Amazon’s potential army of Drones – what’s the point?


Amazon wants to deliver packages to you in 30 minutes via drone. While the convenience might be pretty awesome. I’m not sure how good of an idea this is going to be. I also think that this points to a broader push for Amazon. In the past Amazon has mentioned how they had plans to sell groceries locally and deliver rapidly. This is currently in beta test with only two cities involved, LA and Seattle. Depending on the size of these drones this will make delivery of groceries much easier and reduce the risk for goods to thaw while waiting for the resident to come home and get the groceries. Furthermore, if these drones are really good, Amazon could time the delivery of the groceries based on when the customer wanted them to arrive at their home. Let’s say you place the order in the morning, but know you won’t get home until around 6:30, you could ask Amazon to deliver the goods around 6:30 so you could just bring them in the house and start cooking.

A few years ago there were some rumors that Amazon was planning on going to brick and mortar stores while everyone else is going more web, web, web. These drones that are in the video do not look like they have the farthest range in the world, which means for a place like my home town about an hour north of Pittsburgh by car and if there was a distribution center in Pittsburgh (there’s not, but there is one in Allentown), the drone would need to fly close to 120 miles per hour. That doesn’t seem likely for these things. They don’t look like they have the speed, they are clearly designed for shorter ranges than that. Additionally, implementing these drones would require significantly more distribution centers throughout the US. Distribution centers work best when there is a need for high volume, high speed, and high variety at least in many distribution models. However, if Amazon were to use retail stores as part of their distribution network and looked to use the stores as the location where the drones would send goods from, this makes a lot more sense. Retail stores aren’t really there to be retail stores, but micro distribution centers.

This would impact the types of items that would be a candidate for Air Prime in many locations, for instance cities with Stores only would have a much smaller list of applicable items. Cities with distribution centers near by would likely have any item up for Air Prime that would fit on the drone.

This is still 4-5 years out from being deployed, so why is Amazon showing this off now? Well, bad press recently. There have been several articles that came out this past month about how horrible the distribution centers are in the US.

All said though, I think these drones point to continued interest in providing different approaches to brick and mortar stores as well as grocery stores. I think it will start out small and grow from there. Amazon will likely build out some stores first with a similar function to Best buy where you can pick up in the store. In later store deployments they will have options for Air Prime and pick up in store for certain items. It will certainly change things for Amazon workers and will change the way the distribution centers are managed. They may simply become hubs with a lot more being pushed out closer to the end customer.

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