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Help wanted: Amazon and online delivery services staff up during coronavirus outbreak

March 24, 2020, 1:00 PM UTC

The coronavirus outbreak has set off an online shopping frenzy for cleaning supplies, groceries, and toilet paper. In an effort to satisfy the huge demand, another kind of frenzy is underway: Companies are scrambling to hire enough workers to pick up and deliver those orders.

On Monday, Instacart, which fills grocery store orders, said it plans to hire 300,000 full-service shoppers over the next three months. The hiring binge would more than double the number of shoppers already on the job, which the company says is itself a record.

Target’s delivery service, Shipt, which also delivers from stores including Petco, CVS, and OfficeMax, said it wants to add “thousands” of shoppers. Meanwhile, Amazon recently said it would hire 100,000 drivers and warehouse workers to staff its sprawling operations and that it would increase worker pay by $2 an hour to $17.

In a note on Monday to its contract shoppers, who pick up groceries and deliver them, Instacart CEO Apoorva Mehta called the last few weeks “the busiest in Instacart’s history.” He did not elaborate on any increase in order volume or the value of those orders.

The rise in open delivery jobs comes as cities and states tell people to stay home to prevent further spread of the coronavirus. People who are under orders to “shelter in place” are still allowed to grocery shop as long as they remain six feet from others. But many of them are reluctant to do so because they’re worried about catching the virus, or they don’t want to wait in long lines.

Amazon Flex delivery drivers, Shipt shoppers, and Instacart’s full-service shoppers are all contractors. Amazon pays drivers according to the block of time they work, which varies depending on location. Shipt’s shopper pay is based on how long each order takes to deliver. Instacart pays per order, basing it on a variety of factors, such as the number and type of items, the estimated distance and time, and additional incentives.

Because they’re contractors, these workers generally don’t receive benefits such as health care, vacation, and overtime. They also don’t get paid sick leave unless they test positive for the coronavirus, a policy that critics argue encourages employees to come to work while sick.

In contrast, Amazon’s warehouse workers are employees and therefore receive some benefits. Because of the recent shortage of workers, Amazon employees received an increase in overtime pay. The company also offered paid time off to seasonal and part-time employees, following months of pressure from these workers.

One potential source of new hires are the legions of Uber and Lyft drivers who have suffered a big drop-off in fares because of the coronavirus. Nearly three in 10 of those drivers are considering taking delivery jobs, according to a recent survey of 200 on-demand drivers by Harry Campbell, author of The Rideshare Guy blog, which provides ride-hailing workers with information and advice about things like benefits and safety.

Meanwhile, of all the drivers surveyed who already work for on-demand delivery services, nearly 35% are seeing an increase in demand for orders.

“One of our best recommendations for drivers who are worried about the coronavirus is to consider signing up for a food delivery service,” Campbell writes on his blog. “There’s much less exposure potential, and the income is comparable.”

In addition to doing more online shopping, consumers are increasingly searching for services that deliver food from restaurants. According to recent data from Google, U.S. searches for four leading meal delivery services—Uber Eats, DoorDash, Postmates, and Grubhub—jumped 53% within the past month. Individually, Uber Eats led with a 70% increase in searches, followed by DoorDash at 55%, Grubhub at 46%, and Postmates at 42%.

During a global pandemic rife with bad news, consumers’ changing behaviors appear to have created at least one small bright spot: There are still thousands of jobs for the taking—albeit with limited to no benefits.

More coronavirus coverage from Fortune:

—Why the extraordinary dollar surge spells more trouble for the global economy
—Japan finally admits the coronavirus might disrupt the Tokyo 2020 Olympics
Which stores are open—and closed—during the coronavirus pandemic in the U.S.?
—What medical experts say about Everlywell’s at-home coronavirus testing kits
—How to defer your mortgage payments during the pandemic
—How Emmy season is proceeding, with caution, amid the coronavirus crisis
—Listen to Leadership Next, a Fortune podcast examining the evolving role of CEOs
—WATCH: World leaders and health experts on how to stop the spread of COVID-19

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