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Will drones ever be more than a flight of fancy in ecommerce?

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14th Apr 2015
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Consumer research from eDigitalResearch states 33% of online shoppers are open to having their purchases delivered by drone, if it helps to speed up the home delivery process.

And while a typical walk to work being interrupted by thousands of automated helicopters whirling above buildings with parcels dangling from their undercarriages may seem far-fetched, a number of big businesses spent time in 2014 experimenting with this very concept; from Dominos with its Domicopter to Amazon with its Prime Air idea.

However, many issues exist as to how exactly such ideas would ever come to fruition – namely to do with security, privacy, safety and technical feasibility – and negativity continues to increase as more and more incidents occur involving drones.

Last Christmas, a marketing stunt featuring mistletoe suspended by drones at TGI Friday’s backfired after one of the flying devices sliced off part of a photographer’s nose. In a separate incident, a drone had a near-miss with an Airbus A320 as it began a descent into Heathrow.   

And there is also a fear among consumers that the introduction of drone deliveries would lead to an increased risk of parcels being left unattended and open to damage. 47% of respondents in eDigitalResearch’s survey feel that left packages is the biggest disadvantage of delivery by drone, while another 39% believe that the technology is unreliable and only able to cope with parcels of a certain size.

Of those 33% open to the idea, over half (68%) feel that faster delivery is the main benefit to the new delivery technology, while another 40% believe it would offer them cheaper and more convenient delivery options.

“Whether drone deliveries ever come to fruition in this country is yet to be seen,” says Chris Russell, joint CEO at eDigitalResearch, and professor of digital consumers at University College London. “Amazon continue to surge forward with their Prime Air scheme and if they’re able to get it off the ground, could revolutionise the delivery and fulfilment sector.

“We’re starting to see consumers becoming increasingly frustrated with wait times of 3-5 days for their online orders – the introduction of drone deliveries could completely change all of that. But – and there’s a big one – if we are to see drone deliveries take off, there will need to be vast investment in trying to increase consumer knowledge, trust and confidence in the technology.”

Analysts recently predicted that the market for drones could be worth billions, and that that the UK was one of the most likely regions to make drone delivery a reality, due to laws in the US that have made drone delivery services illegal.

The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has stated it will work on regulation this year, but this is just one of many roadblocks that could lead to the more innovative and garish ecommerce providers switching their flights of fancy to British shores as a result.  

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