6th December 2013

Will Amazon Drones Deliver?

By Michael Wood on Friday December 6, 2013

Earlier this week, it was reported that online retailer, Amazon, was testing a prototype system that could revolutionise home delivery – packages transported by drones!

It seems that the internet giant is developing a fleet of autonomous ‘octocopters’ in the US, designed to fly from its warehouses and literally drop customers’ orders on their lawns, using GPS tracking to find the right address. Amazon’s chief executive, Jeff Bezos says that he wants to use the new technology to replace couriers and slash despatch times to just 30 minutes in urban areas.

It is unclear, as yet, whether this is a genuine innovation by Amazon, or simply an ingenious PR stunt. But, in an interview on American TV network CBS, Bezos appears completely serious about the octocopters’ viability, stating: “I know this looks like science fiction. It is not.”

I’m not sure if this delivery system, exciting as it is, will ever come to pass, although if they had been in service during the heady days of ‘Pottermania’, they would certainly have made my wait for my copy of the latest Harry Potter novel a little bit easier! But even if they don’t, the story, plastered as it is across the printed and online press, serves to reinforce Amazon’s brand image as a company committed to delivering customers’ orders as quickly and conveniently as possible.

However, if they do take off (geddit!?), then the octocopters will enable Amazon to take back its deliveries from the couriers it has to outsource to, and in doing so, take charge of its own customer care reputation. This is something Amazon has only limited control over at the moment, dependent as it is on the service quality and performance of these companies. The retailer can switch suppliers in response to customer feedback, but this tactic can only go so far towards preventing negative experiences in the future.

There are a number of hurdles Amazon will have to clear before it is allowed to get the blades spinning on its new service. The company will need approval from aviation authorities for the countries in which it wishes to introduce them, and will have to overcome the current public perception of drones as instruments of war rather than consumerism. If Amazon succeeds, though, I have no doubt the machines will deliver on their promise of a burnished brand image in the eyes of the general public.