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Pandemic is shifting how consumers use gig companies

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NEW YORK — When ride-hailing heavyweights Uber and Lyft and delivery giants Grubhub and Instacart began making shared rides and meals available with a few taps on a smartphone, they transformed the way people work, travel and get food delivered to their homes.

But the pandemic shuffled the deck for the so-called gig economy as fear of contracting the coronavirus led many who once traveled in shared vehicles to stay home, and grocery delivery services struggled to keep up with demand from people who didn’t want to risk stepping into a store.

A new survey from the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy and The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research shows how consumer attitudes about using ride-hailing and delivery services have changed. It also highlights a wealth divide, where Americans with higher incomes are able to utilize the services to help reduce their risk of infection.

“People are worried. We know that,” said Dmitri Koustas, an assistant professor at the University of Chicago Harris School. “They’re worried about themselves and their families, and they’re concerned about the virus, and they’re also worried about workers.”

Among the people who used ride-hailing before the crisis, 63 percent said they have not taken a ride since March. At the same time, people with higher household incomes had more groceries delivered to their homes.

Those with household incomes about $100,00 a year were roughly twice as likely to have increased their use of grocery delivery services than those in households earning less, the survey found. Overall, the percentage of people using delivery services remained about the same since the pandemic began, with those increasing their use balanced out by those cutting back, in some cases because of cost.

Saori Okawa

Instacart worker Saori Okawa loads groceries into her car for home delivery in San Leandro, Calif. on July 1. Okawa is one of an estimated 1.5 million so-called gig workers who make a living driving people to airports, picking out produce at grocery stores or providing child care for working parents. AP Photo/Ben Margot

In Auburn, New York, few grocery stores offer delivery, and those that do are more expensive, said Patricia McAvaney, 49, who is disabled and living on a fixed income of $920 a month. She’s not comfortable going to the grocery store, but feels she has no choice.

“I’m on a budget, so it’s really not feasible to get everything delivered from that store,” McAvaney said.

Many Americans have been uncomfortable with delivery services during the pandemic. About 6 in 10 say they are very comfortable picking up food from a restaurant, compared with about 3 in 10 using delivery. Roughly another 3 in 10 said they are uncomfortable getting food delivered.

George Hunter, a 60-year-old antique dealer in Kent, Washington, said he went out to restaurants three or four times per week before the pandemic. But he’d rather cook his own food than order in, and he prefers to pick his own produce at the store.

“I did a lot of my appointments in restaurants, and it was a treat, to go out and have somebody bring me coffee and do the dishes,” Hunter said. “It’s no longer a treat. I’m in the house. It doesn’t make sense to me.”

A majority – 54 percent – said they feel uncomfortable using a ride-hailing service during the coronavirus outbreak, preferring their own cars for travel. A similar percentage were uncomfortable with taxis, public transportation and air travel, suggesting people are shying away from all forms of transportation where they share space with others.

Thomas Sorenson, a 63-year-old handyman, used ride-hailing when he went out with friends before the pandemic. But they no longer get together, and he takes care of his elderly mother, so wouldn’t risk infection by using ride-hailing services.

Karena Mazur Israel, 52, said she would be more comfortable riding in long vehicles such as buses, station wagons or limousines.

“On the bus, if you’re feeling like you can’t socially distance, you can get off of the bus and transfer, and wait until the next bus to come around,” she said.

The changing sentiments on ride-hailing and delivery are reflected in recent earnings for companies in those spaces.

Uber and Lyft lost a combined $2.2 billion in the second quarter as people shied away from their services. Bookings in Uber’s mobility business declined 73 percent and the company laid off a quarter of its workforce. Uber’s food delivery business more than doubled its revenue compared to last year, but it didn’t turn a profit. In April, Lyft’s rides were down 75 percent compared to the same time last year, and the company said it was laying off 17 percent of its workforce.

Grubhub’s average daily orders jumped 32 percent in the second quarter as diners ordered in, but it lost money as it spent heavily to prop up struggling restaurants and protect drivers.

The survey also weighed concerns for gig workers. Democrats were more likely than Republicans to express a lack of confidence in safe working conditions for ride-hailing and delivery drivers. Overall, 35 percent of Americans favored government regulations to increase wages and benefits for drivers.

Support grew somewhat – to 42 percent – if the cost of services were to increase 5 percent to ensure better benefits and wages for gig workers. But support dropped to 22 percent if it would lead to a 25 percent increase in the cost of such services.

Mazur, a stay-at-home mom who says her household income is around $150,000, said she would be willing to pay a few dollars more. “I used to waitress and I used to do these kinds of jobs, so I definitely feel for the workers,” she said.

Hunter, the conservative antique dealer who makes about $60,000 to $70,000 a year, would not.

“If the companies don’t pay enough money, people will leave,” Hunter said. “And if you keep artificially paying people higher wages, it shows up in your economics.”

The AP-NORC poll of 1,002 adults was conducted July 16-20 using a sample drawn from NORC’s probability-based AmeriSpeak Panel, which is designed to be representative of the U.S. population. The margin of sampling error for all respondents is plus or minus 4.3 percentage points.


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Amazon looks for gig workers to pick up and deliver orders at Whole Foods

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Photo (c) Andrei Stanescu – Getty Images

With the gig economy continuing to grow but the COVID-19 pandemic cutting into wages, gig workers looking for work might want to pay Whole Foods a visit. Amazon is now recruiting contract workers to both shop for and deliver groceries for Whole Foods Market customers who order their groceries online.

According to a Bloomberg report, drivers can easily sign up for the Shop and Deliver program by simply reviewing an online tutorial about how Whole Foods products are picked, packed, and handled, as well as scoring a passing grade on a quiz.

Until now, Whole Foods relied on its own employees to assemble online orders, but the program model is akin to Amazon Flex, an initiative the company rolled out several years ago that relies on independent contractors to deliver packages. 

Inherent issues

From its catbird seat, various grocery industry watchers raised questions about Amazon’s move. 

“By entrusting gig workers to put orders together for Whole Foods customers, Amazon is potentially increasing the risk that items could be damaged, spoiled or delivered late that is inherent in grocery e-commerce,” GroceryDive’s Sam Silverstein wrote.

Another question raised was that while delivery service is an easy thing to learn, in-store tasks like picking aren’t.

“Delivery from A to B is a beautiful on-demand task because it’s very straightforward, very repeatable and you don’t need a lot of training, [but] tasks in stores are often much more complicated,” Jordan Berke, a former Walmart executive and e-commerce expert who runs Tomorrow Retail Consulting, told GroceryDive.

“A person that comes to your store once a day or once every two days to pick two orders is always learning, while a person that picks 50 orders five days a week” has a better opportunity to become familiar with the lay of the land inside a grocery store, and is more likely to know where items are located and how they should be handled.

Potential good news for consumers

Online grocery shopping is growing in leaps and bounds. The segment is expected to grow from about $38 million in 2018 to nearly $60 billion by 2023. Amazon and Walmart are in a pretty secure place for the moment — and keep upping the ante — but more and more companies are trying to elbow their way in like Uber and DoorDash. The upside for consumers is that companies are constantly trying to find ways to keep prices as low as possible. 

“They’re always going to look for ways to keep their cost of service as low as possible, and always look for ways to be super responsive in fulfilling customer demand,” Tom Furphy, former Amazon vice president of consumables and Amazon Fresh, told GroceryDive. 

“Those are three constants that will always exist as long as Amazon’s around, and they will absolutely look to deliver on that in the grocery environment.



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Iberdrola and GIG in 3.3GW offshore wind push in Japan

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Iberdrola has acquired local developer Acacia Renewables and entered into a joint venture with Macquarie’s Green Investment Group (GIG) to develop its 3.3GW offshore wind portfolio.

Prior to the acquisition, Acacia was Macquarie Capital’s Japanese renewable energy platform, according to its website.

Acacia’s portfolio includes two projects with a combined capacity of 1.2GW at a more advanced stage, and a further four with a combined capacity of 2.1GW.

Spanish energy giant Iberdrola and the GIG aim to enter the first 1.2GW batch of wind farms – located off the south-west coast of Japan – in upcoming auctions announced by the Japanese government.

These first two projects could be commissioned by 2028, Iberdrola claimed.

The company said it has set its sights on Japan as a “new growth platform” in renewables, and offshore wind in particularly.

Iberdrola has stakes in operational offshore wind farms worldwide with a combined capacity of just over 1GW, while GIG has backed operational offshore wind projects with a combined capacity of just under 1.3GW, according to Windpower Intelligence, the research and data division of Windpower Monthly

The two companies will both take charge of developing Acacia’s projects.

Acacia had issued public notices of Environmental Impact Assessments for the six sites. These are wind farms called Satsuma, Nanao Shika, Fukui Konpira, Shiroishi Kosugo, Fukui Konpira and Tono.

There is currently just over 40MW of operational wind power capacity installed in Japanese waters, according to Windpower Intelligence.

However, a growing number of developers are targeting the nascent market ahead of offshore wind tenders, which are expected to be opened shortly.

Last week, Equinor, Jera and J-Power joined a long list of partnerships targeting the Japanese offshore wind market, despite the nation’s apparent slow uptake of the technology.

In 2019, the Japan Wind Power Association said that the lengthy process for environmental impact assessment was having an impact on the development of offshore wind.

One of the main obstacles for wind developers in Japan comes from opposition from local fishing communities.

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In Season Of Strikes For Gig Workers, Now Swiggy Delivery Execs In Noida Rebel

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After strikes in Chennai and Hyderabad in the last 30 days, Swiggy’s delivery executives in Noida have gone on strike to protest against low wages

The delivery workers are demanding a minimum payout of INR 35 per order and restoration of monthly incentives, among other demands

Similar demands were also raised by Swiggy’s delivery partners in Hyderabad, who went on an indefinite strike last week

With similar demands as their counterparts in Chennai and Hyderabad, delivery executives with Indian foodtech unicorn Swiggy in Noida, on Thursday (September 17), went on a strike to protest against low wages. 

The strike comes just days after Swiggy’s delivery partners went on an indefinite strike in Hyderabad to protest against the low wages and to press their demands. 

In Noida, the protesting delivery workers are demanding a minimum payout per order of INR 35, a minimum payout of INR 20 per batched order (when the driver has to make more than one delivery in a single trip), and a payout at the rate of INR 10 per km after the worker has travelled more than 5 km for making a delivery, among other things.

The delivery partners in Noida, affiliated with the All India Gig Workers Union (AIGWU), have also demanded the reinstatement of monthly incentives of up to INR 3,000 for full-time work and INR 2,000 for part-time work. 

Further, the delivery partners are also demanding extra wages for deliveries made while it rains, or in nights, as also, compensation for waiting time at restaurants, while the order is being prepared. 

“Swiggy delivery workers are taking extraordinary risks by delivering food and essentials to people during this pandemic. The company cannot reward us by cutting our payouts and incentives. Our demands should be met at the earliest,” reads the letter stating the demands of AIGWU for Swiggy’s delivery workers, addressed to Swiggy’s CEO Sriharsha Majety. 

The demands of the delivery workers in Noida are similar to the demands of the workers in Hyderabad, who, earlier this week, launched an indefinite strike to protest against Swiggy paying low wages to the delivery workers. 

The workers in Hyderabad have alleged that during the lockdown, their minimum payout per order reduced from INR 35 to INR 15, while the company also removed monthly incentives to the tune of INR 5,000. 

When asked about the protest of delivery workers in Hyderabad earlier this week, a Swiggy spokesperson told Inc42, “Most delivery partners in Hyderabad make over INR 45 per order, with the highest performing partners making over INR 75 per order. This INR 15 is only one of the many components of the service fee.”

“Naturally, no active delivery partners in Hyderabad have made only INR 15 per order in the last four weeks. It is important to note that the service fee per order is based on multiple factors to adequately compensate our partners including distance travelled, waiting time, customer experience, shift completion and incentives. Regular competitive benchmarking shows that these are at par, if not higher than the industry standards,” Spokesperson added.

In what has been a season of strikes for gig workers, last month, Swiggy’s delivery executives in Chennai had gone on strike to press for their demands. A few days after the strike in Chennai, Swiggy told NDTV that the company had had a positive dialogue with the protesting delivery partners and was back to serving the entire city of Chennai with its fleet of workers.

Meanwhile, the Indian government’s new draft social security code is said to have recognised gig workers, and will mandate gig economy companies to contribute to a social security fund for gig and platform workers, reported Business Standard. Approved by the Union Cabinet last week, the code, which will have several other benefits outlined for gig workers, will come up in the Parliament’s ongoing monsoon session.



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