retail outlet. Blocks won’t be readily available and you may not even receive reserves. If you received reserves, be sure to take them.
If you are not participating in other Rideshare gigs, this is the time you may want to pick up another gig. The difference in income from Flex in January will be a dramatic and you’ll need to make up for that. Uber, Postmates, and Shipt are all good gigs whose demand isn’t likely to change all that much.
Flex probably won’t pick up again until early to mid February, when tax time comes. Despite that increase, it still won’t compare to the craziness associated with peak. Enjoy the extra income while you can.