Future post: Will drones deliver?
Amazon is to test drone delivery in the UK. Will the future post mean drone delivery to your palm?
Right now, next day delivery via Royal Mail will set you back 64p for a letter up to 100g. It’s such an ancient service that giving that weight measurement in metric form just seems incongruous. The letter, so often analogised in modern digital communications systems, has been in decline for years. Meanwhile, parcels are on the rise, as we do more and more of our shopping remotely. Last year, studies from both Barclays (with Conlumino) and Metapack (with the IMRG) suggest we topped the 1bn parcel mark.
Hence the interest in this area. Deliveries are slow, awkward, expensive and labour intensive. For now.
For not much more than that 100g letter, Starship’s rolling drone can carry two shopping bags over the last mile from store to door. And now Amazon is testing flying drones here to deliver goods to your door. Or more likely, a coded mat in your back garden.
These feel like interim steps, for different reasons.
The Starship drone delivers to selected time slots right now. It can’t be long before we allow our supermarkets access to our location so that they know we are at home — or even on our way there — and they send the goods along to meet us. Does this carry all sorts of terrifying implications for security and privacy? Absolutely. But the lesson of the last few years is that we will trade an awful lot for convenience. And if they get this service right, it could be very convenient.
Imagine combining subscription-based purchasing with autonomous delivery. You’re on the train home from work when you get a message from your supermarket of choice: “You’re running low on some key items at home. We notice you’re on your way. Is it OK if we drop your goods off in 15 minutes? Click to confirm.” You get another message when the drone is one minute away so that you can meet it at the door.
Amazon’s drone experiments feel like interim steps not because of the timing but because of the location to which they will deliver. Static delivery locations already feels rather last-century in our mobile modern world. We move around a lot, both our homes (increasingly rented) and our workplaces (increasingly a selection of stopping points and coffee shops). And some of the goods we want to order, we want wherever we are.
One payment provider did an experiment (I won’t name them because a quick search didn’t bring up public information about this) where they offered people delivery to their location, wherever they were — even if they were on the move, by tracking their phones. What did people buy? Things like phone charging cables. The accoutrements of modern day life, the lack of which they can’t easily complete a day without.
On day one, delivery like this will feel like a novelty. But I don’t think it would take long to become normality. Forgot your phone charger? Your drone will meet you outside in 5…4…3…2…
But there’s limited demand for this. As the Barclays study showed, clothes and accessories make up a huge proportion of deliveries and their growth. I can think of a few situations (and have experienced some) where you want fresh clothes delivering to your exact location. But it’s not an everyday experience. At least not for most of us.
Drones continue to present practical problems too. To be of a size and power to deliver anything of scale they will continue to be relatively large and noisy, though efforts are being made to diminish both factors. Right now you don’t want one up in your face, and you certainly don’t want an army of them dropping goods to every person at a bus stop: the injuries would only be outweighed by the irritation.
Future post is drone delivery of one form or another. Time to suit our needs and delivered to our location. But physical deliveries will always be bound by the realities of the physical world.