The as yet unnamed service has been running behind the scenes in Las Vegas, Chandler, Arizona, and Tysons Corner, Virginia, Amazon Flex drivers told Bloomberg.
“Amazon Flex is testing a new offer type near you,” Amazon said in a notice to Flex drivers in Las Vegas. “Retail delivery offers will allow you to pick up and deliver prepackaged orders directly from non-Amazon retail stores in participating local shopping centers.”
Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN) launched Flex in 2015 and now uses it to deliver in over 50 cities. The program allows contracted drivers to use their own vehicles to pick up and deliver from Amazon delivery stations or supermarkets. Now they’ll deliver directly from third-party retailers in malls, starting with a small group of “existing Amazon sellers,” Amazon spokesperson Kate Kurdna told CNBC.
The massive marketplace downplayed the development to media outlets.
“We have been delivering from third-party stores for years. This is another way we are able to connect Amazon sellers with customers via convenient delivery options,” Amazon spokespeople told various publications.
Adding delivery from malls makes Amazon one of the largest sellers to embrace back-of-store microfulfillment centers in shopping outlets.
As brick-and-mortar stores must now compete with e-commerce, physical retail is undergoing something of a metamorphosis. A handful of companies and tech startups have experimented with using their physical stores to fulfill those online orders, leveraging a network of facilities that are already in place rather than trying to build new ones.
Watch: Amazon Logistic: The most valuable logistics company in the world
Looping in gig workers is Amazon’s own unique twist on the model. In many cases, transportation from the distribution center to the microfulfilllment center and from the microfulfillment center to the customer has been handled by national or regional carriers, but Amazon will leverage a network of thousands of independent contractors.
Amazon has made logistics a cornerstone of its business strategy in recent years. That’s most obvious when looking at the rapid growth of Amazon Prime — within just a few years, the delivery subscription service had become one of the marketplace’s calling cards.
The company has also turned logistics into a business of its own through options like Fulfillment by Amazon and, more recently, Buy With Prime, a new service that allows retailers to fulfill orders from their e-commerce websites with Prime benefits like free and two-day delivery.