Drone delivery is upticking for retailers, but Uber also has big plans for shoppers
By Rachel Arthur

Drones are back on the retail radar again, this time in Australia where e-commerce site The Iconic has announced its intentions to use them to deliver goods within the next two to five years.

May 04, 2015
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This undated image provided by Amazon.com shows the so-called Prime Air unmanned aircraft project that Amazon is working on in its research and development labs. Amazon says it will take years to advance the technology and for the Federal Aviation Administration to create the necessary rules and regulations, but CEO Jeff Bezos said Sunday Dec. 1, 2013, there's no reason drones can't help get goods to customers in 30 minutes or less. (AP Photo/Amazon)
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Drones are back on the retail radar again, this time in Australia where e-commerce site The Iconic has announced its intentions to use them to deliver goods within the next two to five years.

The company’s CEO, Patrick Schmidt, told the Australian Financial Review his customers would benefit from speedy drone delivery. “We are pioneers of fast and flexible delivery, and we push the boundaries on delivery, so it’s something we are thinking about,” he explained.

The website already offers three-hour delivery in Sydney and same-day services in Melbourne, but is in constant competition with international players often able to ship items in as fast as local companies can across the country otherwise.

Regulations stand in the way of drones yet being a reality however. “Delivery via drone is not yet regulated, so it probably depends on the legislators on whether that would be possible … but in the technology space, things happen fast, so you never know,” Schmidt said optimistically.

Meanwhile in the US, Amazon is getting closer to its reality of “Prime Air” – a delivery system that aims to get packages into customers’ hands in 30 minutes or less using small unmanned aerial vehicles. It has recently been granted authority by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to test this concept, albeit with the restriction of the drones flying under 400 feet, at a maximum speed of 100 miles per hour, and remaining within the pilot’s line of sight.

The move has been hailed a victory for the e-commerce company. It will also likely set a path for other businesses to follow. “Putting Prime Air into service will take some time, but we will deploy when we have the regulatory support needed to realize our vision,” reads the page on Amazon’s website dedicated to the program. “One day, seeing Prime Air vehicles will be as normal as seeing mail trucks on the road,” it continues.

Fashion and retail brands have been experimenting with drones over the past year or so elsewhere too, albeit largely to generate PR around a newsworthy subject. Fendi put them on the runway during Milan Fashion Week in order to stream content to a live audience online, while more recently, Crocs used them in Japan to deliver shoes straight from shelves to customers as a promotion for how light its new Norlin sneaker is. A recent article published by i-D also explored all the (slightly ridiculous) ways in which drones and wearables are combining from a fashion perspective.

When it comes to shopping however, the other piece of big news in terms of delivery over the past week was about Uber’s plans to launch a major merchant program in the US through its UberRush couriers and Uber drivers.

The move will provide retailers with the ability to get goods from local stores to shoppers within the same-day. Neiman Marcus, Louis Vuitton, Tiffany & Co and more are all said to be in discussions. According to TechCrunch, there could be as many as 400 different merchants currently in talks.

“It’s not hard to imagine Uber combining [verticals like] fresh food, restaurant food, home goods, online purchase orders, and more, into a single logistics framework that is dispatched to its thousands of drivers and couriers. A driver could theoretically have Johnny’s pizza in the front seat, Jenny’s new Louis Vuitton bag in the trunk, and you in the backseat,” the article reads.

Perhaps what we need is for Uber and Amazon’s Prime Air team to partner up – when the traffic gets all too much for the Uber deliveries to be efficient, said driver could be well placed as a drone pilot directing the package to its final destination all the while keeping it strictly in his line of sight. Just a thought.

In the meantime, expect a big focus on shipping services across the board to start emerging, with all manner of start-ups entering the space and aiming to disrupt it. According to Jennifer Hyman of Rent the Runway, that’s exactly what is needed for retail. Speaking at SXSW this year, she called for the existing delivery companies to be put out of business, and for the system as it stands to be “ripped up and recreated” in order for e-commerce businesses to have sustainable profit margins. “We need to get the level of e-commerce across the board up from 10% of total retail sales to 30% or 50%, and the only way that is going to happen is if the delivery method changes,” she expressed.


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