Modern tech companies like Uber and Airbnb have pioneered the idea of the gig economy, where independent contractors perform services for customers they find on platforms hosted by said tech companies. But one of the biggest tech companies of them all has been experimenting with another business model—actually hiring its own employees.
Bloomberg reported Wednesday that Amazon has quietly started hiring house cleaners in Seattle as part of a trial for Amazon Home Assistants, a variation on Amazon Home Services, which the company launched three years ago to connect handymen and housekeepers with customers in need.
But the service has been slow to catch on, and Amazon has had trouble differentiating itself from similar services offered by Handy and TaskRabbit. The trial run in Seattle suggests Amazon thinks having more control over the workers performing these tasks might outweigh the money saved by using independent contractors, who don’t get benefits like health insurance and retirement plans.
The Amazon Home Assistants website says cleaning, laundry, dishes, and taking out the trash are among the services it can provide. It offers a number of cleaning service plans that vary in price depending on the size of the home or apartment and the frequency with which a customer would like said services.
For example, a weekly cleaning for a modest-sized apartment would run an estimated $138, while a biweekly cleaning for a larger home would cost an estimated $253. The site lets you search your zip code to see if service is provided in your area. For the moment, it appears to only be available in the Seattle area.
Should Amazon begin directly hiring employees nationally, it could have implications for the broader gig economy, which has come under fire in the past for fueling income inequality and potentially exploitative labor practices.
In Seattle, drivers for Uber and Lyft voted to unionize in 2015 in hopes of gaining more benefits from those companies. Uber in particular has employed a strategy of using investor money to stay afloat while charging the lowest rates to consumers in hopes of starving its competition over the long term, which has in turn led to drivers getting paid less.
If the Amazon Home Assistants trial is successful, other companies might consider following suit. The trial also has implications for elderly folks who want to age in place. A successful, affordable service for housekeeping could help senior citizens stay in their homes longer.