Nine years after Jeff Bezos first announced that Amazon would start fulfilling orders by drone, Prime Air has taken to the skies and delivered its first packages.

While many people at the time (myself included) dismissed the idea as nothing more than a fantastic piece of PR. It just goes to show that you should never underestimate the determination of a man who turned an online bookstore based in his garage into a business currently valued at $875.5 billion.

Amazon Drone Delivery Cautiously Takes Flight

According to media reports, in the run-up to Christmas, Amazon dropped its first drone deliveries off in customers’ backyards in Lockeford, California and College Station, Texas.

The packages were delivered using Amazon’s hexagonal MK27-2 delivery drone with six propellers.

While both Lockeford and College Station can be described as small towns, Amazon has ambitions to extend its drone delivery service.

Speaking to journalists, Amazon Air Spokesperson Natalie Banke said, “Our aim is to safely introduce our drones to the skies. We are starting in these communities and will gradually expand deliveries to more customers over time.”

Onboarding Customers

Amazon Prime Air is currently onboarding customers with the offer of free and fast drone delivery.

A spokesperson for Amazon explained, “Once onboarded, customers will see Prime Air-eligible items on Amazon. They will place an order as they normally would and receive an estimated arrival time with a status tracker for their order. The delivery drone will fly to the designated delivery location, descend to the customer’s backyard, and hover at a safe height. It will then safely release the package, rise back up to altitude, and return to base.”

The drone’s maximum payload is 5 lbs (2.2kg) which accounts for 85% of Amazon deliveries and promises delivery in around 60 minutes.

Disrupting the Delivery Industry

While Amazon is taking baby steps with its drone delivery service (safety is an obvious concern), there are several reasons to be excited about the potential of the Prime Air service.

  • Green Technology: The drones are powered by electric motors and have the potential to take more polluting delivery trucks off the road.
  • Rapid Delivery to Rural Communities: Drone delivery will eventually offer Amazon customers in more rural areas the same fast delivery service currently only enjoyed in larger cities. This will be particularly beneficial for customers buying consumables such as printer ink, coffee machine pods, and other items they may have an immediate need for.
  • Autonomous Service: While many people will be concerned that Amazon’s Prime Air service will remove delivery people from the shipping process, the industry, along with many others, has suffered from an acute skills shortage in recent years. This problem has resulted in poor service levels across the industry, particularly during peak times and periods of industrial action. Prime Air won’t remove the need for delivery drivers, particularly in high-density urban areas, but we can expect to see greater automation creeping into the sector.
  • Fewer Lost Packages: Deliveries are made autonomously using customers’ GPS coordinates, reducing the chance of packages being delivered to the wrong address or lost. With shorter, fully tracked delivery options available, consumers can guarantee they will be at home when deliveries are made, reducing opportunities for parcel theft.

What This Means For Sellers Now

Although it will likely be many months (and years) before Amazon expands the Prime Air drone delivery service across its US and global markets, the announcement will create shockwaves across the logistics industry.

Delivery is the one area where sales have very little influence over the customer experience. However, with Amazon investing so heavily in disruptive delivery services, the competition should be taking note and looking to improve their offerings or risk losing everything – and that’s got to be good news.

Questions are also being asked as to whether Amazon will deliver third-party sellers items by drone. Assuming all eligible items included in the Amazon Prime program will be dispatched by drone, this provides another competitive advantage for outsourcing your fulfilment to Amazon.

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