Amazon, which is racing to deliver packages faster, is turning to its employees with a proposition: Quit your job and we'll help you start a business delivering Amazon packages.
The offer, announced Monday, comes as Amazon seeks to speed up its shipping time from two days to one for its Prime members. The company sees the new incentive as a way to get more packages delivered to shoppers' doorsteps faster.
Amazon says it will cover up to $10,000 in startup costs for employees who are accepted into the program and leave their jobs. The company says it will also pay them three months' worth of their salary.
The offer is open to most part-time and full-time Amazon employees, including warehouse workers who pack and ship orders. Whole Foods employees are not eligible to receive the new incentives.
Seattle-based Amazon.com Inc. declined to say how many employees it expects to take them up on the offer.
The new employee incentive is part of a program Amazon started a year ago that lets anyone apply to launch an independent Amazon delivery business. It is part of the company's plan to control more of its deliveries on its own, rather than rely on UPS, the post office and other carriers.
Startup costs start at $10,000 and contractors that participate are able to lease blue vans with the Amazon smile logo stamped on the side.
Overall, more than 200 Amazon delivery businesses have been created since it launched the program last June, according to Amazon's vice president of global delivery services John Felton.
One of them is run by Milton Collier - a freight broker who started his business in Atlanta about eight months ago. Since then, it has grown to 120 employees with a fleet of 50 vans that can handle up to 200 delivery stops in a day. It has already been preparing for the one-day shipping switch by hiring more people.
'We're ready,' Collier said.
Meanwhile, Amazon is also rolling out machines to automate the jobs of boxing up customer orders.
The company started adding technology to a handful of warehouses in recent years, which scans goods coming down a conveyor belt and envelopes them seconds later in boxes custom-built for each item.
Amazon has considered installing two machines at dozens more warehouses, removing at least 24 roles at each one, sources told Reuters. These facilities typically employ more than 2,000 people.
The plan, previously unreported, shows how Amazon is pushing to reduce labor and boost profits as automation of the most common warehouse task - picking up an item - is still beyond its reach. The changes are not finalized because vetting technology before a major deployment can take a long time.
'We are piloting this new technology with the goal of increasing safety, speeding up delivery times and adding efficiency across our network,' an Amazon spokeswoman said in a statement.
'We expect the efficiency savings will be re-invested in new services for customers, where new jobs will continue to be created.'
Amazon last month downplayed its automation efforts to press visiting its Baltimore fulfillment center, saying a fully robotic future was far off. Its employee base has grown to become one of the largest in the United States, as the company opened new warehouses and raised wages to attract staff in a tight labor market.
A key to its goal of a leaner workforce is attrition, one of the sources said. Rather than lay off workers, the person said, the world's largest online retailer will one day refrain from refilling packing roles. Those have high turnover because boxing multiple orders per minute over 10 hours is taxing work. At the same time, employees that stay with the company can be trained to take up more technical roles.
The new machines, known as the CartonWrap from Italian firm CMC Srl, pack much faster than humans. They crank out 600 to 700 boxes per hour, or four to five times the rate of a human packer, the sources said. The machines require one person to load customer orders, another to stock cardboard and glue and a technician to fix jams on occasion.
CMC declined to comment.
Though Amazon has announced it intends to speed up shipping across its Prime loyalty program, this latest round of automation is not focused on speed. 'It's truly about efficiency and savings,' one of the people said.
Including other machines known as the 'SmartPac,' which the company rolled out recently to mail items in patented envelopes, Amazon's technology suite will be able to automate a majority of its human packers. Five rows of workers at a facility can turn into two, supplemented by two CMC machines and one SmartPac, the person said.
The company describes this as an effort to 're-purpose' workers, the person said.