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Keep droning on

Chris Field
Chris Field

From a purely commercial point of view, drones surely make no sense. If retailers are offering free delivery then they’re making no money anyway, so aren’t they’re just costing themselves more? And if they do charge for drone drop offs, how many people will pay a supplement just to get something delivered in 30 minutes?

Yet, this week Amazon announced a partnership with the British government to test drone delivery. So what is the lure of this emerging technology?

Drones appeal because they touch everyone. And they’re being strategically used as part of the battle for hearts, minds and wallets by Amazon. Whoever else gets involved, Amazon will win because they are first and don’t care about the cost.

No retailer can sustain a similar approach unless they are able to monopolise a niche where quick delivery is an essential part of the product – like kidneys for DIY organ transplants, or pizza when you’re starving, or flowers for my mum because I forgot her birthday.

Ultimately, the only thing that matters is that Amazon wins more customers for Amazon. Drones will fill the headlines but not the skies because the novelty will pass; and a drone will no doubt cause an accident following a mid air collision (just look at what happened when TGI Fridays tried to send out a mistletoe drone one Christmas), so a ban will soon follow.

By which time Amazon won’t care anymore, because it will be forcing us to consider the next big idea. And that must surely be something around personalisation, because that’s something Amazon have barely begun to get right. It can only recommend based on past purchase and seems unable to predict what I may want next.

So hold fire on the idea of drone deliveries reshaping last mile. Amazon’s pilot may just be catching the headlines in order to catch the customer.

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