Buying and returning on Amazon may seem extremely easy, but that simplicity comes at a cost.
Amazon has more than 115,000 drivers working under independent small businesses – Delivery Service Partners, or DSPs – who deliver Prime packages to doorsteps with one-day shipping. This is a large part of how Amazon delivers packages so quickly. CNBC talked to current and former Amazon DSP drivers about the pressures of the job. From urinating in bottles to running stop signs, routes that lead drivers to run across traffic, dog bites and cameras recording inside vans at all times – some of the 115,000 DSP drivers have voiced big concerns.
But once you receive your Amazon order, if there’s any reason you are on happy, more than likely it can be returned. Sending back an online order has never been easier. It’s often free for the customer, with some retailers even allowing customers to keep the item while offering a full refund. Amazon returns can be dropped off at Kohl’s, UPS or Whole Foods without boxing it up or even printing a label.
But there’s a darker side to the record number of returns flooding warehouses after the holidays.
“From all those returns, there’s now nearly 6 billion pounds of landfill waste generated a year and 16 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions as well,” said Tobin Moore, CEO of returns solution provider Optoro. “That’s the equivalent of the waste produced by 3.3 million Americans in a year.”
Moore says online purchases are at least three times more likely to be returned than items bought in a store. In 2021, a record $761 billion of merchandise was returned, according to estimates in a new report from the National Retail Federation. That report says 10.3% of those returns were fraudulent. Meanwhile, Amazon third-party sellers told CNBC they end up throwing away about a third of returned items.
At the head of the pack, Amazon has received mounting criticism over the destruction of millions of items. Now the e-commerce giant says it’s “working toward a goal of zero product disposal.” Last year, it launched new programs to give sellers like Clausen new options to resell returns, or send them to be auctioned off on the liquidation market.
This record number of online returns has created a booming $644 billion liquidation market. As supply chain backlogs cause shortages of new goods and Gen Z shoppers demand more sustainable retail options, pain points for one sector of retail are big business for another.
The nation’s only major public liquidator, Liquidity Services, resells unclaimed mail, items left at TSA checkpoints, and outdated military vehicles. It also refurbishes highly sought after electronics, from noise-canceling headphones to the machines that make microchips.
CNBC takes you on an exclusive tour inside a Liquidity Services returns warehouse outside Dallas, Texas, where unwanted goods from Amazon and Target are stacked to the ceiling before being resold on Liquidation.com or a variety of other marketplaces.
For now, most of these exits seem to be temporary, but just in case brands like McDonald’s, Adidas, and Netflix are looking to cut off ties for good, Czech art director Václav Kudelka has designed some potential logos to make things more… official-looking.
The amusing, pun-filled project imagines household names saying dasvidaniya (that’s bye) to the nation via their logos as pressures intensify and supply chain issues arise.
Cheeky visual references of escape lighten up the mood, from a bird flying out of the “Unileaver” symbol, to the “Adios” logo reflecting a downward trend and a figure locating the exit sign in “FedExit.”
With all the heavy news out there, you deserve a giggle. Head below for some humorous branding wordplays that are pootin’ all those bad vibes, and be sure to pop over to Kudelka’s portfolio to check out more of his projects.
In this clip, John Salley and Vlad discuss the issue of homelessness from a few different angles before focusing the conversation around automation, AI, and the potential widespread joblessness in the future. The two ultimately agreed to disagree about their respective positions.
Amazon has more than 115,000 drivers working under independent small businesses – Delivery Service Partners, or DSPs – who deliver Prime packages to doorsteps with one-day shipping. We talked to current and former Amazon DSP drivers about the pressures of the job. From urinating in bottles to running stop signs, routes that lead drivers to run across traffic, dog bites and cameras recording inside vans at all times – some of the 115,000 DSP drivers have voiced big concerns.
If employees actually had to pee in bottles, Amazon said, “nobody would work for us.” That’s a lie.
In anticipation of Sen. Bernie Sanders’s scheduled trip to Bessemer, Alabama, to support the unionization drive by Amazon workers there, Amazon executive Dave Clark cast the $1 trillion behemoth as “the Bernie Sanders of employers” and taunted: “So if you want to hear about $15 an hour and health care, Senator Sanders will be speaking downtown. But if you would like to make at least $15 an hour and have good health care, Amazon is hiring.”
Rep. Mark Pocan replied via tweet: “Paying workers $15/hr doesn’t make you a progressive workplace when you union-bust & make workers urinate in water bottles,” echoing reports from 2018 that Amazon workers were forced to skip bathroom breaks and pee in bottles. Amazon’s denial was swift: “You don’t really believe the peeing in bottles thing, do you? If that were true, nobody would work for us.”
But Amazon workers with whom I spoke said that the practice was so widespread due to pressure to meet quotas that managers frequently referenced it during meetings and in formal policy documents and emails, which were provided to The Intercept. The practice, these documents show, was known to management, which identified it as a recurring infraction but did nothing to ease the pressure that caused it. In some cases, employees even defecated in bags.
Amazon did not provide a statement to The Intercept before publication.
One document from January, marked “Amazon Confidential,” details various infractions by Amazon employees, including “public urination” and “public defecation.” The document was provided to The Intercept by an Amazon employee in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, who, like most of the employees I talked to, was granted anonymity to avoid professional reprisal.
The employee also provided an email sent by an Amazon logistics area manager last May that chastised employees for defecating into bags. “This evening, an associate discovered human feces in an Amazon bag that was returned to station by a driver. This is the 3rd occasion in the last 2 months when bags have been returned to station with poop inside. We understand that DA’s [driver associates] may have emergencies while on-road, and especially during Covid, DAs have struggled to find bathrooms while delivering.”
“We’ve noticed an uptick recently of all kinds of unsanitary garbage being left inside bags: used masks, gloves, bottles of urine,” the email continues. “By scanning the QR code on the bag, we can easily identify the DA who was in possession of the bag last. These behaviors are unacceptable, and will result in Tier 1 Infractions going forward. Please communicate this message to your drivers. I know if may seem obvious, or like something you shouldn’t need to coach, but please be explicit when communicating the message that they CANNOT poop, or leave bottles of urine inside bags.”
Halie Marie Brown, a 26-year-old resident of Manteca, California, who worked as a delivery driver for an Amazon delivery contractor, Soon Express, until quitting on March 12, told The Intercept that the practice “happens because we are literally implicitly forced to do so, otherwise we will end up losing our jobs for too many ‘undelivered packages.’”
An email that Brown received from her manager this past August has a section titled “Urine bottle” and states: “In the morning, you must check your van thoroughly for garbage and urine bottle. If you find urine bottle (s) please report to your lead, supporting staff or me. Vans will be inspected by Amazon during debrief, if urine bottle (s) are found, you will be issue an infraction tier 1 for immediate offboarding.”
While Amazon technically prohibits the practice — documents characterize it as a “Tier 1” infraction, which employees say can lead to termination — drivers said that this was disingenuous since they can’t meet their quotas otherwise. “They give us 30 minutes of paid breaks, but you will not finish your work if you take it, no matter how fast you are,” one Amazon delivery employee based in Massachusetts told me.
Asked if management eased up on the quotas in light of the practice, Brown said, “Not at all. In fact, over the course of my time there, our package and stop counts actually increased substantially.”
This has gotten even more intense, employees say, as Amazon has seen an enormous boom in package orders during the coronavirus pandemic. Amazon employees said their performance is monitored so closely by the firm’s vast employee surveillance arsenal that they are constantly in fear of falling short of their productivity quotas.
One email, provided to The Intercept by a Houston-based driver associate who works for an Amazon contractor, alludes to company cameras that can find workers who leave urine bottles behind in the vans. “Data from these cameras can be sent to Amazon in the event of any incident on the road. (We have had several bad accidents, a stolen van, drivers leaving piss bottles etc in the vans).”
The employee said, “Every single day of my shift, I have to use the restroom in a bottle to finish my route on time. This is so common that you’ll often find bottles from other drivers located under seats in the vans. … The fact that Amazon would tweet that is hilarious.”
Public reports that Amazon employees skipped bathroom breaks originated in a 2018 book by the British journalist James Bloodworth. That book, “Hired: Six Months Undercover in Low-Wage Britain,” alleged that Amazon workers at a warehouse in Staffordshire, U.K., resorted to urinating in bottles in order to meet production quotas. While most of the employees I spoke to were drivers who delivered products, workers said the practice was commonplace in factories as well.
The vote by Amazon warehouse workers in Alabama on whether to unionize has become a flashpoint for organized labor. While Amazon has publicly criticized Sanders, he is far from the only prominent politician to voice support for the employees’ right to form a union. Last month, President Joe Biden released a video statement saying, “Every worker should have a free and fair choice to join a union,” which “should be made without intimidation or threats by employers.”
The election, which ends on March 29, would determine if the more than 5,000 warehouse workers will join the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union. None of Amazon’s 800,000 employees in the U.S. are currently unionized.
Instacart started as a grocery delivery service. But it’s increasingly moving into delivering office supplies, sporting goods, televisions, makeup and drug store essentials.
Its latest move: Instacart announced a partnership with Walgreens (WBA) Tuesday for same-day delivery on over-the-counter medications, beauty items and other drug store purchases. The partnership will start in Illinois and expand across the United States in the coming weeks to nearly 8,000 Walgreens stores.
The tie-up is happening as online shopping accelerates during the pandemic, and both Instacart and Walgreens are looking for ways to reach new customers.
Instacart is competing against Amazon (AMZN) and other delivery platforms like Postmates, DoorDash and Shipt, which is owned by Target. Teaming up with Walgreens helps Instacart continue to try to become an alternative to Amazon.
“Adding another big retail name to its roster is a win for Instacart,” Neil Saunders, managing director at GlobalData Retail, said in an email. “Given Walgreens’ massive store footprint, this expands choice for a lot of Instacart users.”
Instacart mainly uses independent contract workers, not its own employees, to deliver orders, and its contract workers will shop for the items at Walgreens stores and then deliver them.
Since the pandemic began in March, Instacart has added hundreds of thousands of new contract workers. The company has also struck partnerships since then with Best Buy (BBY), Dick’s Sporting Goods (DKS), Sephora and Staples as it seeks to deliver a wider range of goods from top retailers. In August, Instacart partnered with Walmart (WMT), one of Amazon’s biggest competitors, to deliver groceries, home decor and electronics items.
CEO Apoorva Mehta told CNN Business in 2019 that an IPO for Instacart is “on the horizon,” and Instacart was valued at $17.7 billion in its latest round of funding in October.
In addition to the Instacart partnership, Walgreens offers delivery through Postmates and DoorDash and curbside pickup on online orders.
Drug stores have been focused on being local and convenient options for customers to grab essential items, but the rise of online shopping and home delivery has threatened that position, said Saunders. “Being on a platform like Instacart helps to remedy the weakness.” And since Walgreens does not have a delivery infrastructure of its own, it is partnering with companies that do, he said.
This is the unemployment rate during the COVID-19 pandemic. And this is Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ net worth during that same time span. From March to June 2020, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos saw his wealth rise by an estimated $48 billion. The founder of the video-conferencing platform Zoom grew his nest egg by over $2.5 billion, and former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer’s net worth increased by $15.7 billion.
These kinds of examples might lead you to think that when billionaires profit during a crisis, it’s just a matter of right place, right time. Well, that’s not false, but it’s not entirely true either. Casino magnate Sheldon Adelson saw his wealth increase by $5 billion, while Elon Musk saw an increase of $17.2 billion. When you add up the numbers, billionaires in the United States have increased their total net worth $637 billion during the COVID-19 pandemic so far.
At the same time, more than 40 million Americans filed for unemployment. With tens of millions of Americans out of a paycheck and the stock market plummeting by 37% in March, how is it that the rich have continued getting richer?
This isn’t the first time billionaires have seen gains while a large portion of Americans were feeling losses. When the housing bubble burst in 2007, home prices fell 21% and roughly 3.1 million homes were foreclosed on in the United States. The stock market plummeted by over 50%. And by the end of 2009, 8.8 million Americans had lost their jobs. And the effects lingered. From 2009 to 2012, the incomes of the bottom 99% grew by only 0.4%, but the income of the top 1% grew by a staggering 31.4% in the same time span. And it all ties back to two things.
First, the government disproportionately gave more aid to banks and corporations. In 2008, the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act was signed into law, creating a $700 billion program to purchase devalued assets from banks. This was called the Troubled Asset Relief Program, or TARP. Later, President Obama would direct $75 billion in funds from TARP to help reduce interest payments for homeowners. That means homeowners received around 10% of the direct relief that banks and corporations did.
And this leads to reason No. 2. When the stock market bounced back, the unequal bailouts meant that the wealthy still had money on hand to invest and thus profit, while the middle and lower classes did not. In 2008, the Federal Reserve lowered short-term interest rates to near zero. They would remain that low for nearly a decade. This paved the way for a historic bull market on Wall Street that began in 2009 and lasted until March 2020, when the pandemic hit.
In that time, the S&P 500 gained 462%. That means that a $1,000 investment in the S&P 500 at the low point of the financial crisis could have returned roughly $4,620, while someone who could afford a $1 million investment could have pulled in over $4.6 million.
By 2009, the world’s high-net-worth individuals had grown their share of global wealth by 19% to $39 trillion, recouping nearly all of their losses in a single year. That quick recovery and larger share of the world’s wealth enabled them to continue to make money at an exponential rate. In fact, the top 1% captured 95% of the income gains made from 2009 to 2012. And by 2020, the combined wealth of the billionaire class in the United States had increased by over 80%.
Which brings us back to the moment when the coronavirus pandemic rocked the economy. In 2019, the Fed reported that four in 10 Americans didn’t have enough cash in their bank accounts to cover a $400 unexpected expense. And in the first few months of 2020, 40 million Americans found themselves unemployed due to COVID-19. Many small businesses had to close due to lockdowns and social distancing, while others were forced to try to operate with entirely remote staff.
The Small Business Administration made $349 billion available to small businesses with the Paycheck Protection Program. But like in 2008, $243 million of that was snapped up by large, publicly traded corporations, some of which were valued at over $100 million. Even hedge funds submitted claims to try to tap into what they saw as free money.
On March 16, 2020, just five days after COVID-19 was declared a pandemic, the Dow suffered the worst single-day points drop in its history. But by June 4, seven of the world’s richest people had seen their fortunes increase by over 50%. Part of what made this possible was a stock-market rebound fueled both by the Paycheck Protection Program and actions by the Fed. Again, the Fed lowered short-term interest rates for banks to near 0%, and as before, they have promised to hold those rates low until the economy is on track.
This is a cycle that has happened time and time again. During the earthquake in Haiti in 2010, only 2.5% of the $195 million of relief funds went to Haitian companies. Much of the rest was awarded to DC-based construction companies. And when Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans in 2005, real-estate developer Joseph Canizaro said the clearing out caused by Katrina represented some “very big opportunities.” Canizaro was selected as part of a panel to develop the Bring New Orleans Back plan, part of which put a stop on reconstruction of low-income neighborhoods until the residents returned. Of course, residents couldn’t return to their destroyed homes, and many were foreclosed on, paving the way for others to buy those properties and develop them.
When the time did come to rebuild New Orleans, the engineering and construction company KBR received no-bid contracts from the federal government for tens of millions of dollars. KBR received $31 billion in contracts from the government between 2001 and 2010. Vice President Dick Cheney served as CEO of KBR’s parent company, Halliburton, for the five years leading up to his two terms in office.
Combined with their immense investing and purchasing power, billionaires have had government resources in addition to their own resources to profit from during economic upheavals. And wealth-friendly tax laws and loopholes then keep those billionaires at the top. Legal structures such as limited liability companies protect personal assets from being repossessed to pay the debts from business downturns. As it’s set up today, IRS rules allowed Amazon to pay $0 in taxes two years in a row. When its bill finally came due in 2019, it paid just $162 million, a measly 1.2% of the company’s income that year.
And it’s not just Amazon. Taxes paid by billionaires have decreased 79% since 1980. And those are just the legal avenues that the wealthy take to avoid paying taxes. In 2017, researchers estimated that about 10% of the world’s GDP was stashed in offshore tax havens. A study in 2012 found that as much as $32 trillion was being held offshore by the world’s wealthiest people.
So, after reviewing all this, what can be done to help level the playing field? A recent report by the Institute for Policy Studies lays out several action items. It suggests forming a pandemic profiteering oversight committee that would go beyond the oversight of federal stimulus money. It also supports the Corporate Transparency Act, which would create stronger regulations to prevent US billionaires from using shell corporations to hide their income. After the House passed the bill in 2019, it was introduced in the Senate but has not been brought to a vote.
Other suggestions include an emergency 10% millionaire income surtax, a stimulus package aimed at funding charities, instituting a wealth tax, and reducing the amount allowed by the gift and estate tax. Last, and perhaps most importantly, the report underscores the need to shut down the global hidden-wealth economy. The US alone is estimated to lose nearly $200 billion in tax revenues to offshore havens each year. That’s roughly three times the amount of all the money budgeted for the Department of Education in 2021.
Changes like the ideas above are global in scale and require political cooperation to become reality. If the relationship between wealth and income inequality are ever going to change, it’s going to require all of us.’
AMC locations across the U.S. are renting out entire theaters for moviegoers starting at $99.
Groups up to 20 people can enjoy a private user experience. The price for rental goes upwards to $349 depending on the movie chosen by the group and the theater location, AMC states on their website.
Currently, 34 films are being offered in rental packages. Older releases start at $99 plus tax while newer movies begin at $149.
There are several add-ons that also increase the price for groups, AMC disclosed on their FAQs page. Popcorn and other snacks are not included but can be bought using snack vouchers as the theaters are now cashless.
You can also bring your own food for a catering fee of $250. On condition, AMC doesn’t allow people to bring goodies that they already sell or that require a “heating element.”
Should you want to greet your group with a microphone, that will be another $100 fee.
The newest initiative comes while the theater company tries to recover from the hit it took from shutting down amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Peacock is a new streaming service that makes hundreds of NBC TV shows and Universal films available for free. Comcast, NBCUniversal’s parent company, officially launched free and premium versions of Peacock on July 15, though some Comcast internet and cable customers have had early access to the service since April.
Peacock was intended to launch alongside the 2020 Olympics to provide a live stream for the Summer Games in Tokyo, but the linchpin event has been postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic. Despite the major disruption, NBCUniversal managed to launch Peacock as scheduled.
Peacock has brokered deals for new original series produced by Tina Fey and Kevin Hart, as well as rights to stream classic series like “Law & Order” and “Will and Grace.” “The Office,” a perennial Netflix favorite and one of NBC’s most beloved series, will move to Peacock in January 2021. A new original series adapting the book “Brave New World” has already debuted on Peacock, along with original films, like “Psych 2,” and exclusive documentaries, like Dale Earnhard Jr’s “Lost Speedways.”
Peacock’s library is also full of classic Universal movies, and the streaming service has announced that all eight “Harry Potter” movies will be coming to the platform over the next six months. Other franchises, like “Jurassic Park” and “Fast & Furious,” will be available on a rotating basis as well.
Peacock will also feature live sporting events, like the Premier League and the 2021 Olympics. A number of popular sports radio shows, including “The Dan Patrick Show,” “The Rich Eisen Show,” and “PFT Live with Mike Florio” will also stream exclusively on Peacock.