Here a few facts:
- Humans leave things until the very last minute (I’m looking at you, because you must likely had to splurge on One-Day Shipping last week because you decided to dress up as a Lifeguard on the almost last day possible.)
- Americans buy LOTS of presents during the Holiday season.
- We buy most of these presents online, because what do we have to lose with free shipping?
- Someone needs to go fulfill these orders and ship the exorbitant amount of packages to us during the holidays.
- Amazon needs an especially large swarm of workers during Christmastime.
Thus, led to Amazon’s acquisition of an army of retired RV drivers.
If you’re not confused by this point, then you probably haven’t been reading closely enough. Yes, Amazon has an “army” of retired RV drivers. This army, referred to as CamperForce, is actively being recruited for by Amazon HR representatives in the hopes of preserving Christmas cheer by picking up seasonal workers to fulfill Christmas orders.
How the 2008 Financial Crisis Led to CamperForce
Take Barb and Chuck Stout, for example. Prior to the financial crisis, they happily ran “Carolina Adventure Tours” and gave music lessons on the side. Then one day Chuck received a call from Wells Fargo informing him that his $250,000 investment, which gave him $4,000 per month to survive, had turned into $0. Faced with bankruptcy, credit card debt, and an imploding mortgage, they had no choice but to sell all of their possessions, house, and car. In 2012 they decided on a feasible solution for their low-income life: living in an RV.
The Stouts were not alone with this decision. The number of RV drivers steadily increased as many other retired folks found their retirement investments depleted after the crisis. They also had no reason to stay stationary: why not drive across America? This new nomadic lifestyle permeated across the country, but each new nomad still had one issue: no income or saved money to live on.
In the quest for cash to allow them to afford basic necessities, many drivers took up routine work at the RV campsites. The Stouts began in Utah by welcoming campers, running an office, and cleaning up the campsite. Unfortunately, this still didn’t provide enough money in order to pay for parking their RV at the campsite and utilities. Luckily, they learned of the website, Workers on Wheels, an online job forum for those living in a mobile home. From a posting on the site, they entered the world of Amazon.
Keeping Santa Alive
As Amazon began to take off in the 2000s, the company found itself with a problem. Their order requests spiked during the holidays, but they didn’t have the bandwidth to fulfill these orders in a timely manner. Santa’s reputation was at stake. Then in 2008, in light of the financial crisis, they had an idea: they decided to hire this increased demographic of nomadic RV drivers to work in a facility in Coffeyville, Kansas. It was a success.
The following Christmas, they decided to expand the program to other facilities: Kentucky and Nevada welcomed the new hires with open arms. These nomadic people were perfect for fulfillment facilities in rural areas of America and a dream from an HR standpoint. As mostly sixty or seventy-year-olds, they understood the working world and knew what to expect. The workers were simply happy to just have a job and didn’t require much in terms of benefits: they showed up when asked and left when they were done. Then when Christmas rolled around, they packed up their belongings and left. In return, Amazon paid for them to park their RV and basic utilities along with an hourly wage. It was the perfect opportunity for both: a practical income stream for the drivers and temporary bodies to assuage the hectic holiday season for Amazon. Christmas was saved.
As time progressed, the recruiting efforts ramped up. HR representatives visited popular campsites in the hope of finding more workers. They attended Yellowstone National Park and a motor home site in Quartzsite, Arizona. Representatives wore CamperForce T-shirts and handed out “Now Hiring” flyers and swag appealing to the mobile-home lifestyle: lip balm, notepads, windshield stickers, and even beer can koozies. They created a generous referral program to incentivize WOM through the campsites by offering $125 for each referral. Amazon even created a digital newsletter with advice from former CamperForce workers:
“Go with the flow and don’t complain, because this isn’t our profession. It is just a seasonal job. Let things roll off of your back and be open to new opportunities.”
“Prepare for long hours and get in shape by exercising before arriving at Amazon and know that time will fly by while you’re there!”
“A great way to make money, and the camaraderie within the workforce is terrific”.
It seems like a win-win, but it’s not such a breeze for the workers. Some workers have equated the warehouse work to slave labor. Oftentimes it involves walking 15 miles per day to get around the warehouse to scan in items from the delivery truck and place them on the appropriate shelf. Sometimes it even means carrying 50 pounds in 90 degree environments. It’s a young-person’s job, but sometimes the only feasible work that these retired individuals can find.
Amazon’s not alone. RV Campsite expos now have career-oriented sections with not only CamperForce recruiters but also booths looking for beet harvesters, amusement park workers, and more. The demand for seasonal labor has infiltrated these sites, and as E-commerce continues to thrive and retail falters, who knows which demographic will be targeted next.