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September 15, 2020 11:00 AM, EDT

Amazon Looks to Use More Contractors for Grocery Delivery

Amazon will experiment with a program that pays independent contractors to fetch groceries.A shopping cart filled with Amazon Prime grocery bags sits outside a Whole Foods store in Washington on March 31. (Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg News)

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Amazon.com Inc. is experimenting with a new program that pays independent contractors to fetch groceries from shelves in Whole Foods stores and deliver them in their own vehicles.

The move may reduce the online retail giant’s reliance on employees who are eligible for medical insurance, sick pay and other benefits.

Amazon is encouraging Flex drivers — contractors who make deliveries in their own cars — to try the new program. They currently drive groceries to customers’ homes, while the products are gathered and bagged in stores by Amazon employees. The test will require Flex drivers to do the picking and packing, too, according to correspondence reviewed by Bloomberg.

RELATED: Amazon's Whole Foods Opens Delivery-Only Facility in Brooklyn

The program also gives the company flexibility to adjust to spikes in demand since it can summon more Flex drivers for individual jobs quicker than it can hire and train new employees.

Amazon did not immediately respond to requests for comment. On a website describing the new Shop and Deliver program, the company said it will provide Flex drivers “with a new flexible earnings opportunity.”

Demand for gig-economy roles has increased as millions of people lose full-time jobs in the pandemic-fueled recession. Use of ride-hailing apps such as Uber and Lyft is down, which has pushed many drivers to seek work delivering online orders from stores and restaurants.

Amazon also announced plans on Sept. 14 to hire 100,000 workers to meet a surge in online shopping tied to the pandemic. Amazon had 876,800 employees at the end of June.

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