Amazon launched a driver promotion the same day he was sued for tip fraud


An Amazon worker pulls a cart of packages for delivery in New York City in July. The promotion that enabled shoppers to tip workers last week maxed out in less than 48 hours.

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An Amazon worker pulls a cart of packages for delivery in New York City in July. The promotion that enabled shoppers to tip workers last week maxed out in less than 48 hours.

Michael M Santiago/Getty Images

An Amazon promotion that allowed customers to tip their delivery driver $5 in less than 48 hours has maxed out thanks to high participation.

But not everyone was enthusiastic about the initiative, which was launched on the same day Amazon was sued for allegedly stealing tips from its drivers in previous years.

Promotion applied only to the first 1,000,000 “Thank you” messages.

In a statement released Dec. 7 announcing the promotion, the e-commerce giant said customers can point their Alexa-enabled devices to “thank my drivers” and the company will convey the gratitude.

The top five drivers with the most “thanks” will earn $10,000 to keep and $10,000 to donate.

“In celebration of this new feature, with every thank you received from customers, drivers will also receive an additional $5, at no cost to the customer,” Amazon said. “We will do this for the first million thanks received.”

Just a day later, Amazon updated the promotion’s FAQ to say that the remainder was over thanks to an “enthusiastic response” that met the 1,000,000 drivers limit.

Customers can still tell Alexa to thank their drivers, and Amazon says it will share feedback, but drivers won’t see a payment.

Amazon has also been sued over previous fraud allegations

Skeptical social media users They were quick to note that the promotion launched the same day Washington, D.C., sued the e-commerce giant, accusing Amazon of stealing tips from its drivers and cheating customers along the way.

The lawsuit centers around the 2015 launch of Amazon Flex, which allows independent contractors to deliver Amazon packages in their own vehicles for $18 to $25 an hour.

The lawsuit claims that at first, Amazon Flex drivers will receive tips, which the checkout process added to customers as a default. But in 2016, the company quietly changed its rules to direct those tips toward paying drivers. In promotional materials, Amazon still assured customers and drivers that “100% of the tips” would go to the drivers, even though the money was, technically, subsidizing the company’s labor costs.

The Federal Trade Commission brought the same claims against Amazon, and in a 2021 settlement, the company agreed to compensate the drivers nearly $62 million. Amazon has also agreed to stick to the original payment model – letting drivers keep 100% of the tips they give – unless management gets express consent from drivers to change the formula.

In the lawsuit, D.C. Attorney General Carl Racine asserted that the company violated the county’s Consumer Protection Action Act. Although Amazon has settled with the Federal Trade Commission, he says the company “evaded appropriate accountability, including civil penalties, for consumer harm.”

Amazon spokeswoman Maria Pochetti told National Public Radio (NPR) that the lawsuit was “baseless.”

“Nothing is more important to us than customer trust,” she said. “This lawsuit includes a practice we changed three years ago […]. All of the customer tips involved have already been paid to the drivers as part of last year’s settlement with the Federal Trade Commission.”


Workers move carts full of packages at an Amazon delivery station on November 28 in Alpharetta, Ga.

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Workers move carts full of packages at an Amazon delivery station on November 28 in Alpharetta, Ga.

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Amazon employees still say the working conditions are inhumane

Amazon has delivered more than 15 billion packages in the United States since its founding in 1994.

For millions of customers, it was the company’s annual subscription service, Prime, that paved the way for strong online shopping habits. For the current cost of $139 per year, US shoppers can get free two-day, sometimes two-hour shipping.

But maintaining Amazon’s delivery speed (and its customers’ comfort expectations) involves a highly automated operating model that, some workers say, is also inhumane.

The company’s last-mile delivery drivers are paid an average of $44,000 annually to deliver approximately 200 or more packages per day.

They say they sometimes urinate into empty water bottles to meet their daily ration. It operates regularly in harsh weather conditions, even on bumpy country roads. And they suffer physically: more than 110 auto injury lawsuits were filed against the company in 2021 alone.

After years of such conditions, workers are fueling the company’s largest ever union payout.

They are matched by documented anti-union practices. Just a few weeks ago, firing an employee who tried to organize prompted a federal judge to issue a cease and desist order against the company.


Pro-union protesters gather for a rally near the home of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos on September 5 in New York City.

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Pro-union protesters gather for a rally near the home of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos on September 5 in New York City.

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There is still an easy way to tip the driver. Some shoppers get creative

Amazon did not respond to a question from NPR if the popularity of the “Thank My Driver” initiative inspired the company to make it easier for customers to tip drivers.

When NPR staff tried to ask Alexa over the Echo speaker to “Guide my driver,” the system replied that “at the moment we can’t guide them.” The company allows in-app tipping for its Amazon Fresh grocery delivery service.

Several startups are reportedly exploring ways to build tipping platforms for Amazon drivers, but testing so far has remained local.

Whether these apps will see widespread adoption is another question. The rough numbers overall appear to have been declining in recent months, perhaps because inflation is picking up or pandemic lockdowns are ending.

However, a growing awareness of the difficulties of a delivery driver is inspiring some customers to get creative.

On the popular reddit forum r/Amazon/DSSPDrivers, bikers regularly post pictures of families leaving gift carts behind during the holiday season, packed with packaged snacks, soda, and handwritten thank-you notes.

“I love people who care!” One person wrote in the comments a particularly festive carriage. “It makes pimples on pimples feel better.”

Another added: “Customers care more than the company.”

Amazon is among NPR’s financial backers and also distributes certain NPR content.


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